I sipped my own coffee, heavy on the sugar and cream, trying to make up for the late work the night before. Caffeine and sugar, the two basic food groups. — Anita Blake in Laurell K. Hamilton’s
No, it’s not that cold but it’s definitely nasty enough that I passed on my morning ramble around the Estate, as once again there’s a stiff wind along with a freezing drizzle – not quite what I would want to walk or ski in. So I settled in for a quiet day of reading and answering correspondence (my fellow librarians and book lovers still like letters), as Ingrid, our Steward, took my apprentices for the day for them to learn what an Estate Steward does.
So first breakfast. Unlike Blake, I always drink tea as I never developed a taste for coffee no matter how good it was. So it was lapsong soochong, a loose leaf first blush smoked black tea from Ceylon. With a splash of cream of course. And a rare surprise 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 turned to writing the What’s New for this week …
Cat says Roger Zelazny’s Roadmarks features a protagonist somebody is trying to kill as he moves along a time-travelling road. As one does. ‘Zelazny really didn’t do plots all that well, but he was gifted at developed unique characters and settings. So, like so many of his novels, this one’s true strengths lies in the unique nature of the setting, combined with the character development…’
Christopher enjoyed Deborah Grabien’s Still Life with Devils but found the pudding a bit over-egged. ‘The story revolves around Cassius Chant, an African American San Francisco police detective, and his efforts to find and stop an elusive serial killer who has been murdering pregnant women. Chant’s sister Leontyne, known as Leo, is an artist with the unusual ability to literally enter into her paintings via a form of what used to be called astral projection. Chant is also the single parent to a precocious teenage daughter whose Chinese mother abandoned the family immediately following her birth.’
Gary has unqualified praise for John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society. ‘It’s a rollicking comic book of a tale, combining elements of Christopher Moore’s satiric fantasies with Indiana Jones-like adventure, told in Scalzi’s signature breezy style. In his light way Scalzi sends up the old monster movies as well as modern franchises like Scooby Doo and Jurassic Park, glossing over wildly unlikely “science” with a joke and a wave of the hand – and he even tells you what he’s doing when he does it, which got the biggest laugh of the book from me.’
Lis thoroughly enjoyed a reissued classic mystery novel, Anthony Boucher’s Rocket to the Morgue, featuring LAPD Detective Lt. Terence Marshall. It has an SF tie-in, too: ‘… Marshall is investigating a locked-room attempted murder, questioning a selection of potential suspects from the Mañana Literary Society, the informal social circle of the science fiction writers living in and around Los Angeles at the time. For dedicated science fiction fans, this adds some extra fun, because these writers are mostly thinly disguised major sf writers of the period. However, if you’re only here for the mystery, you won’t notice, and it won’t distract from the story.’
Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series, Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.
Rebecca fell in love with Francesca Lia Block’s YA books about Weetzie Bat, which were compiled in a tome called Dangerous Angels. ‘These books are Los Angelene fairy tales, set in an LA that must be in the ’80s and ’90s, but feels like the mythic ’50s or ’60s, or like no time at all. This LA glitters and glimmers through a golden haze. This is not to say that the books ignore what is ugly in the world. Instead, the grime and the crime and the evil are seen, and they hurt, but that hurt fuels the creative process, inspiring the characters to make movies and music, causing them to want to reach out, to change the world.’
Moving on from that, Rebecca also liked another Block compilation, Girl Goddess #9. ‘If the Weetzie Bat books were fairy tales, these are, perhaps, folk tales, or fables. These stories are darker. The princess does not always get her prince, and wishes are not granted, or not many of them. Yet many of the same themes and motifs are present: love and alienation, growing up, coming out, AIDS, prejudice, fear, and loss.’
An (un)novel set in a future Tel Aviv caught the interest of Richard as well: ‘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 reviews the sequel Neom here.)
April reviewed a relatively obscure documentary about one of our favorite comic artists, The Mindscape of Alan Moore. It’s a short film consisting mostly of interview footage with Moore on a variety of topics. ‘Interspliced between the segments of Moore’s talk are some early film renditions of V for Vendetta and Watchmen. Another segment alludes to John Constantine of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer fame. The clips make for an interesting comparison with the commercially released versions of the films, particularly given Moore’s intentional distance from those works.’
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 – Duet has an equal amount of sweet and sweetly savory. And I’m a fan.’
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.’
Speaking of Alan Moore, you’ll find a lot of his work covered here. April also reviewed Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Jess Nevins’ Heroes and Monsters: The Unofficial Companion to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; Cat reviewed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Absolute Edition; Rachel Manija Brown covered Promethea, Book One; and Kage covered Moore and O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.
Danny takes us track by track through a compilation album of organ trio jazz called Kickin’ The 3 – referring of course to the mighty Hammond B-3. Other than a couple of minor beefs, he says, ‘this is an excellent collection of a genre that is still alive and well and is a must for any serious collector. You can also safely acquire anything by any of the artists featured here and be very happy with your choice.’
‘A lot of what goes by the name of jazz music these days is either quite complex musically or some sort of hybrid combining classical, folk, pop, ambient, and experimental music,’ Gary says. ‘However, Dave Askren & Jeff Benedict’s Denver Sessions is none of that. This is an absolute feel-good album of swinging West Coast jazz in mostly straight ahead mode. Sometimes that’s just the sort of music you need.’
Gary recommends a new album by a Brooklyn trio that blends lots of influences into a satisfying whole. ‘Jasmine on a Night in July is the debut studio full-length from the trio that calls itself Scree. They’re led by Arab-American guitarist Ryan El-Solh in creation of a unique melding of American exotica, minimalist jazz and El-Solh’s Lebanese and Palestinian heritage.’
John reviewed a Celtic-adjacent soundtrack album of a film called Evelyn, which he describes as a warm-hearted, post-9/11 family movie starting Pierce Brosnan. ‘The soundtrack music reveals some interesting facts. First off is Van Morrison’s ‘Sitting on top of the world’ – not the blues song of the same name but an original delivered in his customary smooth gospel soul fusion. Secondly, Pierce Brosnan sings – yes you read right – and reveals himself as a no shame balladeer on ‘The Parting Glass’ and ‘Banks of the Roses’.’
John also took a crack at Battlefield Band’s Time & Tide, which featured some shifts in membership. ‘As far as Battlefield Band lineups go it’s perhaps early in the day yet to guess their staying power and compare them to any previous grouping. What’s obvious is that the Battlefield Band is a functional working unit on the move. Time & Tide harks back to their 1980 album Home is Where the Van Is, when Ged Foley came in. This album has a similar transitional feel to it and a sense of regrouping and reshuffling the deck is evident.
And John turned in an omnibus review of three Celtic themed CDs, Glengarry Bhoys’ Mountain Road, Crookshank’s Crookshank, and Various artists’ Cold Blow These Winter Winds. ‘This omnibus, while detailing Celtic releases of an ensemble nature, finds three releases with their own individual approach, style and sound. The result is a mix of solid Celtic rock, experimental Celtic and medieval cum renaissance strains, and a novel approach to that most fettered and difficult of endeavours: the Celtic Christmas album.’
Judith had a mixed response to Take Your Time, and Roots & Branches, a couple of early releases by Northern Irish singer songwriter Ben Sands, of the legendary Sands Family. She found the cover tunes a mixed bag, but the instrumental work always top notch. ‘Whatever the interpretation of ambience, Sand’s Irish vocals are always pleasant and warm, and the albums are well produced. They certainly navigate the border of Irish contemporary and traditional music, of past and present.’
Peter has good news and bad news about an album called Tempered by the group Last Night’s Fun. ‘This album is good, very good, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t think this album does them enough credit. Their live performances coupled with their humour and stagecraft are supreme. This is the reason I suspect they are so popular at festivals. Without the banter, the music comes out brilliantly performed but cold in comparison. For a band like this it must always be difficult to produce a representative album.’
Our What Not is another writer telling us what they think of Tolkien, and Elizabeth Hand gave a lengthy reply: ‘I’d probably have to say The Lord of the Rings, which I’ve read it countless times over the last forty years. It imprinted on me at such an early age — I had the good luck to read it as a kid in the 1960s, when it was still a cult novel, and you had a real sense that you were in some secret, marvelous group of insiders who had visited a place not everyone knew about. Maybe kids discovering it today still have that feeling, in spite of the success of the movies (which I love). I hope so.
But I also find that, as I’ve gotten older, I’m far more drawn to reread other works, especially in The Complete History of Middle Earth and The Silmarillion (we have very long Tolkien shelves here). I love the Beren & Luthien material, and also the various accounts of Turin, which recently were republished as The Children of Hurin. The dark tone of all of it, the tragic cast and also the recurring motifs involving elves and mortal lovers — great stuff. It doesn’t serve the function of comfort reading that LOTR does, and because I’m not so familiar with the stories I can still read them with something like my original sense of discovery. The breadth and depth of Tolkien’s achievement really becomes apparent when one reads The Complete History — 13 volumes, including an Index. Every time I go back to them I think, I could be learning Greek, or Ancient Egyptian, something that has to do with the real world.
But then, I’m continually so amazed by what this one man came up with, the intensity and single mindedness of his obsession. And I get sucked into it all over again.’
If there’s any voice that match the cool, strong feel of Grace Slick, it’d be in my not so humble opinion that of June Tabor, whom I’ve heard live and that we’ve reviewed many a time, including this review of An Echo Of Hooves. Now imagine that she performed Slick’s ‘White Rabbit’ with quite possibly the finest English folk rock band ever in the form of the Oysterband which has been reviewed here many, many times, including Ragged Kingdom which is their second second album with Tabor, the first being Freedom and Rain some thirty years ago .
Well you don’t need to imagine it happening as it did and you can hear ‘White Rabbit’ as performed by her and the Oysterband at City Varieties in Leeds on a November night just seven years ago.