What’s New for the 24th of July: Some Favorite Doctor Whos, Robert Hunter’s ‘Brown-Eyed Women’, a Musical Playlist from Gary Whitehouse, a Bevy of Live Music reviews and Elizabeth Bear on All Things Foodie

I sliced strawberries with all my attention. They were particularly fine ones, large and white clear through without a hint of pink. (Wild Borderland strawberries are one of the Border’s little jokes. They form bright red, and fade as they ripen. No strawberry has ever been so sweet.) — Orient in Emma Bull’s Finder

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I’ve been visiting Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, in The Conservatory this morning as he was lecturing our Librarian’s Several Annies on the members of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. He grows ginger of several types, as well as turmeric and cardamom there. Given a warm environment, humidity, enough light and proper soil, the rhizomes will grow rather well and give you quite large plants within several years.

At some point, they will all give an amazing fragrance. I’m looking forward to that day. Or rather many, many days there as it won’t happen all at once obviously.

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‘What’s appealing about Ysabel is how believable all the characters are,’ Cat says of Guy Gavriel Kay’s YA novel about a teen boy’s encounter with the Summer Queen. ‘If for no other reason, read Ysabel to see how one can accurately depict fifteen-year-old characters. Most Young Adult fiction that I have read simply treats the young adults as miniature adults, not as beings who are both child and adult, but really neither.’

Warner leads off his book reviews with a choice piece of SF: ‘Paul Cornell’s Rosebud is an interesting little novella from an expert creator. While the title certainly brings to mind either horticulture or the works of Orson Welles, this volume is instead very much of the post-post-transhuman society. The basic plot features a handful of entities on a ship with the same name as the title of the book as they encounter an extremely smooth black sphere in space. As the reader is educated on the Strange World these characters inhabit, they find themselves investigating the sphere and learning more about themselves and it than they would have thought possible.’ 

Now he has a Bond that’s been updated: ‘Anthony Horowitz’s With a Mind to Kill is his third James Bond novel. This one features Bond going undercover and pretending to still be under a level of brainwashing. He must contend with the Soviet forces, the fact that many of his own people believe him to be a traitor, and Colonol Boris who managed to break him once already. Characters in this book feel approriate to a James Bond story, with more than a little addition of personal pathos and consideration.

Next he at a review of a revisionist bit of Arthurian fiction: ‘Nicola Griffith’s Spear is a brilliant fusion of a number of old legends and ideas, queer yet period appropriate. It features elements of multiple eras of Arthurian lore as well as certain Irish legends. The combined story follows a familiar structure without seeming overly clichéd.

We are shortly getting a new Doctor so it’s appropriate this reviewer looks at a series of audio adventures involving classic Doctors: ‘Doctor Who: The BBC Radio Episodes Collection contains a wonderful combination of stories whose uniting theme is exactly what the title implies. This collection includes most of the early audio material featuring the Doctor Who characters.’

I did read the novel he’s now reviewing just once. That was enough: ‘The very lightest interpretation of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun is that it is an extremely dark book. With a new edition of the volume out from Suntup, it is hard not to explore the book in detail. While a famous volume, it has a contentious history, as would any anti-war book published in 1939.’

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Cat looks at Doctor Who‘s The Unicorn and The Wasp episode starring David Tennant, his favorite of the new Doctors: ‘One of my favourite episodes of the newer episodes of this series was a country house mystery featuring a number of murders and, to add an aspect of metanarrative to the story, writer Agatha Christie at the beginning of her career. It would riff off her disappearance for ten days which occurred just after she found her husband in bed with another woman. Her disappearance is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily answered to this day.’

He also looks at a Doctor Who adventure involving his favorite classic Doctor: ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang featured Tom Baker, one of the most liked of all the actors who’ve played The Doctor, and Leela, the archetypal savage that the British Empire both adored and despised, played by Louise Jameson. The Victorian Era is something that British have been fond of setting dramas in, well, since a few years after the era ended. Doctor Who has had stories set in this era myriad times.’

Denise has her review of the first season of the the Thirteenth Doctor Who, and she enjoyed almost every moment of Season Eleven. ‘The new Doctor loves bobbing for apples, candy floss, purple sofas, and fast talking…. I love it. Yes, I’ve said that I love things several times here. I’m not sorry.’ Why is Denise so enraptured? Only one way to find out; give her full review a look!

While she might have loved Season Eleven, Season Twelve had her feeling a whole lot of different emotions…not all of them good. ‘Unfortunately, things get a bit messy this season, with the usual overarching story coming back into play with the thirteenth Doctor’s second season. There are stories and themes that work well, but most of the time? Things get a bit too heavy-handed.’ How so? Only one way to find out – give her review a look!

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Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. Among her works are two White Space novels, Ancestral Nights and Machine, and two near future mysteries, her Sub-Inspector Ferron series. I interviewed her on all things foodie and you can read that conversation here.

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Richard had high praise for a graphic novel that goes to unexpected places with a familiar character: ‘With Love in Vain, Joshua Dysart took over the reins of Swamp Thing from the rather more erratic storytelling of Andy Diggle, and the difference is obvious. What Dysart has to work with is an extended continuity that’s mostly been resolved and a Swamp Thing that’s mostly a tabula rasa. While the safer choice might have been to do a more straightforward, linear narrative, Dysart instead swings for the fences.’

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Midsummer is the perfect time for live music, so I took a look in the Archives to see what kind of live music we’ve reviewed. Here’s just a small sampling:

Asher said Annbjørg Lien’s Aliens Alive is a live album for fans of the Norwegian hardanger fiddler, containing selections from many of her studio albums. ‘Annbjørg Lien finds, in folk music, everything from fairy tales to science fiction. Indeed, the title of her previous album, Baba Yaga is drawn from a fairytale. Aliens Alive is a selection of live performances culled from Annbjørg Lien’s 2001 Norwegian tour.

Judith reviewed Attila the Stockbroker’s Live in Belfast: ‘There are a LOT of words on this highly political album, recorded at the Warzone Centre in Belfast in February 2003. Only a minority of them are about “No Blood For Oil,” but many touch upon the ruling classes of Britain and the United States doing things they really shouldn’t. For the most part this is a simple spoken word album; sometimes the verses rhyme, sometimes they are in sentences or in rap lines. Sometimes Attila plays the guitar and sings down-home folk-punk.’

Lars said Patrick Street’s album Live From Patrick Street is ‘every bit as good as any of their studio albums. This is soft, gentle Irish music at its best, far from the bombastic reel and jig-playing or loud pub songs you sometimes get. Patrick Street dare not to be loud, and they dare not to fill out all the gaps. Instead, they weave a thin airy web which allows you to examine every detail of what is being played. No walls of sound here. They trust their listeners to be attentive and interested, and they do not underestimate them neither. This is clever music for clever listeners.’

Richard brought sad news about Lindisfarne’s Lindisfarne Live: ‘The first hint that Lindisfarne Live is going to be a disaster comes literally twenty-two seconds in on the disc, when lead singer Alan Hull shouts the magical words “Rock and roll!” to the audience. A simple rule of thumb for live albums is this: If the band has to remind you it’s rock and roll, then it probably ain’t.’

Scott reviewed a live album from the Celtic supergroup Mozaik. ‘The members of Mozaik all have reputations which precede them, and the musicianship on Live from the Powerhouse lives up to expectations. Long-time fans of any of the individual performers will want to have this CD. Newcomers looking for quality Irish or world music will find much to like about this as well, although they might want to catch up on Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny’s histories while they’re at it.’

Stephen thought Feast of Fiddles’ Live ’01 disc was quite good: ‘The decision to release a live CD is a very welcome one, as this is definitely music to be heard in the flesh. The musicians are all of a very high calibre indeed, taking a break from their “day jobs” and communing on stage with a sense of enjoyment that’s palpable even when filtered via a disc. If I’d actually been at these gigs I’d have doubtless got more excited, and you might even have heard my voice bawling along the closing “Drunken Sailor!” ‘

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Our What Not is of a Musical Nature as Gary has some commentary for us complete with a playlist, a column he calls How the Pedal Steel Guitar Stole My Heart. ‘The pedal steel guitar has long been one of my favorite instruments. There’s just something about its sound that can go from quicksilver pure to rough and distorted in the blink of an eye that captured my heart at some point along my journey as a music lover.’

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I rather like ‘Brown-Eyed Women’ quite a bit but my favorite version isn’t the one with Garcia singing that the Dead did as I find his voice rather flat, but rather is one someone here found some years back. The late Robert Hunter who wrote much of what they played including this song and my favourite version is done by him during a show at Biddy Mulligan’s in Chicago on the tenth of October over thirty years ago. So let’s now listen to him doing that song.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Weavers and Stitchers

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There’s been a group of stitchers here according to the Estate Journals for at least four centuries. And there’s certainly been weavers here for as well for at least that long. And certainly that’s why we’ve raised sheep here so long that some of them became recognised breeds!

I’m fairly certain that the first stitchers group was founded by the Norns or some deities similar to them as The Old Man and His Ravens clearly remember that being so. The Old Man says that they were tired of their living conditions in Norway, cold and always damp, so the allure of a place with modern accommodations by the standards of that period, errrr, summoned them here. I’m convinced that The Old Man had something to do with this but he says no, not that I believe him.

Be that as it is, stitchers and weavers of all sorts have called the Kinrowan Estate has been home to these folk and they in turn have contributed socially and economically, to this community ever since. Though there are no full-time stitchers or weavers here currently, about a third of resident staff, call it a dozen, spend quite sometime engaged in this activity. Certainly they’re more active in the Winter generally spending several hours a night in the Pub, or the Library or even that cozy corner in the Kitchen weaving or stitching while engaged in conversation or listening to the Neverending Session.

They do have their needs being fond, in addition to our wool, of interesting wools from such places as Iceland, the Shetland Islands and Turkey. Ingrid, the Estate Buyer, consults with them (she’s a weaver too) before going on a buying trip. It’s amazing us hat she finds for wool!

They fond of freshly brewed tea when the group meets and Mrs. Ware who manages our Kitchens (yes there’s multiple Kitchens here) makes sure they have it at hand along with cream, honey and sugar. They don’t eat as that’s never a good idea when doing these activities but the group often has High Tea, usually in the Russian manner, at least once a week.

We’ve even built a very large yurt that been set aside for them as looms and stitching frames take up a lot of room. It’s got full light as we put in windows with glare reducing film all the way around, and it has electric heat courtesy of solar panels on the roof. It’s quite cozy in the winter, especially when a snow storm is occurring!

Now I must beg off as the group is meeting a few minutes and I’m set to read to them this evening. Cat Valente’s Fairyland novel, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, is what I’ll be reading this time, not all of it of course as that’ll take several meetings to get through…

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What’s New for the 10th of July: Jennifer offers us chilaquiles for breakfast, Folkmanis Dragons, The Doctor creates Macgregor’s Kitchen Garden, Eric Burdon’s Least Favourite Song, books with a ‘sunny’ theme, Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction

I hate this fucking song. (See our coda for the story of this quote.)

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Sorry ’bout the delay in getting your Queen’s Lament IPA to you, it’s been a very busy day as we’ve got a hand fastening on the Greensward and the brides changed their minds this morning  on what libations they wanted for the reception afterwards.

And I’m down workers as Gus needed them for desperately needed work in Macgregor’s Kitchen Garden which is much larger than the quaint name it has would suggest. Though it’s only large on the inside as that Doctor helped design it, as he considered an interesting thing to do as a form of applied geography. It stays warm even in the coldest of winters as it’s not really here. And yes there was a Head Gardener here by that name when the Doctor engineered it.

The weather’s been sunny and warm so almost everyone here is finding an excuse to be outside. The Kitchen staff has been out on the back terrace that borders on the Kitchen (which is actually in the basement level right below our Pub, which is in the first level of basement) setting up the reception. I should tell you that Kitchen and Pub have full banks of triple glazed leaded glass windows so they’re cheerfully bright spaces when the sun reaches this side of Kinrowan Hall.

So I wonder what we’ve for you this edition …

Raspberry dividerEric provided an excellent omnibus review of five of Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels of Roman and post-Roman Britain: The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, Frontier Wolf, The Lantern Bearers, and Dawn Wind. ‘Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman Britain series is historical fiction at its best – excellent historical details, interesting characters, compelling stories, and a seamless blend of fiction with history. Though ostensibly for young adults, these books are excellent for adults. Sutcliff successfully brings the struggle between Rome and the barbarians to life, covering the back-and-forth battle under changing circumstances and across the centuries.’

Following up on his omnibus review of her historic fantasy Romano-British novels, Eric reviewed Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset, one of her books about legendary Celtic Britain. ‘There are many novelizations of King Arthur, but Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset stands out for its raw emotion and storyline stripped down to the essentials. The fully drawn characters sell you entirely on her version of the legend.’

Grey found she couldn’t put down this YA fantasy novel, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. ‘C.J. Cherryh and Orson Scott Card are the leading masters in the science fiction/fantasy field at writing real aliens, aliens who are truly alien, not just humans with an extra leg or scales. With Sunshine, Robin McKinley joins their ranks.’

Jason reviewed a Lisa Goldstein book that blends historical fiction with horror and fantasy. ‘The Alchemist’s Door takes place mostly in 1580s Prague. The city is a nexus of great magical energy, where the barrier that separates the world of men and the world of demons has grown thin.’

Leona, an admitted fan, gave an enthusiastic review to Karl Wagner’s epic anti-hero tales in Midnight Sun: The Complete Stories of Kane. ‘The basic plots of all stories in this book, which range from prehistoric to modern and even futuristic settings, can be broken down into such simple terms and explanations, but that misses the brawny vitality filling the pages. Inspired by Wilde, Lord Gro, and Marlowe, Wagner used his training as a psychiatrist to gift Kane with a more complex personality than many writers give “good” heroes.’

Marian knew nothing of the story in a Lisa Goldstein book she reviewed, which she summarized thus: ‘Dark Cities Underground is a story of what ifs. What if Alice in Wonderland was a true story, but rather than Lewis Carroll being the originator it was really Alice Liddell who experienced the adventure and told the story to Charles Dodgson? Or what if Lord of the Rings was a tale told to J. R. R. Tolkien by his son Christopher? Or Peter Pan was the adventure of Peter Llewelyn Davis as told to J. M. Barrie? This book’s premise is: What if “Jeremy in Neverwas” was really the adventures of E. A. Jones’s son Jeremy Jerome Gerontius Jones, now simply known as Jerry Jones, and not just a story made up for children?’

Marian also reviewed an earlier entry by Lisa Goldstein, which she enjoyed quite a lot. ‘Walking the Labyrinth is a joy to read. Goldstein provides a very detailed story without wasting any words, and leaves the reading hoping for more. The different levels of story leave you guessing about what will be discovered next.’

Robert had high praise for a work by an author he frequently reviews. ‘Science fiction, like any other genre, has its landmarks, those works that stand above their cohort and may, all else being equal, stand above most works from other genres as well (and I include so-called “mainstream” literature among genres). Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun is widely recognized as being one of these: a work that established a new paradigm for science fiction as a literary form and may rank as one of the great works of American literature in general.’

Robert reported in with the first two installments of a young readers’ fantasy trilogy, Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing and Sunwing. ‘Kenneth Oppel has built an intriguing fantasy world, with a mythology and history of its own, from the lives of the creatures of forest and jungle. Interestingly enough, many of the good guys are creatures that people don’t especially treasure – bats, rats and owls. But then, some of the bad guys are bats and owls, too, and the good guys aren’t always that appealing. Missing are the standard characters of “animal” fantasy – no bears, foxes, wolves, or badgers appear as characters. In spite of repeated demonstrations of affection among the bats, there is little here that could be called “cuddly.” ‘

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Michelle starts off her look at American baseball films this way: ‘In the big inning, God created baseball. Or perhaps it was Loki, patron of athletics and other tricks; the origins are shrouded in antiquity. There is also debate about which mortal first received the divine inspiration. Abner Doubleday often gets credit, though some historians claim the game was played in England in the 1700s. What is known is that, in 1845, a team called the New York Knickerbockers adopted the rules of the game we know as baseball. In New Jersey that summer, they played the first organized baseball game, and America acquired its own pantheon.’  You can read her delightful essay here.

Raspberry dividerJennifer offers chilaquiles for breakfast on a hot summer morning. No, really. When your ears are sweating a little, you don’t notice the heat outside so much. Your clothes smell delicious all day. Takes ten minutes. Any lucky soul who shares your breakfast with you will roll over with their paws in the air and love you for a solid week afterward.

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Gary liked both the art and the writing in Larry Gonick’s The Cartoon History of the Modern World, Part I: ‘Harvard mathematician Larry Gonick continues his wildly successful Cartoon History of the Universe series with this book, an irreverent cartoon look at world history “From Columbus to the U.S. Constitution.” Anyone who loves history, comics or both should have this volume.’

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David wrote a second review of Jochen Ross and Jens-Uwe Popp’s The Ten Islands because … well, he can tell you. ‘I must confess I’ve had this CD on my shelf for over a year. I listen to it regularly when my brain is abuzz with distractions and plans. The music of The Ten Islands has a calming effect. It’s quite wonderful. Why have I taken so long to review it, you might well ask. I did write a review, which seems to have been lost in the ether. So let’s look at this album again, with the knowledge that it’s taken on a more important role than it had when we first listened.’

Gary reviews Heat Haze, an offering from the ‘ambient country’ band SUSS. ‘I was immediately drawn to the sound of SUSS when I came upon it on their Bandcamp site. To me, it echoes and carries on the sounds pioneered by Bill Elm, Naim Amor and Co., in the 90s Tucson band Friends of Dean Martinez. SUSS takes the classic western music sounds of baritone guitar, pedal steel, acoustic guitar, resonator, and occasional harmonica, and lays them over an evocative multi-layered electronic drone.’

Gary also reviews one from the Medicine Singers’. ‘The Medicine Singers’ self-titled debut release is yet another mind-blowing musical project out of Indian Country. This year of 2022 seems to be the year for them! Although this one includes some guest vocals from Joe Rainey, a Red Lake Ojibwe whose debut recording Niineta I reviewed earlier this year, it mainly features members of the Eastern Medicine Singers, most or all of whom are from the Wampanoag Tribe and related tribes of the Eastern Algonquin in the Northeastern U.S.’

Gary is pretty excited about the post-modern Exotica on the debut recording from guitarist Nick Millevoi and keyboardist Ron Stabinsky who call themselves Grassy Sound, titled The Sounds of Grassy Sound. Especially because it combines his love of old cowboy songs with his love of … the Meat Puppets? ‘The final glorious track presents them performing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” with Cris Kirkwood on bass and vocals, Curt Kirkwood on vocals, and Derrick Bostrom on drums and joined by Millevoi and Stabinsky doing what they do.’

Meredith had high praise for Susan McKeown’s first solo album Bushes & Briars. ‘This album showcases the range of McKeown’s voice, as she ably conveys the emotions of the songs, whether she is singing in English or Gaelic. At the same time, the distinctly contemporary arrangements breathe new life into the traditional material.’

Michael found that it was worth waiting four years for Spiral Dance to release another CD, this time The Quickening. ‘There is plenty of light and shade throughout the CD, with equally effective acoustic or electric guitar work from Nick Carter helping to provide the right mood for each song. The production is well layered, the sound is full and even the cover design somehow manages to evoke the overall feel of the CD. This is still distinctively Spiral Dance but with more of an edge and it is all the better for it. I do hope it’s not another few years until the next one.’

Patrick could hardly find enough superlatives for Susan McKeown and Lorin Sklamberg’s collaboration entitled Saints & Tzadiks, which he said  ‘… is a unique and amazing work of aural art; full of unexpected delights and twists that will leave the listener wondering what’s next – and wondering how McKeown and Sklamberg put it all together without becoming tongue-tied. It’s by far one of the most original CDs I’ve heard in years. One can only hope it’s not the last pairing for this dynamic duo.’

Patrick also enjoyed Lowlands, Susan McKeown’s sixth studio release. ‘McKeown borrowed from quite a crop of musicians on this album, a list too numerous to mention in this review. She has an uncanny ability to recognize just who – or what – will provide a perfect accompaniment on each track. I can only shake my head in amazement at her talent. She is a true musical genius, a rarity in this age of sound bites and two-minute pop hits.’

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Our What Nots are of a Dragonish manner, and let’s have Camille start off for us: ‘Like every Folkmanis puppet I’ve so far seen, the Baby Dragon Puppet is a marvel of workmanship for the price: carefully stitched seams, articulated wings, darts along the inside of the limbs and belly to allow for movement and keep shape. The tag tells us it’s made in China, so we know who to thank.’

Mia finishes off with a look at four of Folkmanis’s creations, to wit Blue Dragon, Green Dragon, Three Headed Dragon, and Phoenix and she says, ‘Oooooh, shiny! I have a box of dragons here! Folkmanis makes the best puppets ever, and their dragons are some of the finest of their puppets.’

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Once upon a rainy, cold night the concierge at the hotel we staying at in London said that Eric Burdon was playing a few streets away at a club near to the hotel. Sounded interesting so we got our anoraks and walked there. Club might’ve held a hundred but there was no more than few dozen there. It was was very obvious that most were more  interested in their drinks than the music that would soon be playing that night.

Eric came out and introduced the rest of the band — Brian Auger and Brian’s son, Karma. They preceded to play a seventy five minute set with no break. The obligatory encore of course included ‘The House of The Rising Sun’. But before Burdon performed this, he said ‘I hate this fucking song’ and explained he played it several hundred times every year, starting in the late sixties. I think he was more bitter about his vast body of work was essentially being ignored except for this song and a few others such as ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ which the Vietnam set TV show China Beach used, but they used the version done by Katrina and The Waves.

The song as recorded here was performed by Eric Burdon & the Animals on the 8th of  May 1967 at the Marquee Club, London. It’s not quite the song that he’d grow to hate as it’s presented more as a talking blues song which makes sense as  the Newcastle lad that Burdon was thought he was a bluesman.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Foxes

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Though fox hunting by the gentry was common in Scotland for centuries, this Estate never allowed them to be hunted here, so the Estate foxes have thrived. Even when we had a Gameskeeper here, before we abolished that position and created the Estate Head Gardener position that I now hold, they were safe from being hunted. Deer and rabbits have to be hunted or the bloody buggers multiply beyond belief.

There are, roughly speaking, two types of foxes here — those who like humans and those who really could do without us. Given the size of the Estate, both types can easily find their preference here. There’s a long history of the human inhabitants here noting in The Sleeping Hedgehhog who were the foxes they were especially interested in.

There was Tess, who according to the Estate Ghillie, had a burrow down by one of the salmon breeding pools; he fed rabbits to her and her kits during a particularly bad winter; there was the fox that bedded down with the Irish wolfhounds who guarded the sheep; there was one fox that, based on his markings, was estimated to be over thirty years old, an impossible age for a fox, even in captivity; and one Estate Gardener swore he had not been drunk when he had a conversation with a ghost fox out in the Wood. I am not one to dispute that having seen weirder things on this Estate.

The foxes that are truly wild are harder to get a handle on as they avoid us at all costs. Some have only been glimpsed, being known as individuals solely because of their unique characteristics, such as the female known as Diamond as she had a perfect white diamond bit of fur on hher forehead, or the one called Broad Arrow as he had such a marking on his back.

So if you visit our Estate, do take the time to look for our foxes. It’ll be worth your while to do so.

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What’s New for the 26th of June: All things de Lint; Festival Express; Jennifer’s annual Solstice pig roast; lots of Cara Dillon, plus cool off with some Canadian and Siberian folk music

She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she was a bit like a cat herself, forever wandering in the woods, chasing after squirrels and rabbits as fast as her skinny legs could take her when the fancy struck, climbing trees like a possum, able to doze in the sun at a moment’s notice. And sometimes with no notice at all. — Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

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Let me turn down that lovely music that I’m playing here in the Green Man Pub on yhis quiet summer afternoon. It’s Zahatar’s The Little Country recording based off the music that Charles de Lint composed in his Little Country novel.

If you’ve not encountered The Cats of Tanglewood Forest which is illustrated by Charles Vess whose lovely art book,  Drawing Down the Moon: The Art of Charles Vesswas reviewed by the author who wrote this book, I’m going to recommend that you go read it now.

I’m re-reading it this summer as it’s a very summery novel in my feeling. It’s about a girl named Lillian who may or may not have been turned into a kitten though her reflection in water  is still human though everyone else says she’s a kitten, the odyssey she undertakes she takes in the ancient forest near her home and the magical creatures she meets. It’s absoulutely charming.

The hardcover edition is  readily available and I strongly recommend that you purchase that version of it as it is quite stellar. The various online booksellers have it available at reasonable prices.

It has a sort of prequel in A Circle of Cats. Though that was intended to be the prequel to the de Lint/Vess Subterranean Press collaboration Seven Wild Sisters, it can also be considered a prequel to this work in my view. It gets complicated. Really. It does.  Some of the characters will that show up in Seven Wild Sisters will be in Medicine Road. And that is a remarkable work indeed.

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Okay, let’s just talk about de Lint work this time. Now this is not all inclusive as that would be a really long section, so I’m limiting to a baker’s dozen or so. Well, maybe.

Cat picks his favorite novel by de Lint: ‘A truly great novel has interesting characters, a well-thought-out setting, and a memorable plot. Forests of the Heart has all three. One reviewer said that ‘there’s nothing here that de Lint hasn’t done before. A satisfying but not significant book.’ I will passionately disagree with that statement, as this novel is in all of the aspects that I noted above (plot, setting, story line) a classic in the genre of urban fantasy. If you somehow have missed reading de Lint to date, this novel’s a most excellent place to start — though connected in many ways to the sprawling Newford saga, it is a novel that can be appreciated without having read extensively in that saga.’

A rather unusual novel by him also gets reviewed by this reviewer: ‘It was a typical winter afternoon as I sat down to read The Mystery of Grace — cold, wet, and a driving sleet falling hard, so it was no wonder that a good novel was in order! This is the first novel in nearly fifteen years from this writer which is not set in his city of Newford. Newford is a setting which has, for the most part, dominated his writing since Memory & Dream, which was published in 1994. Over the dozen years that followed the publication of that novel, another six novels, several novellas and myriad short stories that were also set primarily in Newford would follow, along with one work in the desert Southwest USA, Medicine Road. It is worth stressing before we get into this review that my favorite Newford novel, Forests of The Heart, which I re-read every few years, is also set partly in the desert Southwest USA. So I had great hopes for this novel.Were my hopes cruelly dashed? No, not at all as it’s a cracking good outing by him!‘

Grey gave us a reason to listen to this novel: ‘Charles de Lint dedicates The Little Country to “…all those traditional musicians who, wittingly or unwittingly, but with great good skill, still seek to recapture that first music.” A traditional Celtic musician himself, de Lint has peopled The Little Country with musicians and filled it with music. All of the chapter titles are titles of (mostly) traditional tunes, and there is an appendix of tunes written by Janey Little, the book’s main character — tunes actually written by de Lint himself. (‘Tinker’s Own’ on their Old Enough to Know Better CD recorded de Lint’s “The Tinker’s Black Kettle,” one of the tunes in this novel.) Any readers who are at all musically inclined may find themselves itching to reach for their instruments and try out the tunes.’

She also this novel a lot: ‘Medicine Road is one of a series of shorter novels by Charles de Lint, illustrated by Charles Vess and published by Subterranean Press. Seven Wild Sisters, in which we first met Bess and Laurel, was another. The book 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.’

A warning here. She’s looking at the first edition of this book. I read it myself and it’s quite wonderful that way. You can find on American Book Exchange and the like. She says of it that: ‘As I was reading The Wild Wood today, I found the imprint of a shape pressed onto the words on the page in front of me. I was puzzled until I turned back one page and saw the same shape, inked in black: one of Brian Froud’s symbolic drawings. I felt then a strange connection to whoever it was who had taken this book out of the library before me, who had traced Froud’s shape for him or herself, pressing hard enough to leave an indentation on the following page. I shared that unknown former reader’s fascination with the shape. Was it a leaf? A feather? A spearhead?’

Her last review looks at an early Ottawa novel of his: ‘As with much of de Lint’s early work, Yarrow‘s fantastic elements are rooted in the Old World, particularly the folklore of the British Isles. The reader can see de Lint’s emerging ability, rough though it still is around the edges, to draw together the vivid, stylized characters who step out of folk lore’s vast tapestry and the harder, visceral immediacy of characters living in the modern world. Yarrow may be a fantasy, but it is also a fast-paced mystery thriller and a thoughtful character study. De Lint holds all of these elements together skillfully, but he does sacrifice some depth to do so. Yarrow lacks the multi-layered character development, for example, of some of his later books, such as Some Place to Be Flying. Yet, by the end of the novel, Cat’s Otherworld feels like a real place, a place with enough inner reality, enough substance, that it will continue to exist, in or out of dreams.’

Jayme Lynne hones in what make this author so unique in his review of Memory & Dream: ‘If there is an inherent flaw within the sub-genre of urban fantasy, it lies in the fact that many writers rely too heavily on established mythology. The familiar fantasy becomes a crutch, and holds the story back from fulfilling its true potential. The punk-rocker elf has become a cliché, as has the dragon living in the sewer. In Memory & Dream, Canadian fantasist Charles de Lint avoids this pitfall, and in doing so, sets himself apart from the crowd with his most complex, engaging and artistically challenging novel to date’

Laurie looks at another novel set in Newford: ‘With Someplace To Be Flying, de Lint returns to the fictional city of Newford, the setting of the novel Memory and Dream and the short story collections Dreams Underfoot and The Ivory and the Horn. With an ensemble cast of strong characters, some human, some not so human, Someplace to be Flying is a liberal mix of Native American folklore and a dash of Celtic mythology. As in much of de Lint’s work, the reader is reminded that magic lurks just beneath the surface of our everyday world, and once we have seen it, we can never again look at the world in quite the same manner. With Someplace To Be Flying is an enchanting addition to the Newford saga, and highly recommended.’

Naomi looks at The Riddle of The Wren, a high fantasy by him: ‘ Even in this, his first novel published in North America, there are overtones of what he is to become with time — a master, or perhaps the master of urban fantasy. I admire his ability to find magic within the mundane and to share it with an appreciative and ever-growing audience. I have yet to be disappointed by a de Lint work.’

Lest we forget, he writes stellar short stories and Robert looks at one of his best collections: ‘Dreams Underfoot is another collection of Newford stories, rather different in feel than those in The Ivory and the Horn. While that collection leaned more toward the “ghost stories” category, this one is much more inclined toward what we’ve come to know as de Lint’s own brand of fantasy: urban, contemporary, drawing on mythic traditions from both Europe and North America, and not quite like anything anyone else is writing. These stories are also what I’ve come to think of as “mature de Lint”: the boundaries between the worlds have become not only intangible, but largely irrelevant, the here-and-now is not irrevocably here or now, and magic is where you find it – if it doesn’t find you first.’

Before he created Newford, he set most of his novels in Ottawa where he lives and Robert looks at two of those works: ‘Charles de Lint is known as “the godfather of urban fantasy,” and indeed, it’s in that genre that he’s made his mark – he’s never been a writer of heroic fantasy: in a better than thirty year career, very few buckles get swashed, although the two short novels included in Jack of KinrowanJack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon — come close, something of a romp a la Dumas pere — by way of Harold Lloyd, perhaps. Both concern the adventures of Jacky Rowan and Kate Hazel, best friends who find themselves enmeshed in the doings of the land of Faerie that coexists with modern-day Ottawa.’

Next this reviewer looks at his best known work: ‘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.)’

Sarah has one of those intertwined novels I mentioned previously: ‘’Seven Wild Sisters advertises itself as a modern fairy tale. Including the seven sisters, it certainly has all the trappings: an old woman who may be a witch, an enchanted forest, a stolen princess. But Sisters is not just borrowing the clothes of fairy tale. It sings with the true voice of fairy tale: capricious, wild, and not entirely safe, but rich and enchanting.’

Zina has our final, and shortest review quote, fitting given she’s reviewing, What the Mouse Found and Other Stories: ‘ Ah — two of my favorite things, paired in one slim volume. (Sorry, I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “slim volume” somewhere.) Fairy tales and Charles de Lint. The postman dropped the package through the door this afternoon. Just a bit later, here I am at my computer. I couldn’t not read it right away, could I?’

Raspberry dividerTake a number of well-known musicians, toss in fans and a camera crew, put all on a train traversing Canada. That was the intent of the Festival Express. Sound intriguing? David thought so: ‘It opens with a faded map of north Ontario, Kapuskasing dead centre. Then the camera pulls back and from the middle of the screen comes a train — an old Canadian National engine — and tracks, lots of tracks. This is a movie about that train and the people who rode on it, and the places it stopped, and what happened one week in 1970 when this train went from Toronto to Calgary … with a cargo of rock’n’rollers and all their paraphernalia. What a summer.’

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Nothing says Summer Solstice like a barbecue! Jennifer’s annual pig roast went virtual years ago (in case you used to get invited and have been feeling miffed that you don’t any more) and you can still get your pig on here. She realizes that she has failed to mention the side dishes. “Side dishes? What side dishes? You’re supplying a freakin’ pig! It’s a pot luck with pig. Side dishes – and beer – and those re-gifted oddball wine coolers – start showing up early and continue until you shovel everyone out the door.”

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Our graphic novel not surprisingly is by de Lint. Remember that prequel to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest I mentioned that was actually the prequel to something else? Well Mia reviews it: ‘A Circle of Cats is intended to be the prequel to the de Lint/Vess collaboration Seven Wild Sisters. Since I’ve been thwarted in every attempt to procure a copy of Sisters, and haven’t had a chance to read the story sans Vess artwork in Tapping the Dream Tree collection, I have no idea how A Circle of Cats stands in relation to that rare release. In relation to de Lint’s body of work as a whole, and indeed to the field of modern fantasy and fairy tale overall, this piece is simply outstanding.’ Yes it was intended to be for children but any lover of folklore and felines will love it!

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David was lukewarm about Canadian folk singer Tom Lewis’s album 360 Degrees: All Points of the Compass. ‘Tom Lewis is a former sailor, a submariner, who came ashore to play his own brand of folk music a few years ago. As he sings in “Port of Call,” “No sixty year old sailor is wanted on the sea …” Indeed, I saw what happens to a sailor without a hobby, when my father was forced to retire. It’s not a pretty sight. Fortunately the retirement date for folk singers hasn’t been set yet!’

Gary reviews what sounds like a smashing set of folk music by various artists from the German label CPL-Music. ‘Folk and Great Tunes From Siberia and Far East is a double CD by various artists from many of the remote Russian republics in Siberia and the Far East. Each of the two discs contains well over an hour of music in a wide variety of styles: unaccompanied polyphonic singing, solo or duo singers of old songs accompanied by traditional acoustic instruments, psychedelic folk rock, and of course lots of overtone singing from Tuva and other republics and regions. It’s a daunting but welcome task to review such a collection.’

Gary also reviews a new release by a Sudanese band called Noori & His Dorpa Band, making unique music with a unique instrument that combines a tambour and an electric guitar. ‘Beja Power! is beautiful and powerful instrumental music of cross-cultural appeal. I love that the catchiest tune here is called “Hope,” because sometimes music like this is one of the few rays of hope I can see.

Michael interviewed Cara Dillon on the occasion of her visit to Australia for WOMADelaide in 2003, and she discussed her musical background, among other topics. ‘I sort of grew up sitting in the back room of pubs listening to music all over the summer and learning songs, even at an age when I didn’t even actually know what the words of the songs, the content meant. It was just a fantastic way to be brought up. It’s kind of a way of life, music.’

Peter had very little to say that wasn’t positive about Cara Dillon’s self-titled debut album. ‘This is the debut album for Cara Dillon. Why we have had to wait so long to hear from her beats me. For the uninitiated who have never heard of Cara, she is 27 years old and a tasteful singer with a rare and beautiful voice. She comes from Dungiven, Co. Derry, Ireland, where at the age of 14 won the All Ireland singing trophy.’

Peter also enjoyed Cara’s After the Morning. ‘On previous albums Cara has established her self as a fine singer of traditional songs, bringing a flair and colour to them that is her own. On this recording, she moves forward with 12 songs, of which only four are traditional, arranged by Cara and partner Sam Lakeman. On the rest of the album Cara takes on a more contemporary mode with five songs co-written with Sam Lakeman, who also recorded and produced the album.’

Richard was nonplussed by Tales of a Summer Past, an album described by its creator Nick Davis as ‘classical crossover or New Age classical music.’ Richard notes that it was created entirely by using what’s known as MIDI samples of instruments, not live instruments themselves. ‘Personally, I would incline to a description involving the word “pastiche,” since Davis seems to be striving to create something that sounds like classical music without quite being it.’

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Today’s What Not is a short story “Lideric” from Jennifer. She is indebted to Valya Lupescu and Madeline Carol Matz for introduction to their notions of house spirit. She took some liberties with their idea, blended them with a Roumanian sex demon, stirred, popped it all in the oven, and ended up with a Roumanian-American house spirit doing daycare.

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That’s Chicago’s ‘Saturday in the Park’ that you’re hearing.   It’s an upbeat, feel good summer song much like ‘Love Shack’ by the B-52s. This version was recorded on 6th of August 1982 at the Park West in Chicago. It was released officially on Chicago V fifty years ago  and peaked on the Billboard carts at number three which is bloody impressive. It was lovely enough that I ever get tired of hearing it.

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on What’s New for the 26th of June: All things de Lint; Festival Express; Jennifer’s annual Solstice pig roast; lots of Cara Dillon, plus cool off with some Canadian and Siberian folk music

A Kinrowan Estate story: Danse Macabre (A Letter to Anna)

Greetings Anna,

You’ll be tickled to know that Jack is putting back together the medieval music group called Danse Macabre that he had here well over twenty years ago. Of course, there’ll be new musos including my wife, Catherine, joining the players from the first version of the group.

Danse Macabre’s been looking for a hurdy-gurdy player for quite some time now, as Jack had no trouble finding violinists, bagpipers and just the right amount of percussion in the form of hand drums, but good hurdy-gurdy players are as rare as musicians willing to play all-night dances! So he cajoled Catherine into joining his group. Finch is playing English bagpipes, specifically Leicestershire smallpipes, as popularized by Julian Goodacre, Jack and Bela are the violinists, and one of my Several Annies, Justina, is skilled at hand drums, being a fan of Davy Cattanach, who played them with the Old Blind Dogs some twenty years ago.

It’s fun to watch them play as they’re trying to avoid the achingly dull manner in which most Medieval performance groups perform, as if they’re afraid the music community will disbar them for being innovative. Instead, they’re adapting the music to modern sensibilities, making it more fast-paced, more sprightly than it’s typically played. They’re more akin to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and the Turtle Island Quartet.

Like Leaf & Tree, Catherine’s other Medieval music group, they’re planning on touring next Winter in Europe, preferably in January and February when I can take time off to travel with her. I’ll send you their press packet as soon as I’ve got it, as ideally they’d like to play several dates in Stockholm, and I know you’ve got the contacts to make it happen, having done it for Leaf & Tree.

I’ll see you in just a few days, and we’ll be staying in Stockholm for at least ten days. Your teaching is over now I believe, so it’ll be fun just to hang out. Catherine’s bringing her violin home and I’ve got my concertina as she wants to do some busking just for fun.

Affectionately Iain

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What’s New for 12th of June: Neal Stephenson, L.A. SF noir, return to Central Station, cozy mysteries, Holmes vampires; Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasies; Grateful Dead themed Weißbier; new music from Angel Olsen and Toot Monk, remembering Kelly Joe Phelps, all things Waterboys, and more

Any AI smart enough to pass a Turing test
is smart enough to know to fail it.

Ian McDonald’s River of Gods

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I woke well before dawn as I wanted to watch the Northern Lights, which have been particularly outstanding lately. Though none of the humans save Tamsin, our Hedgewitch, on the Estate joined me, but several of the Irish wolfhounds that guard our livestock accompanied me as well and even some of Tamsin’s owl companions flew low overhead. We, well at least we humans, found them fascinating as the wolfhounds and owls seemed to be playing a rather complicated chase game that even Tamsin admitted she hadn’t even a clue what it meant.

We later had breakfast back in the Kitchen nook created originally for members of the Neverending Session to play in the Kitchen – thick cut thrice smoked applewood bacon, blueberry waffles with butter and maple syrup, tea for me and Tamsin as well, and Border strawberries, the ones that start red as blood and turn white as bleached bone, as well. We both felt like in need of  a very long walk to work it off, or a long nap … I however needed to put this together so both choices were put off for later consideration!

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Although Gary notes that Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock is a post-Covid novel, it is not about Covid or any other pandemic. ‘It is Stephenson’s entry into the growing oeuvre of SFF novels about people finally doing something about the climate emergency.’

Our music section this time has extensive archival coverage of the music of The Waterboys, so we’re also pointing you to Gary’s review of Mike Scott’s memoir Adventures of a Waterboy. Gary was pleasantly surprised by it. ‘The moment I opened this book about Mike Scott and started reading it was when I first  realized that it was a memoir. And if you’ve read many musicians’ autobiographies, you’ll know why my heart sank. “Oh, great, another slog through a couple hundred pages of mediocre writing at best.” It didn’t take long for Mr. Scott to dispel that notion. And when I reached the end of Chapter 1, I said out loud, “This guy can really write!” Not just songs, but prose, too.’

Lis, who joins us this edition, 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.’

‘I’ll admit, a couple of years ago I knew little about the genre of “comic fantasy,” ‘ our reviewer Joel said. By the time he’d finished the two volumes of editor Mike Ashley’s The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy, he was won over. ‘Together, this pair of books forms an eclectic, unique, and memorable collection of the type of odd short fiction you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Anyone looking for something different need look no further.’

Paul, another new reviewer, says “Lavie Tidhar’s Neom is a stunning return to his world of Central Station, twining the fates of humans and robots alike at a futuristic city on the edge of the Red Sea.”

Warner leads off with a cozy for us: ‘M.C. Beaton with R.W. Green’s Down The Hatch is a very nice entry in the Agatha Raisin series. While there is not a great deal of change to the status quo, that is at least as much a boon as a hindrance for a cozy little mystery. While not an ideal starting point for the series, overall it remains enjoyable and easy to recommend. Fans of the rest of the series will love it, and it wouldn’t hurt curious onlookers to give it a try.’

And another cozy mystery caught his eye: ‘Buried in a Good Book is a very nice beginning for a series. Tamara Berry includes a number of wonderful characters in the book, and a story that grips the reader enough to look forward to the twists and turns that come. A reader should check this out if they like cozy mysteries, and eagerly await the next volume.’

Next he has a mystery collection for us: ‘Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies is an important piece of crime and mystery novel history. The tale itself is a splendid blend of drawing room mystery and look at the world of Harlem during the Great Depression, warts and all.’

He has a popular female detective for us: ‘Kerry Greenwood’s The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions: The Ultimate Phryne Fisher Short Story Collection is pretty much exactly what it says on the cover. Featuring more than 16 stories related to the character, the fact the bulk of them had been pinted before might make some hesitate. Yet there are a handful of new stories within, as well as other added material, all in a tight little package.’

Chocolat! Peanut butter! Holmes vampires! He looked next at a works that combines the latter: ‘Christian Klaver’s Sherlock Holmes & Count Dracula is a mashup of two of the most well known figures in the history of publishing. While these two characters have been often combined, the myriad ways it can be done will mean a great deal of interest for new interpretations.’

A more classic mystery finishes off his reviews: ‘James Kestrel’s Five Decembers is a fascinating example of the historical mystery, and a surprisingly quality example of avoiding the mistakes that can often fall into a novel set during a war of the last century. It also combines the war novel and detective novel extremely well, leaving appropriate surprised and horrified at approrpiate moments while never quite feeling cheated. Easy to recommend to fans of old school noir and hardboiled mystery.’

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Robert has a dark fantasy film for you to consider: ‘The films of Guillermo del Toro have often dealt with innocence in a corrupt world; sometimes the innocence is found in surprising places, as in Hellboy, in which a demon becomes a savior. He also plays with the idea of redemption through transformation in such a way that the concept becomes almost Wagnerian in scope. And in Pan’s Labyrinth, he hinges these ultimately profound themes on a child’s belief in fairy tales.

Of course, the most well-known film by Guillermo del Toro was Hellboy which gets reviewed here by Mia: ‘I really, really don’t like comic book adaptation films. I hated Christopher Reeves and the Superman films, the Batman films (with the exception of Batman Returns, which I liked due to Catwoman and the Penguin) made me cringe, and X-Men was barely so-so on my ratings scale. I skipped The Hulk entirely, at the recommendation of friends who used words like “ghastly” and “abomination,” and I have yet to sit through Spiderman or Blade. So you’re probably wondering why I’m the chosen reviewer for Hellboy, yes?’ Now read her review to see why she madly loved it.

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I would feature this beer review by Denise just for the name of the company,  Terrapin Beer Company, and the beer, Dancing Gummy Beer Hemp Cherry Berliner Weisse, but her opening riff is precious too: ‘I remember falling in love with German Weißbier years ago when I first visited Germany. I tried to re-create that experience at home, but could only find its much inferior cousin, the Belgian Wheat. Cue that sad trombone. Perhaps it’s the raw malt in the Belgian stuff, or the way Weißbier is often blended with Sprite or whatever lemon-lime soda on hand to make it extra refreshing. (Try Weißbier with a touch of grapefruit juice. TRUST ME.) Whatever it is, I was a sad panda for years, until my neck of the woods started getting the good Deutch stuff. Or, like Terrapin.’

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Big Earl had mixed but overall positive feelings about The Acoustic Folk Box, a set of English acoustic folk music. ‘I’ve always had the view that compilations come in two shades: the first are uniform releases that stand as a cohesive whole; the second are generalist overviews, with listenable and skippable tracks. This four disc set from the fine folks at Topic falls into the latter category. I suppose trying to shoebox four decades worth of material from one incredibly broad folk tradition is bound to drop some clinkers for the sake of padding or filler. But overall this set is quite good, especially for people unfamiliar with the traditions it covers.’

David took a trip down memory lane with a two-CD set from Arlo Guthrie, Live in Sydney. ‘Telling tales is one of the things Arlo does best, and this new double CD set features many of his stories. Whether talking about his dad, or Cisco Houston, or singing the same songs after 40 years. His voice is sounding older, but he’s still an engaging speaker, funny and charming. And his stories are darned interesting.’

It was with sadness that we learned of the passing of the great American guitarist, singer and songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps, on May 31. Our archives contain several of Gary’s reviews of Phelps’s recordings including Shine Eyed Mister Zen, Sky Like a Broken Clock and its companion EP, Beggar’s Oil, and his final studio album Brother Sinner and the Whale. Gary also reviewed a live performance in Portland, Oregon.

Gary was a fan of Angel Olsen’s early albums, and he finds her new release Big Time a welcome return to her folk, country, and singer-songwriter roots. ‘Now in her mid 30s with new vistas of honesty and grief in her life, she comes back to a warmer, more intimate and vulnerable place with her music. Big Time is a country album of sorts, largely written in Southern California’s Topanga Canyon, that bastion of country-rock and folk, full of crying pedal steel guitar and pulsing organ, strummed acoustic guitars and languid waltz-time songs of love and loss and perhaps more love.’

Gary reviewed a new release from T.S. Monk and his sextet, a live album called Two Continents – One Groove. ‘After spending the ’70s and ’80s making soul and R&B music with various groups, drummer T.S. “Toot” Monk returned to his jazz roots in the early ’90s, and he’s been playing with one sextet and another pretty much continuously since then. This, surprisingly, is his first live release, and it’s a doozy.’

John wasn’t too excited about the Cowboy Junkies’ In the Time Before Llamas, an oddly titled album of live recordings made by the BBC. ‘The band are in fine form technically. The starts and stops of Bob Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” are pulled off flawlessly. The slow, sad shuffle of “To Love Is To Bury” suits Timmins’ hushed voice well – but too much of the album is made with that formula, and with too little deviation.’

Kim clued us in to The Man in the Moon Drinks Claret, an album by an obscure English electro-folk group with an even more obscure name. ‘Pyewackett were one of those groups that defied categorization: experimenting with English traditional material, early music from France and Italy, and electronic music. While playing as a dance band with a caller, they also played in concerts in the UK, and abroad as part of the British Council tours. It’s not surprising to learn that Pyewackett’s members met at university in the late 1970s, where their common interests led to a very creative ensemble with an entertaining repertoire.’

No’am was … less than thrilled with his advance review copy of The Waterboys’ A Rock In The Weary Land. ‘So what have you got? Mainly distorted vocals over a heavy rock beat. The opening “Let It Happen” adds a ghostly whistle to a gloomy chord sequence, and it’s easy to picture a graveyard in the middle of the night. God knows whether that is what’s intended by the lyrics, because there aren’t any printed lyrics and Mike Scott’s screech isn’t too easy to decipher.’

Peter settled down one June to review … an album of Christmas music. We’ll let him explain, in his review of Robin Bullock, Al Petteway and Amy White’s A Midnight Clear. ‘For an album subtitled ‘A Celtic Christmas’ it’s ironic that I am writing this review at Summer Solstice, 21st June. I don’t think I had realised before researching this album how different Christmas is on the two sides of the Atlantic, and indeed elsewhere around the world. In the U.K., it is perceived as a celebration (in the eyes of the Church) in the Americas it is a holiday, although we both have the same theme. The Winter Solstice (December 21st), the beginning of the sun’s return, was celebrated for many centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ as a pagan winter festival. The Church devised Christmas as we know it to encompass or replace sun worshipping. It does not really matter that much, but at the time of Christmas with the warmth expressed with the feeling of goodwill you get when singing Christmas carols is very real — wherever you are.’

Scott enthusiastically reviewed the Warsaw Village Band’s People’s Spring, their first widely released album and second overall. ‘As could probably be guessed by the band’s name, the Warsaw Village Band hails from Poland’s capital city, but plays the folk music that developed in its homeland’s villages. What might surprise people, though, is how this group of six young Poles generally prefers to play these old songs and tunes. Fiddlers Katarzyna Szurman, Sylwia Świątkowska, and Wojciech Krzak; bassist Maja Kleszcz; and drummers Piotr Gliński and Maciej Szajkowski describe their style as “hardcore folk” and perform with an aggression and lack of subtlety typical of punk bands.’

Scott also covered the Warsaw Village Band’s next outing, entitled Uprooting. ‘One of the few relative weaknesses of People’s Spring was the lack of originality in the vocal arrangements; the women always sang together and in unison. For Uprooting the band gave the vocals a much stronger emphasis. While roughly half the tracks on People’s Spring were instrumentals, only “Polka From Sieradz Region” on the new album features no vocals. In addition, the three women do quite a bit of nice harmonizing, and Kleszcz and Sobczak also turn in some fine lead vocal performances.’

Our Stephen turned in an indepth, nearly track-by-track review of albums by Mike Scott and The Waterboys from 1983 through 2000. Complete with some suggestions for further listening and even further reading for each album. He had, it seems, a lot to say. ‘After two decades as a prolific recording and performing artist Mike Scott is still perceived as something of an enigma. The movers, shakers and self-appointed scene setters of the music business have often viewed him as deliberately contrary, a loose canon. Reviewers, confused by his frequent stylistic changes of direction have sung his praises and poured out scorn and derision in almost equal measure. Many of his faithful fans have cast him in the mould of a mythical hero – a Celtic soul, a poet, a journeyman mystic with a rock ‘n’ roll heart. It’s a role that he appears to neither court nor feel entirely comfortable with.’

He also reviewed three other albums that compile rarities and live sessions by The Waterboys, because of course he did. It’s a shorter but still thorough look at Fisherman’s Blues Part Two, The Live Adventures of The Waterboys, and The Secret Life of the Waterboys 81-85. ‘Away with all cynics and skeptics, Mike Scott is not a man to lightly dismiss his own legacy, or to insult the intelligence of his audience with sub-standard Waterboys music. Consequently, these albums are much more than mere “fillers.” ‘

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Our What Not this time is Gus in a letter to Anna describing a folkloric aspect of this Scottish estate: ‘There are everything from ashrays (sea ghosts) to wulvers, a sort of werewolf but, alas, no trolls in Scotland. There is however now a splendidly ugly and rather large troll under the bridge over the river that’s below the Mill Pond. How it got there is a story worth knowing which is why I’m telling you in this letter.’

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Finally, if nothing makes you feel better than a good sad song, you’re in luck! We’ll send you off with a lovely tear-jerker from the Canadian folk duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, who perform as Whitehorse. They played their song ‘Die Alone’ (it was on their August 2017 release Panther In The Dollhouse) at Toronto’s legendary Massey Hall.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Our Greensward

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One part of the greensward is set aside for a cricket field. We just refurbished this area last year as it was showing its age after nearly a decade since the last spruce up. Yes, I know that Scots aren’t great cricket fans but the Estate has workers from all areas of the crumbling Empire, many of whom do play cricket. And we get a lot of summer visitors who also like cricket.

Summer weddings are held here quite often, a major revenue generator for us. It’s amusing to us when wedding planners discover we don’t do amped music, don’t do fancy wedding food, and definitely don’t have a day spa for the bridal party to indulge in the day before. Despite that, we still do many weddings during the summer.

The greensward is big enough that a wedding can take place and still leave lots of space for kite flying, picnics, frolicking, book reading, sword fights (yes, really) and almost anything else you can imagine. There’s even a few spots where a good fuck in privacy among the wooded areas is possible on a quiet afternoon.

You might well guess that it’s a labour heavy exercise to keep this greensward healthy with heavy usage. It’s one of the reasons we beef up staff for the summer. It requires mowing, cleaning of grass and leaf debris, cleaning up after events, and so forth.

There are trees in some area of the greensward making for needed shade and breaking it up to create some areas of privacy. Not surprisingly, the corvids think it’s a great place to perch and wait for someone to forget a shiny trinket or a bit of food.

If you want to know how long the greensward has been in existence, all I know is the Estate Archives say it’s been here at least since the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First.

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What’s New for the 29th of May: Remembering Patricia A. McKillip along with Finnish and Swedish music

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Patricia A. McKillip has left us.  One of the finest writers that has ever graced our presence having written The Forgotten Beasts of Eld which won a richly deserved World Fantasy Award nearly fifty years ago, and Solstice Wood, one of my favourite works by her which garnered a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature as did Something Rich and Strange, another favorite work of mine.

Paul, one of our reviewers, offers us his thoughts on her.

To have power over a thing, name it. To name a thing, know it. To know a thing: become it. — Patricia McKillip‘s “Camouflage”

If the world of fantasy is a series of baronies, duchies, emirates, city states, and kingdoms, and every fantasy author has a place of their own in fantasy, there is a special realm. A realm of subtle magic, and of beautiful music. Where the people are a full part of the land, a rich place where its creatrix has imbued the place with immersive detail. Where bards sing and myth and legend wind into the fabric of the land, the soul of the people who inhabit it. A land of poetry and power, always wondrous to cross the border and visit.

This is the realm of Patricia McKillip.

In the mid to late 1990s, I started a serious campaign to really understand a genre I had already been reading for 20 years: science fiction and fantasy. I had been led by chance, choice and suggestion up to that point but in the middle of the 1990s I decided to be more systematic in my reading of SFF. Not being connected to a wider community of science fiction, I used the tools I had on hand, and leaned on my issues of Locus to tell me what I should be reading – by looking at finalists and winners of various awards. The Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Locus ward, and among others, the Mythopoeic Award.

And so among the many fine authors and their work I thus started to discover would be Patricia McKillip. It seems to be a truism for me that if I really like an author’s work, no matter how much better their subsequent work is, I bond very strongly with the first work of theirs I read. This is definitely true of McKillip.  When I saw in that long ago issue of Locus that she had won the Mythopoeic Award for Song for the Basilisk, I went and dutifully picked it up at Forbidden Planet.  (I was blessed, living in NYC, to have a dedicated SFF bookstore I could rely on).

The lush cover reminded me a bit of Tom Canty’s work (it is actually Kinuko Y. Craft). The lush and richly descriptive and immersive prose reminded me some of the more poetic aspects of Tolkien, or the descriptive power of early Zelazny, or Peter S Beagle. I fell for the story of Caladrius/Rook/Griffin hard and well. For all that I love sorcerers and martial heroes, having a bard as a hero was something relatively unusual in my reading. It’s a careful and well drawn thing, a writer who knows the power of words, the power of music, the power of language and revelation, to use a character who is raised to be all of that to point and counterpoint the very techniques that the author uses to bring the story to life. And it was a revelation to have a hero deal with the villain not by a swordfight, or a magical contest, but with the power of music. And even there, the denouement is not as straightforward or direct as you might think. It’s a high wire balancing act that charmed me into her worlds, firmly and forever.

I then subsequently started reading McKillip’s work, backwards and since, from the Celtic themed Riddle-Master books all the way to the last work of hers I read, “Camouflage,” a story in Jonathan Strahan’s The Book of Dragons, introducing us to yet another everyday character, Will Fletcher, who is better at hiding his talents even from himself than even he knows. It is a story of hope and building and working toward a future.

I find that I have not read as much of McKillip’s short fiction as I have her novels. However, her short stories, especially the aforementioned and most accessible “Camouflage,” I feel ARE a good way for readers who might be reluctant or nervous to immerse themselves into McKillip’s work and just want to try a taste of her down to earth characters, her love of language, of poetry, of evocative description, of characterization and beats of the heart that draw you to love and fall in love with her characters. In an age and time where a lot of epic fantasy is frenetic, kinetic, and dark, there is a more stately and beautiful pace that McKillip’s work evokes. It is not all light and sweetness; there can be depth and darkness in her work, but her worlds are fundamentally more optimistic and brighter than a large share of fantasy today.

Sadly, now, McKillip and her work have come to an end. Her influence (never her shadow, she illuminated, not overshadowed her peers) runs to fantasy today, even in this age of grimdark fantasy and gritty shades of grey. Authors like Michele Sagara, Julie Czerneda, Daniel Abraham and others carry on her tradition, extending and reinventing and exploring what McKillip first illuminated, extending the boundaries of fantasy in her vein.

I will close with a quote from early in A Song for the Basilisk, that just shows the sheer power of her ferocious literary

Play the song you made for the picochet. See if you can find it on the harp.”

He tried, but the sea kept getting in the way of the song, and so did the hinterlands. He gazed at the floating hills, wondering what he would see if he walked across them, alone through unfamiliar trees, crossing the sun’s path to the top of the world. Who would he meet? In what language would they speak to him? The language the sea spoke intruded then, restless, insistent, trying to tell him something: what song he heard in the seashell, what word the rock sang, late at night under the heavy pull of the full moon. His fingers moved, trying to say what he heard, as the sea flowed like blood in and out of the hollows and caves of the rock, trying to reach its innermost heart, as if it were a string that had never been played. He came close, he felt, reaching for the lowest notes on the harp. But it was his own heart he split, and out of it came fire, engulfing the rock in the sea.

Requiscat in pace, Patricia McKillip.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Down the decades, we’ve reviewed most everything Patricia McKillip published, so it’s only fitting that we devote this edition’s book section to her extensive catalog.

‘It’s quite gratifying to revisit books from one’s childhood,’ Camille said. ‘Actually, it can be gratifying or disastrous. I’m pleased to say it was the former for me with Patricia A. McKillip’s Moon Flash. Originally published by Argo Books in 1984, Moon Flash is one of a duology, though this first book is absolutely readable as a stand-alone novel.’

She enjoyed The Moon and the Face almost as much as its prequel Moon Flash. ‘While not quite as spontaneously joyous and lovely as the first book, The Moon and the Face is still a great little novel. As with Moon Flash, I was almost overcome with gratitude for the lack of antagonistic forces and the complete absence of evil intentions. The characters are presented with challenges, yes, and death and fear, physical hardships and emotional turmoil, even grief and sadness. But never ill-intent nor maliciousness of any sort.

She didn’t find The House on Parchment Street particularly convincing as a book for young readers. ‘There’s no doubt this book is intended for younger audiences. It might best fit the sensibilities of what’s now commonly referred to as a middle grade novel, but it doesn’t have anything close to the depth or complexity — of language, of situation, of characterization — most modern readers expect of a young adult novel.’

Cat was not much impressed with McKillip’s one attempt at a science fiction novel. ‘Fool’s Run is (mercifully) long out of print. I purchased a copy online for a amazingly cheap price – less than the cost of a latte at your favorite coffee shops where the seats are ever-so-comfy and the music playing is ever-so-cool. The sort of place that beckons to you to settle in with a good novel for a few hours of reading while sipping great coffee and perhaps a bit of that carrot cake with sour cream frosting. Sound good? Not with this novel, as no amount of caffeine and sugar will keep you awake.’

Cat said he became a fan when he read the short story collection Harrowing the Dragon. ‘I must admit that I was not particularly a fan of hers ’til I started reading these tales, but I am now! Oh, I picked up a novel or two by her, but they didn’t really capture me fancy ‘tall so I put them aside in favour of other reading material as I’m wont to do when, as there always is around here, more reading material than there is possibly time to read all of it.’

Deborah found great comfort in The Bell at Sealey Head. ‘As usual for a waltz, the pace of the novel is slow and measured. Although the resolution of the mystery is surprising and satisfying, there are no shockingly breathless moments in the tale. This is comfort reading at its best: consistent, multi-faceted, and layered, all wrapped up in McKillip’s typically intoxicating and evocative language.’

Elizabeth was frustrated at the tale McKillip told in Od Magic. ‘The time-honoured battle between cautious, restricting conservatism and wild, chaotic artistry is hardly new, and becomes almost redundant when stretched to fit a novel like Od Magic. If sufficiently pared-down, it might have made a passable short story, but as it is, this novel really is odd. And not in the good way.’

Grey was immediately drawn to the story of Nepenthe, a foundling raised by librarians. ‘McKillip excels at creating magical realities that are consistent, without any glitches or sentimentality. Often, her novels end like the oldest fairy tales and ballads, beautifully but strangely; the reader senses that “The End” is governed by magical rules, not by any human logic. In Alphabet of Thorn, there are magical happenings and resolutions, but the fate of the human characters is a human fate, familiar.

Grey was pleased with McKillip’s particular use of magic in The Book of Atrix Wolfe. ‘Like Ursula Le Guin in the Earthsea stories, McKillip uses the metaphor of magic to tell a deep truth about power: the more we try to bend circumstances to our will, the more inevitable forces we set in motion; they will find their ends, with or without us.’

Of The Changeling Sea, Grey waxed poetic. ‘This is a pocket-sized paperback book of 137 pages. The story inside is small but potent, like a well-crafted spell. It makes perfect sense, but it’s fairy tale sense, not reasonable sense. To use a poetry metaphor, McKillip’s style isn’t like iambic quadrameter or pentameter, but rather like Gerard Manley Hopkin’s sprung rhythm.’

Mike had high praise for another of her works: ‘Patricia McKillip, a World Fantasy Award winner, writes with a sparse style that evokes great magic with the barest of words. She possesses a fine knowledge of funky musical instruments and the endearing qualities of musicians. Her power is that of place; it defines and motivates her characters. Song for the Basilisk explores how the expression of that power is shaped by the predilections and history of those who wield it.’

Richard reviewed McKillip’s final story collection from 2016: ‘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.’

Music is quite important in McKillip’s The Bards of Bone Plain, as Robert makes clear: ‘I’ve noted before the importance of music in the works of Patricia McKillip. I’ve probably also said something about the poetic quality of her writing. I know I’ve mentioned the way magic infuses her stories, context rather than event. That’s all here, in The Bards of Bone Plain, a story about poetry and music and magic.’

‘I was surprised some while back to discover that Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle-Master Trilogy was marketed as young-adult fantasy when it was first published,’ Robert said. ‘I don’t think I’m particularly backward in terms of understanding what I read, and I was in my thirties when I first read the books (which have earned an unchallengeable place on my “reread frequently” list), and I knew there were things I was missing. Even in a recent re-reading, the trilogy is a complex, subtle and evocative story that lends itself to much deeper examination than one might expect.’

He was even more impressed with In the Forests of Serre, which draws on Slavic folklore. ‘I’ve been reading a lot of McKillip lately, and In the Forests of Serre is one of the most impressive of her books I’ve come across. She brings us her signature themes – love, redemption, growth and maturation – with a slightly different slant.’

‘I’ve been reading Patricia A. McKillip’s fiction for more years than I care to admit at this point,’ Robert said in his review of Kingfisher. ‘It was always different, in one way or another, from her wry and sometimes slapstick humor to her very contemporary sensibility, no matter the universe she was exploring in any given story, to the sometimes devastating honesty of her characters, to the magic of her telling. It was always unique, a matter not so much of no one else being able to tell that story in quite that way, as of that it would never occur to anyone to try.’

Robert also looked at Solstice Wood, a sequel of sorts to Winter Rose though you do not read that novel first: ‘McKillip has always been a writer whose books can themselves be called “magical,” and it’s even more interesting to realize that she seldom uses magic as a thing of incantations and dire workings, or as anything special in itself. It just is, a context rather than an event, and perhaps that’s the way it should be.’

Robert reviewed an old favourite: ‘The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was the first book by Patricia A. McKillip that I ever read. Two things struck me about it: it was different than any other fantasy I had read to that point, most of which were in the high-minded, seriously heroic mode, but written in “realistic” prose; and it was funny. I didn’t know fantasy could be funny.’ (Dragon? Of course there’s a dragon.)

Reviewing Winter Rose, Robert said, ‘The story is told in McKillip’s characteristically elliptical style, kicked up an order of magnitude. Sometimes, in fact, it is almost too poetic, the narrative turning crystalline then shattering under the weight of visions, images, things left unsaid as Rois and Corbet are drawn into another world, or come and go, perhaps, at will or maybe at the behest of a mysterious woman of immense power who seems to have no fixed identity but who is, at the same time, all that is coldest and most pitiless of winter.’

Sara reviewed The Sorceress and the Cygnet & The Cygnet and the Firebird and found them, well, magical. ‘The Cygnet series is a pair of books worthy of McKillip’s reputation for the numinous and lovely. Both are full of magic, though they are as different as two sides of the same golden coin.’

Tracy, an admitted fan, found nothing to change her opinion in Ombria in Shadow. ‘This is a wonderful story with many intriguing characters who are much more than they appear to be. Not least among them is the city itself, a city that hides and holds its own secrets, a city that shifts and changes. A city of stairs that lead nowhere, of half-seen glimpses through hidden doorways, a shadow city that overlays this city. What is the origin and what does it mean, this story of a change, when the shadow city becomes real and the real becomes shadow?’

Vonnie noted that ‘McKillip uses the sea in many of her books, but in Something Rich and Strange the sea is not only the setting and a metaphor for mystery and magic and change – the sea is the subject. The book begins with protagonists Megan and Jonah (how is that for an apropos name?) experiencing a sea change after a long winter during which their lives had settled into a routine dependent on the shore. But the sea brings ambiguity, too. Just as the sea has the power to transform the people and things near it, the characters slowly realize that humanity has the power to overwhelm the sea, defeat it and kill the life in it. Moreover, man is doing so.’

We’ll let the author herself have the last word, as it were. Deborah J. Brannon conducted an interview with Patricia A. McKillip for us in 2008, in which she generously discussed the purpose of fairytales, her writing process, and much more.

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We start off our video reviews  with a Tenth Doctor story, ‘The Unicorn & The Wasp’ which Cat reviews: ‘One of my favourite episodes of the newer episodes of this series was a country house mystery featuring a number of murders and, to add an aspect of metanarrative to the story, writer Agatha Christie at the beginning of her career. It would riff off her disappearance for ten days which occurred just after she found her husband in bed with another woman. Her disappearance is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily answered to this day.’

An English country house murder mystery also gets reviewed by David: ‘As traditional as the genres he chose might have been, in Altman’s hand they were turned upside-down, and sideways. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie became anti-hero and opium addict in Altman’s “western” McCabe & Mrs. Miller, set to the music of Leonard Cohen! A laconic Elliott Gould became Raymond Chandler’s private dick Phillip Marlowe in an updated LA for Altman’s “detective” classic The Long Goodbye. Robert Altman has been the most American of directors, and now, in Gosford Park, he takes on the English country house murder mystery. Altman’s Agatha Christie film? What could this mean?’

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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.’

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1With the summer reading season here, you may be looking for some light reading, maybe a graphic novel series … Cat has just the thing for you: ‘So can I say 500 Essential Graphic Novels will help assist me – or you, for that matter – with finding new series? Quite well I’d say, given that it covers more than three hundred fifty authors, four hundred artists, and yes, five hundred graphic novels.’

Or perhaps you’d like to start on a classic series like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Rebecca did, and wrote up a lengthy omnibus review for us. ‘Gaiman’s series has provided us with a modern mythology. There are many college students wandering around today who are a little fuzzy on Zeus and Athena, but they can name all seven of the Endless, and quote Gaiman as if he were Euripides (mind you, they’ll be able to name Loki’s first wife, but only because she’s in Sandman, and they’ll be surprised to hear that he had another). The Sandman is slowly sinking into the consciousness — and unconscious — of a generation, and providing them with a framework for examining themselves and their worlds. And I think that’s a good thing.

oak_leaf_fallen_colored1Gary wrote about a multi-media experience from a group of Serbian artists known as Vartra. ‘Basma is the second album by the Serbian folk collective called Vartra. The band makes music that’s fairly characterized as neo-Slavic doom folk, a tribal, rhythmic, shamanic blend of drone and beat, heightened by electronics, rattling percussion, didgeridoo and vocals that veer from soft chants to eerie wails. It’s easily the most dramatic music I’ve heard in many a season.’

‘If you are as fond of overtone singing as our former staffer Big Earl Sellar was, you might be interested in New Asia’s Chorchok. They’re from the Altai Republic in southwestern Siberia,’ Gary says. Be advised, however: ‘Before I go any further, I want to note that this is most definitely folk rock music, not traditional Altai music, even though New Asia employs many traditional instruments.’

For some reason my thoughts have turned to Finland and Sweden, so in a stroll through the Archives I was on the lookout for reviews of music from there. I found some choice offerings, I think you’ll agree.

Brendan liked two very different Nordic discs, one from Sweden and one from Finland: Ale Möller’s The Horse and the Crane, and Myllärit’s In the Light of the White Night. The former, he said, is ‘ …a thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly entrancing set of music made for a theatre concert based upon a set of novels by Sara Lidman about the extension of the railway into Northern Sweden. Filled with the stark instrumentation and ethereal sounds that seem to pervade the best Swedish music, this suite really does feel like the perfect soundtrack to a railway tour through glaciers.’ Of the latter: ‘These folk are as Old World in charm and sound as they come, giving us a smooth, elegant, and very evocative style of playing. In fact, like their compatriots Värttinä, they even manage to make polkas entertaining to non-dancers.’

Cat is a big fan of Swedish singer Emma Hårdelin of Garmarna, whom he considers, ‘… one of a select group of female Nordic vocalists whom the ancient Nordic deities blessed with magic!’ So what did he think of her other group Triakel’s debut disc Sånger från 63º N? ‘Liking the music of Garmarna more than just a bit, I was a bit hesitant to hear what she sounded like in another group as I was afraid that it might not equal the work she did in that group. Happily, I was wrong, quite wrong.’

Judith loved the Finnish-American music on Al Reko and Oren Tikkanen’s The Finn Hall Recordings, which combined four self-released cassette tapes onto two CDs. ‘These boys aren’t the stereotypical polka band, but they do play a folky version of the Euro-polka spectrum of mazurkkas, valssis, jenkkas, and of course polkkas. …This collection provides a wonderful and charming view into the worlds of the old Finnish-American immigrant music and of “Finnish country music” in Mother Finland.’

Judith also had some thoughts about Lopunajan Merkit and Itku Pitkasta Ilosta, two albums by Timo Rautiainen & Trio Niskalaukaus, better known for their Finnish ‘cult ethno metal’ than anything like folk. ‘Is this music folk? Not any less so than singer/songwriters who set their songs to pop arrangements, or for instance, Fairport’s “Red Tide.” ‘

Gåte’s Iselilja was their second disc reviewed by our Swedish writer Lars, and he liked the Norwegian folk rockers’ sophomore effort every bit as much as he did their debut. ‘Gåte have succeeded in developing their own brand of music. If you are a folk purist you should stay well out of earshot, but if you like people using traditional music as a starting point and then pouring a great number of musical influences into a melting pot before finishing the product you should check Iselilja out

‘It’s hard to develop warm and fuzzy feelings for an instrument that produces the sounds of prolonged belching,’ Liz said of Tapani Varis’s album called simply Jews Harp. ‘Nonetheless, I was prepared to try.’

Naomi enjoyed the music and humor dished up by Swedish quartet Samla Mammas Manna on their CD Kaka: ‘The group uses their instruments as well as their voices to provide the hilarity. This takes a great deal of talent to pull off with a live audience, but they seem to have it mastered! There are moments of comedic relief all over this CD, interspersed with some really great Nordic jazz.’

Robert said a CD from a Danish/Swedish quartet was perhaps too eclectic for its own good. ‘Strå is Fylgja’s second CD, and presents a sometimes problematic stylistic mix. There are traditional songs from Sweden, Norway, and Ireland, as well as songs composed by members of the group.’

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Our What Not this time is the question of what is your favourite Tolkien. Like many others, The Hobbit is the favourite of Tobias Buckell: ‘Oh, it’s The Hobbit, hands down. I mean, I adore the novel because unlike Tolkien’s later work, it’s not overburdened. It’s a lean, well paced adventure that takes you on this incredible tour through Tolkien’s countries and peoples and mythologies. I read it every couple years just to experience it all over again. I know The Lord of the Rings is more popular in common culture, but I struggled through it and tried to pick them up recently and just found that I really kept waiting for things to just move. Frankly I thought the movies were a big improvement, although there were parts just kept limping along, like the end, that reminded of reading the books.’

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Given our Nordic music this edition, 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. Yes that’s what they claim happened. Emma Härdelin, their vocalist, would join them several years after that. ‘Vedergällningen is from a Swedish concert they did some twenty years ago.

On second thought, also for your listening pleasure, the 2015 Førde Traditional and World Music Festival 25th Anniversary Sampler edition offers us up  the String Sisters of which Emma is a member, playing ‘The Champagne Jig Goes To Columbia and Pat & Al’s Jig’ which they performed at that festival. Isn’t it simply amazing?

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Hortobágyi Húsos Palacsinta (A Letter to Ingrid)

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Evening love,

You missed a wonderful eventide meal here last night, as Mrs. Ware decided that it been too long since Béla had been treated to a full Hungarian meal. And indeed, it included Hortobágyi Húsos Palacsinta, meaty pancakes! It all started off after Mrs. Ware was dancing away the night at a contradance recently held here with Chasing Fireflies with Iain on fiddle, Béla on violin, and a piper-lass named Finch. During a break in the dances, Béla was telling me (in French as he speaks no English and my Hungarian is next to nothing beyond knowing the names of Hungarian beers and breweries, though I can read a packing slip in that language after years of practice, as we carry some Central European ales here by way of a Hungarian vendor), that he missed the food of his country.

So I mentioned this to Mrs. Ware, who decided to make a number of dishes for him, one of them being the aforementioned pancakes and Mákos Tészta, wide egg noodles with whole dark blue poppy seeds, coated with sugar and dripping with butter! Hungarians put poppyseeds into almost everything, both sweet and savoury alike, which was why there were yeasty poppy seed rolls as well.

And there was  fresh baked Turos Lepeny (Hungarian yeast bread with cheese topping) out of the brick ovens, as he taught Mrs. Ware how to bake it many years ago. To make it even better, you had arranged for our Central European shipper to get us Hungarian Lekvar, a thick, soft spread made of fruit (usually prunes or apricots) cooked with sugar, and Hungarian Poppy Butter, so wonderful on warm breakfast rolls.

There also was Székely Gulyás, a Goulash stew which is made from three kinds of meat and sauerkraut, which reminded me of Choucroute Garnie, a hearty pork and cabbage dish common to the region straddling the French-German border. Other than the addition of poppy seeds (surprise!) and Hungarian paprika, it was the same tasty dish, as peasant food really doesn’t vary a lot across much of Europe and Russia.

Dessert was Roulades, which really are just simple sponge cake bases filled with whipped cream or fresh strawberries in a jellyroll that’s chilled. And her staff dug deep in our centuries-old cookbook collection for a recipe for Almás Pite — Hungarian Apple Cake — which I swear made Béla weep.

All in all, it was a rousing success, made even better as we washed it down with Rizmajer Maibock from Rizmajer Sörfözde, a Budapest brewery, and Béla was very, very happy.

After this extended Eventide meal, Béla got out his fiddle and played a set of Hungarian tunes that even the Neverending Session musos had never heard. It was simply wonderful music.

Affectionately, your favourite fox

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