A Kinrowan Estate story: A Cookbook

FoxDear Anna,

I’m going to pitch a book for that culinary folklore seminar you’re teaching next Winter here for those visiting food writers, as I really think it’ll be a good addition to that endeavour.

One of Several Annies, Iain’s library apprentices, was literally squealing with delight in the kitchen this week over a book that just got added to the collection of cookbooks and culinary history we have here at the Kinrowan Estate. It was Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple. And I would be remiss not to note that the illustrator is Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, whose work here is simply charming.

The recipes look really great, with easy to follow instructions that allow even an inexperienced cook to make each dish easily. Our reviewer noted that ‘When I think of the books I loved as child, I get hungry. There was Pooh lapping up honey and cream teas, Mary Poppins handing out magical gingerbread, while Frodo chowed down on mushrooms and lembas. Food surely is an integral part of children’s literature. After all, where would Cinderella be without her pumpkin coach? Would Alice in Wonderland be half as memorable without the magic mushrooms and the strange bottles labeled “Drink Me?”‘

This is traditional fare like you find here with lots of butter and the like: no thought about healthy cooking is here! But then food centered on Jewish folklore would hardy be concerned about counting calories and getting enough greens in your diet, would they? (Iain used it in a course on Jewish traditions for his Several Annies several years back, as he firmly believes learning should be fun. And this is a very fun book.)

I’ve got other books that I’ll bring to your attention but the person skiing down to the Post in the village as the road’s closed again wants to get going.

Warmest regards, Gus


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What’s New for the 28th of April: Tull, Ian MacDonald, Finnish candy and The Wicker Man

One day I walked the road and crossed a field
to go by where the hounds ran hard.
And on the master raced: behind the hunters chased
to where the path was barred.
One fine young lady’s horse refused the fence to clear.
I unlocked the gate but she did wait until the pack had disappeared.

Jethro Tull’s “The Hunting Girl”


What’s that? A Maypole going up in the courtyard in front of the Green Man Pub? There can be no surer sign that summer’s ‘acumin’in!’ It looks like the denizens of the pub’s Neverending Session may be lured outside, along with staff members tucked away in offices in the most unlikely places.

Yes, spring has burst out all over, and some of the folks around here seem to be feeling the effects of the impending May Day. Who was that slipping into Oberon’s Wood just now? Well, spring is as good an excuse as any, I suppose.

We’ve got spring greens in our salad, and some of the winter vegetables roasting on the grill, along with some tender lamb steaks, braised with mint and garlic. Are we starting early? I suppose, but this is the Kinrowan Estate staff, after all.

So pull up a chair, fill your plate, get Reynard to pour you a pint, and feast your eyes on this week’s set of reviews.


So let’s have a look at novels by just one writer this time, this being Ian MacDonald as I am again reading his two Mars novel, Desolation Road and Ares Express, two of the best SF novels ever done. sp let’s start off with this novels…

So Chuck says  that ‘I figure this much: Ian MacDonald’s Desolation Road starts with a green man crossing the desert, so this has to be the perfect book for Green Man Review. OK, the book calls him a “greenperson,” and the desert is on a Mars of the future, transformed by mankind’s effort, but you get the idea. Trailing this greenperson is Dr. Alimantando. He comes to a place along a railroad, where, almost accidentally, he settles and starts the community that he names Desolation Road. Soon after, more people begin arriving and, in short order, the community becomes a village, a city, a war zone and a ghost-town — all within 23 Martian years. That’s the story.’

Richard looks at the other Ian MacDonald novel set in the same world as Desolation Road and has a cautionary note as his first words: ‘You will know whether you will love or hate Ares Express long before you have finished the first chapter. The litmus test is very simple: what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.’

Now let’s look at some other novels by him… 

We’ll start off with Elizabeth’s look at this novel: ‘ Following his previous work, River of Gods, which depicted a near future India, Ian McDonald launches into a new country, a new culture, and a new mindset for his most recent novel, Brasyl, a dazzling, if somewhat warped, story involving three separate but somehow connected narratives that evolve across three different timelines.’

Gary says the Istanbul of Ian McDonald’s near-future novel The Dervish House is rather like what our own world could be very soon: ‘…hotter, more crowded, with an even starker divide between rich and poor, and teeming with technology. … It’s also brimming with Anatolian spirits that sometimes seem indistinguishable from the effects of nano-technology.’

This novel garners this comment from Grey: ‘Today, I picked up King of Morning, Queen of Day again just to refresh my memory before writing this review. After all, it doesn’t do to refer to a book’s main character as Jennifer if her name is actually Jessica. But my quick brush-up turned into a day-long marathon of fully-engaged, all-out reading. I’ve been on the edge of my seat, I’ve been moved to tears, I’ve laughed, I’ve marked passages that I want to quote.’

Another novel Gary looks at in this review is set in a richly imagined future India, Ian Mcdonald’s River of Gods. And it’s a bloody good read as well: ‘You can hold whole universes in your hand, between the covers. And as with those old faery tales, you need to pay attention to books like River of Gods. They contain important truths, hidden inside entertaining stories.’

Following up on this novel, is  Cyberabad Days which Tammy notes is “author Ian McDonald returns to the technologically brilliant, parched and i-Dusty India of 2047, an India first visited in his award-winning novel River of Gods. The seven stories collected in this volume follow the rise and fall of this new India, from the luxurious, robot-monkey guarded palaces of the super-rich to the slums where the robotwallahs rule like tinpot gods.’


Cat R. reviews and finds it very sweet: ‘There is certainly both a determined sweetness and solidity to this Finnish candy (lakritsi in Finnish). The label tells me this is called “black gold” in Finland but a cursory scan of search engine results failed to corroborate this. It is an enigmatic candy that, despite the name, has no black licorice taste to it.’


Speaking of Beltane, Mia reviewed one of our favorite films, The Wicker Man. ‘This film is psychological thriller, detective story, action film, comedy, all of these things and more. Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle) considers it the finest film that he ever made, and it has a cult following that shows no signs of lessening almost 30 years later. On the most visceral level, I would call The Wicker Man a film about the nature of faith.’

In new music, Gary reviews the electro folk EP Da Vo Gornitsa (Yes in the upper room) by the Russian group Leli. ‘Leli performs songs from the Belgorod, Kursk and Tver regions. The singing is polyphonic, by men and women mixed, and they’re accompanied by some unnamed traditional instruments that include flutes and zithers, plus some rock instruments like electric and acoustic guitars, horns, and drums, plus those synths. The vocal and instrumental parts are recorded on analog equipment.’

He also liked some new jazz. ‘A seasoned veteran working a date with talented younger artists is a trope almost as old as jazz music itself. It finds one of its most delightful recent expressions in this ecstatic album anchored by leading Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, accompanied by Danish drummer Daniel Sommer and London guitarist Rob Luft. As Time Passes is a thoroughly enjoyable guitar trio recording by three players in obvious synchronization.

Tatiana reviews Sukha-khur, a new Russian world music album from a musician who performs as Zor. ‘The musician Zor, having been on stage for more than 30 years, has a fine sense of national music, and at the same time, his work is very original and filled with deep philosophy. Although Zor was originally a guitarist, he has now mastered the two–string suukha-hur perfectly. But in the album Suukha-hur the musician went even further. The album is based on an instrument with only one string and the musician’s own voice. However, with this, he creates a truly magical sound!’

From the archives, Chuck found the Funks Grove album Albuminium Blue hit ‘n’ miss, but overall he liked it. ‘Lojo Russo’s smoky singing sets the tone and the band, especially, Eric Penrotty’s penny whistle playing, more than hold up their end. Borrowing one more time from my review of The EP — since it’s just as correct for Albuminium Blue — “for solid, smoky folk-blues, this is one great group.” ‘Martin Carthy and friends in the band Brass Monkey lead off their album Flame of Fire with the old chestnut “The Swinton May Song,” David tells us. I have never heard an album Martin Carthy was involved with that didn’t yield treasures. Brass Monkey’s Flame of Fire is no exception. Musical, danceable, foot-tappable, it harkens back to the past to make one appreciate the long history of folk music.

Gary was enthusiastic about the 2006 release from Jolie Holland, Springtime Can Kill You. ‘Holland owned me from the first time I heard her sing “The Littlest Birds” on her home-recorded first release, 2003’s Catalpa. Through 2004’s Escondida to this new release, Springtime Can Kill You, Holland’s music follows a true trajectory of her own design.’

Jack found Jethro Tull’s Songs From the Wood to be right in his wheelhouse. ‘Now, this is not your typical countryside, as our narrator will encounter green men, a huntress who may or may not be the leader of a Wild Hunt, druids, mad whistlers, and maidens who are certainly no longer chaste by the time the song ends. Ian is indulging his interest in folk motifs in a very serious manner.’

Lars had high prise for an album by Scottish folksters Jack Tamson’s Bairns. Rare, he says, is something special. ‘Maybe not quite another “The Lasses Fashion,” but almost. Had they been 25 years younger we would have hailed them as the new messiahs of Scottish folk, now we just get proof that these lads know their craft and that they still can deliver the goods.’

Mia was surprised to find she enjoyed Sons of Somerled by New Age musician Steve McDonald. ‘Generally I am not a fan of New Age music, which so often begins with a grand design and rapidly deteriorates into plinky woo-woo pseudo-ethnic background noise. Sons of Somerled is not of this ilk. Though the most obvious instrument on this album is the synthesizer and some of the traditional instrument sounds are actually done with keyboards, McDonald has done a truly wonderful job of capturing the feeling of traditional Scottish music.’

Tim was disappointed by Fling’s The Wild Swans At Coole. ‘With a name like Fling, you would expect something fast, wild, and maybe a bit out of control. You’ll find none of that here. This Dutch band favors a mellower sound, with lush, almost orchestral arrangements. Evertjan’t Hart’s uilleann pipes strain at the leash sometimes, but never quite break loose.IMG_0272

I personally have a keen liking for the Jethro Tull of the Sixties and early Seventies, which is why you’re getting a cut off the album Jack reviewed above. The cut I’ve selected is ‘The Hunting Girl’, a fine story about boy meets girl riding horse and … Oh just go give it a listen! It’s a soundboard recording done over forty five years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Foxes

IMG_0272Though 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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Whats New for the 14th of April: It’s truly Spring, so go outside and enjoy the warm weather. Really it’s worth doing.

Remember, pain is not a test. Knowledge is not enough.
Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden


The tulips such as the one in the vase on my desk here in the Estate Library are the predominant flowers this time of year as every Estate Gardener for the past three centuries has had a rather keen interest in them. The more recent ones are acquired by Gus, our Estate Head Gardener for three decades now, in trade with MacGregor, a fellow tulip enthusiast who goes to the Turkish tulip markets to get the much rarer heirloom tulips. Just don’t get Gus talking about tuplips unless you’re planning on being there quite awhile!

If you’re really interested in all things tulips, you can drop by his workshop late this afternoon as he’s giving the Several Annies, my Library Apprentices, a practical exercise in how history really happens, using the Dutch Tulip Mania as his example. And we’ve reviewed a book on their origins in the guise of  Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century, which has a nice article on the actual history of the so-called Tulip Period of the Ottoman Empire. Do beware that these papers are dry at times as they’re intended for other scholars.

I’m off to the Kitchen as soon as I get this Edition done and  I suspect you’ll want to join me in heading for the Kitchen after you read and listen to our offering this time as Mrs. Ware and her talented staff are serving up just baked Toll House chocolate chip cookies with glasses of Riverrun Farm whole milk. Yes real whole milk — bet you’ve never had that!


Cat looks at the urban legend retold yet again of a ghost girl asking for a ride home on the anniversary of her death: ‘Seanan McGuire decided to tell her own ghost story in Sparrow Hill Road which, like her novel Indexing, was originally a series of short stories published through The Edge of Propinquity, starting in January of 2010 and ending in December of that year. It appears they’ve been somewhat revised for this telling of her ghostly narrator’s tale but I can’t say how much as I’ve not read the original versions.’

Deborah reviewed Sam Cutler’s memoir with the delightful title You Can’t Always Get What You Want: My Life with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and Other Wonderful Reprobates. ‘One of the most remarkable things about You Can’t Always Get What You Want is its brilliant balancing act. If there’s very little gel on Cutler’s lens, there’s no vituperation, either. This is no “I know where the bodies are buried and I’m getting back at you gits!” tell-all. This is one man’s memories, setting the record straight for one of the most pivotal periods in modern music and, by extension, in popular culture.’

Grey says of Medicine Road that ‘I suppose it’s fitting, for a story about twos, that the creators are two Charleses. Charles Vess’s illustrations make this not-so-simple fable deeper and richer. Vess combines line drawing and painting in a way that makes his pictures simultaneously vividly life-like and fairy tale-remote.’

There’s a bar in the above novel where the Dillard sisters play called A Hole in The Wall which de Lint borrowed from Terri Windling’s The Wood WifeIt’s possible that The Wood Wife is the first novel  to take full advantage of the myths of Southwest USA and Mexican region. And Grey notes that it is ‘not only an expertly-crafted tale of suspense. It also stands squarely within the realm of modern fantasy. Windling’s Arizona desert comes alive with fey beings, shapeshifters small and great that are as mysterious and amoral as any European Fair Folk, yet practical and earthy and distinctively Native American in their coloration.’

A woman who sees ghosts is the central character in a novel that Kathleen reviews for us: ‘Cherie Priest is a first time novelist. However, she writes with ease and a deceptive power, like the flow of the Tennessee River through her home city of Chattanooga. Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a Southern Gothic with a hint of hard boiled mystery: there’s grit in the magnolia honey and in the heroine as well.’

Leona gives an incisive review of  Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart, a Ellis Peters novel: ‘Originally published in 1967, ‘this is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and facts combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’

I’m picking books this time that I consider summertime reading, starting off with a Charles de Lint novel that Mia looks at: ‘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.’

Somehow, we’ve never done a stand-alone review of the following novel which Robert has now corrected for us: ‘Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars is a strangely deceptive novel. It seems, at first, fairly straightforward – a narrative about a group of artists trying to make it, interspersed with sections of a folk tale – but you start to wonder whether it’s really that up front or if Brust is pulling a Gene Wolfe and playing with your head – there seem to be all sorts of clues in the book, but are they?’

Robert confessed to some difficulty in reviewing the art anthology Spectrum 12: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art edited by Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner. ‘I learned early in my career as an art reviewer to avoid group exhibitions, especially those with very large themes. I find many of the same problems in discussing the newest Spectrum: disparate visions, a wide range of approaches, and, since these are all illustrations, a variety of assignments. Not an easy thing to discuss.’ We also have Robert’s reviews of Spectrum 13 and Spectrum 15.


Reynard told me a few minutes ago that he asked Kathleen what her favourite libation was and she waxed nostalgic: ‘Nova Albion of blessed memory – a bright copper, richly hopped ale with an aftertaste of roses. But in the world of beers I can actually get my hands on … maybe Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Ale, full of fresh new Zealand hops. Or Lagunitas Censored Ale. Or even the venerable Bass Ale — served room temperature, of course. With straw floating on the top. I like hops…’


Denise got down with a concert film called Dub Side of the Moon, featuring a dub version of the classic Pink Floyd album. ‘It’s not like the Easy Star All-Stars play Dark Side with a cheesy reggae track tacked on, then call it their own. They reimagine riffs, add vocals and take different turns with the music, all the while staying true to the course of the original album’s main concepts. A bit of animation starts things off; a lone Rasta man in his spaceship (don’t question it, it’s cool) picks up a transmission on the other side of the moon. He wakes from suspended animation and gets to grooving.’

IMG_0272Nathan recommends It Was a Dark and Silly Night, a collection of comics for younger readers. ‘Those interested in more slapstick humour, subtle messages and a good variety of image styles may find this title to be just the job. Stories include Patrick McDonnell’s charming tale of a Moon who is afraid of the dark, Lemony Snicket and Richard Sala’s unique origin for the Yeti, and Neil Gaiman’s irreverent Jell-O tag in the cemetery escapade.’

In new music, Gary waxed enthusiastic about Standards II by jazz pianist Noah Haidu and his trio. ‘This time out, pianist Haidu is joined by two legendary players, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart, who’ve been collaborating for five decades now.) Some of these chestnuts they cover with the simplicity of a hard bop trio circa 1959, and others they turn inside out, so to speak.’

He was also highly impressed by Vedan Kolod’s Birds. ‘The Russian folk music ensemble Vedan Kolod has created a triumphant album in the midst of personal and national upheaval. Birds, their tenth album since forming in 2005, is a master work of world music combining traditional Siberian folk songs and new songs in the traditional style, played on an array of acoustic instruments.’

From the archives, Brendan had some words of advice about Okros Ensemble’s Transylvanian Village Music. ‘To many an untrained Western ear, this music can have a jolting, often unpleasant quality with its very complex and unusual harmony patterns, made even more so by the violinists’ tendencies to use microtones, i.e. the notes between the standard A, A sharp, B, C, etc. However, with repeated listens, this music will reveal its beauty, especially if it is played the way it was meant to be: very loud.’

Cat Rambo gave an enthusiastic nod to a couple of albums of kids’ music, Ants Ants Ants‘ Why Why Why? and Red Yarn’s Old Barn. Both can be listened to by kids and adults, she says. ‘Overall there’s a more mature vibe [to Old Barn] than Why Why Why, including several adaptations of traditional folk songs like “Sally Ann” and “Did You Feed My Cow?”

Gary enjoyed the “Balkan blues” on Amira Medunjanin’s Damar. ‘This album’s intimate production heightens the impression that Amira is pouring out her heart’s deepest sorrows to you alone. Unlike some recordings in this tradition that is many hundreds of years old, she places these songs, both traditional and new compositions in the tradition, in unique and innovative settings.’

Gary also was enthusiastic about Dark Desert Night by 3hattrio. ‘I’m a huge fan of southern Utah, home of Zion, Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce national parks. And I’m a newly minted fan of this outfit called 3hattrio, which is based in the Zion area and makes music that matches the region’s lonely grandeur.’

Jack swooned over an album called Hambo in the Snow from Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer. ‘Hambo in the Snow is not a Nordic traditional recording ‘tall, but a Nordic-American traditional recording firmly grounded, like A Prairie Home Companion, in the culture of Minnesota. So, it’s not surprising to sense a slightly mist-eyed vision of the Nordic countries…’

Jayme got a kick out of Andean Fusion’s Andean Sounds for the World Vol. VII, which contains the band’s exhuberant takes on everything from Ennio Morricone to The Beatles to Celine Dion to Carlos Santana. ‘Rather than a dilution of their skill and a case of selling out, the songs showcase the creativity and flexibility of Andean Fusion, with clever arrangements and performances that never betray the band’s roots.’

Judith reviewed Aoife Clancy’s Silvery Moon. ‘If her name were not so Irish and were it not for the reputation of Cherish the Ladies, it would be easier to present this as a folk album with a few Celtic tracks, instead of a Celtic album with leanings toward American folk. But trust my words, Silvery Moon is a folk album.’

Naomi reviewed  Chulrua’s Barefoot on the Altar, which she says ‘gives us a sampling of all aspects of Irish music, from jigs to airs. All are played with a skill and passion that make the music itself seem as if it were a living entity. The majority of the 17 tracks are traditional; the entire 70 minutes are a journey to another time, another style of life.’

Scott wrote a geneerous career overview of Nightnoise. ‘How you view the legacy of Nightnoise depends a lot on your perspective. For a fan of New Age music, Nightnoise were a flagship band who brought quality and credibility to a genre that didn’t always enjoy the best of reputations otherwise, and whose popularity has waned considerably in the intervening years. As a folk music fan familiar with the other work of Mícheál and Tríona and of Johnny Cunningham, I consider Nightnoise to be a worthy endeavor by some world-class performers, but most of their music fell a bit short of these musicians’ best work.’


Our What Not this time is a favourite tune as we asked a Winter Queen, the late Josepha Sherman, what hers was: ‘OK, my dear: I play the folk harp a wee bit (I’m sadly out of practice) and of the older songs, I like ‘Sumer is icumen in,’ ca. 1260 or so, by our old friend, Anonymous. I like it both for the melody and the words, which are cheerful and alive with the image of animals jumping about for the joy of it. It also makes for a cheerful round for several voices. For the earliest songs, though we don’t have the melodies, alas, I love some of the Ancient Egyptian love songs, which are downright modern — such as the one about the girl who sees her boyfriend and rushes out to meet him with half her hair still undone!’ She went on to note that ‘The Ancient Egyptians had our concept of romantic love, btw, clear in their songs. There’s even a sadly fragmentary one of a wife undressing her husband, who’s passed out after what was clearly too much drinking at a party, and how she loves him even so.’


So I’m following up on Scott’s review of Nightnoise by  finish off with some choice music from them, to wit ‘Toys, Not Ties’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain thurry years ago. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and also included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Designing Trolls


Dear Anna,

Imagine an old forest witch, a crone with a cackle and gnarled hands. Well Justina did one of those when she was here the first time. Alas the Troll proved more elusive in design. Much more elusive. And of course, this troll was not the vision of just Justina, the potter, but instead was created on a collective basis.

There aren’t many descriptions of them in Old Norse and what exist are more intent on describing their personality as in the Prose Edda:

Troll kalla mik trungl sjǫtrungnis, auðsug jǫtuns, élsólar bǫl, vilsinn vǫlu, vǫrð nafjarðar, hvélsveg himins – hvat’s troll nema þat?

Which roughly translates as:

They call me a troll, moon of the earth-Hrungnir, wealth sucker of the giant, destroyer of the storm-sun, beloved follower of the seeress, guardian of the “nafjord”, swallower of the sun: What’s a troll if not that?

Other Old Norse sources note they are magical creatures with special skills, but that doesn’t say if that was good or evil. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s universe, trolls are large humanoids of great strength and poor intellect.

What they found with the help of Iain, who called on what he calls L-Space to ask private estate librarians in Norway to dig deep into their archives for folk material not commonly accessed by folklorists, was that they are dark and slow of movement and covered with a tangle of foliage, like a forested mountain brought to life. Now this of course added a whole new level of complexity to this project as most trolls under the bridge projects use a smooth looking design with almost no fine work. Justina, however, noted this actually made the project easier as the leaves, moss and such would make hiding the seams easier.

The first step was what is called a one sixth scale model of the troll-to-be. Now keep in mind that no one expected Justina to work full-time on this so she danced a lot, gossiped in the pub while listening to the Neverending Session, spent hours reading in the Library, taught the Several Annies (and anyone else interested) basic and advanced pottery.

That model went through, I think, at least a dozen iterations before it was considered right by just about everyone present here this Winter. It was indeed leafy, mossy, and similar to what one of Tolkien’s Ents might have looked like if it was far more stocky and a great deal shorter. (One of the models now lives in a museum in the home city of the Norwegian Several Annie who got the project going; Justine took one with her; and four got sold by us on behalf of her.) And so the project stood until after Candlemas as we agreed no one should would work on it during the Winter Holidays.

And that’s where I’ll leave the tale for now, as Chasing Fireflies, the contradance band that I’m calling for this coming weekend, wants to go over the list of dances they’re considering. Gossip has it that they’ve been intensely interested with the dances of John Garden, the Australian composer and Jane Austen scholar, so it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve come up with!

Affectionately, Gus


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What’s New for the 31st of March: Foxes in fiction; new Americana, Russian folk, Persian, and Nordic music; Justice League comics; Cajun music on film, and more!

You think foxes only hunt with their eyes?Tale of The Nine-Tail, a Korean serial


Chilly breezes are still with us, but we’ve hit that time of year when the outside temperatures may be anywhere on the scale — spring’s not quite here, but winter is starting to let go, so we’re in a thaw-and-freeze time. All of which makes walking a bit of a gamble — one needn’t wade through snow drifts (the paths are clear), but it’s always a question of whether a puddle is actually a puddle or a sheet of ice. It pays to have fast reflexes, just in case.

And on mild days, everything drips, so walking under the trees may very well mean icy water down the back of your neck. A broad-brimmed hat is very useful.

The birds don’t seem to mind — the crows actually seem very happy, now that some of the snow cover is gone and they can poke around in hopes of something tasty. The sparrows, as well, are foraging around the clear places, looking for any seeds or buds they’ve missed before.

The squirrels are starting to nip the ends off of twigs: they’ll wait for the sap to start dripping out, and lick it off, as a nice side to the flower and leaf buds that are just starting to swell. The rabbits are still hunting down the last of last year’s dried grasses and herbs — it’s still a bit early for tender new shoots, but they remain hopeful.

And although there’s a lot going on outside, right now it’s a bit raw and blustery, so I’m just as happy to be curled up next to the fire putting this edition together. But, given the mood — well, we have to be prepared for anything.

Let’s talk about a few foxes in fiction.

Ben Aaronovitch’s What Abigail Did That Summer, a Rivers of London novella, has one Abigail, a fascinating teenager of quite some standing on her own, but also a talking fox named Indigo.

Rita Mae Brown’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie is one in her series of American no kill fox hunting series where all the animals are intelligent including of the foxes.

Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest naturally being set in a very old forest has to have at least one fox among the characters that our girl Lillian will meet; this one is named charmingly T. H. Reynolds.

In “Fox Wife” by Hiromi Goto, we learn the tale of a kitsune wife. You can find this included in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm.

The animated Hellboy: Sword of Storms has a most charming Japanese kitsune as one of its characters.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox plays off the kitsune myth in some unexpected in ways in its story of a dead Asian ancestry SF detective sort brought back to life. Possibly. I’m actually more fond of the cover art done for the trade paper edition as I like the kitsune there.


Denise has a review of Lindt Excellence Roasted Hazelnut Dark for us: ‘Dark chocolate! How lovely. Breakfast of champions, some may say. Well, I say that all the time, so I think that counts. Toss in some “heart-healthy” hazelnuts, and I’ll live forever, right? Don’t answer that. But in my quest to have my chocolate and eat it too, I drooled when Dear Editor sent me some Lindt. And while squares of dark chocolate with chopped hazelnuts mixed in might not be the superfood I desire it to be, it sure is delicious.”


After a successful run of more than 25 film festivals, Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi’s Roots Of Fire will see theatrical and streaming release in a little more than a month. Gary reviewed the documentary about Cajun music and culture in the 21st Century in late 2022. ‘Anyone who enjoys Francophone Louisiana roots music and music documentaries in general will love Roots of Fire. The film focuses in particular on the young musicians who are bringing Cajun music into the 21st century, honoring their past and their forbears while moving the music forward and making it their own.’

IMG_0272J.J.S. Boyce turned in a thoughtful review of Brad Meltzer, Rags Morales, and Michael Bair’s Identity Crisis, about the Justice League of America. ‘There’s a lot of history here: the JLA is a Silver Age comic book creation, while most of its core members are themselves Golden Age heroes. There’s a definite sense that Meltzer pokes subtly at the fourth wall — some of the newer and less prominent members of the team seem to speak for the audience in holding the League history, and the old battles of timeless heroes like the original Flash, Green Lantern, or Batman, on a kind of pedestal. They aren’t just talking about the universe of the story itself, they’re talking about our perception, as fans, of how and why these guys became legends. Why, no matter how old we get, we’ll never outgrow Superman, even if we think we’ve outgrown comic books.’


In new music, Gary has high praise for everything about the self-titled six-song EP from Wonder Women of Country: Kelly Willis, Melissa Carper, and Brennen Leigh, including stripped-down, mostly acoustic arrangements on solid Americana songs. ‘What those sparse arrangements do, of course, is make room for the vocals, particularly the three-part harmonies, which is what this power trio is all about. (The mixes on all of the tracks by Steve Mazur subtly push each of the lead singers’ vocals to the front but also leaves a lot of room for the backing of the other two.) I can’t decide which song provides my favorite moments of delicious harmony.’

Also in American roots music, Gary reviews the self-titled debut of a very talented quartet. ‘Remember back in the early 2000s when you first heard and were struck dumb by the youthful virtuosity of Crooked Still? Or perhaps, a decade or so later, by the stringband supergroup vibe of The Goat Rodeo? I sure do, and those are the same feelings I got when I heard the first notes of the self-titled debut from what may be this decade’s roots supergroup Ezra.’

Gary also enjoyed Gordon Grdina’s The Marrow. ‘Canadian Grdina is a Vancouver-based guitarist, composer, improviser, and master oud player who is incredibly active in improvisational and experimental music of many kinds, most of it based around Middle Eastern and specifically Persian themes. On The Marrow he and a top notch jazz ensemble join with Persian vocalist Fathieh Honari on a deeply trance-like set that focuses squarely on his masterful oud playing.’

He also got a kick out of the eclectic Norwegian family band Hulbækmo & Jacobsen Familieorkester’s Rundsnurrknurr, which has a kitchen sink’s worth of instruments played by its four members. ‘At 17 tracks full of such a variety of sounds, it comes very close to the line beyond which is “too much of a good thing.” But it’s an hour’s worth of wonderful, fun, creative music. Put it on your Nordic folk playlist and I guarantee you’ll love each track that comes up on shuffle.’

There’s also more Russian folk music from Gary. ‘The Russian folk rock band Otava Yo is dealing with the turbulence facing their part of the world by doing what they do best — making music. And what music! Their latest album Loud and Clear is full of stirring and uplifting music — Slavic folk tunes and songs played on a mix of traditional and modern instruments in a style that’s appealing to modern audiences, and full of exciting vocal harmonies.

From the archives, Brendan had high praise for Finality Jack’s Glory Be. ‘The mellow, melodic nature of this music may fool the listener into not really paying attention to it but just letting it flow into the ears. But, unlike a great deal of contemporary instrumental music, each tune here stands up well to concentrated listening, opening up more and more upon each repeat. This is actually remarkably complicated music, almost experimental in its mixing of styles and various melodies.’

Craig was intrigued by a CD by “Blumpkin Nation” that was really more of a various artists’ compilation. ‘With a title like The Invisible Movie Soundtrack — to which there is no accompanying film — it is difficult to listen to this album without wondering just what kind of cinematic experience this would accompany.’

David was fond of Jeff Black’s Tin Lily. ‘Every song is strong but there are some highlights. There’s the driving “Libertine,” and the piano-rocker “Free At Last.” And then there’s “Closer” and “All Days Shine” or “Heaven Now” and “These Days”; but whether an acoustic love song or a solid rocker, each song brings you closer to the conclusion that Jeff Black is the real thing.’

Lars found that the box set The Remains of Tom Lehrer was a dream come true. ‘Well, this box is a jewel. You get both the studio and the live versions of the first two albums, the third LP and eight bonus tracks never seen on LP. With it you get a 80-page book with a full biography, Lehrer’s answers to some common questions, all the lyrics and notes on the recordings.’

Peter was disappointed by an offering from Dick Gaughan, Lucky For Some. ‘The album was recorded in the Vegas Suite studio, and (in my opinion) it is spoilt by too much ’empty hall’ reverb being added. It made it very hard to catch the lyrics; in fact it was almost impossible on several tracks. I had to resort to reading them in the cover notes booklet. It was only then, on reading the lyrics, that I realized there might be one or two decent songs here with a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see what they sound like live, or if other artists do covers of them.’


Our Coda today is courtesy of Brighton, England, based singer/songwriter, novelist, poet, and playwright Nick Burbridge and his musical vehicle named McDermott’s 2 Hours (when he’s not collaborating with the Levellers). Nick can slip easily from Irish folk to really great folk rock, so it won’t surprise you ‘tall that Nick’s a favorite of many of us here including myself and we even interviewed him once upon an afternoon.

So he most generously said we could use anything on the McDermott’s 2 Hours Live at Fernhame Hall recording, so let’s part company with their ‘Fox on the Run’. No, it’s not about fox hunting.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Cookbook (A Letter to Anna)


Dear Anna,

I’m going to pitch a book for that culinary folklore seminar you’re teaching next Winter here for those visiting food writers, as I really think it’ll be a good addition to that endeavour.

One of Several Annies, Iain’s library apprentices, was literally squealing with delight in the kitchen this week over a book that just got added to the collection of cookbooks and culinary history we have here at the Kinrowan Estate. It was Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E. Y. Stemple. And I would be remiss not to note that the illustrator is Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, whose work here is simply charming.

The recipes look really great, with easy to follow instructions that allow even an inexperienced cook to make each dish easily. Our reviewer noted that ‘When I think of the books I loved as child, I get hungry. There was Pooh lapping up honey and cream teas, Mary Poppins handing out magical gingerbread, while Frodo chowed down on mushrooms and lembas. Food surely is an integral part of children’s literature. After all, where would Cinderella be without her pumpkin coach? Would Alice in Wonderland be half as memorable without the magic mushrooms and the strange bottles labeled “Drink Me?”‘

This is traditional fare like you find here with lots of butter and the like: no thought about healthy cooking is here! But then food centered on Jewish folklore would hardy be concerned about counting calories and getting enough greens in your diet, would they? (Iain used it in a course on Jewish traditions for his Several Annies several years back, as he firmly believes learning should be fun. And this is a very fun book.)

I’ve got other books that I’ll bring to your attention but the person skiing down to the Post in the village as the road’s closed again wants to get going.

Warmest regards, Gus


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What’s New for the 17th of March: A grab bag of fantasy and folklore including American Gods; some fantastic graphic novels; a grab bag of CDs including Scottish Traveler stories & songs, and folk songs from all over;

In a circle of stones they placed the pot,

In a circle of stones, but barely nine
They heated it red and fiery hot
‘Till the burnished brass did glimmer and shine.

They rolled him up in a sheet of lead
A sheet of lead for a funeral pall.
They plunged him in the cauldron red,
Melted him, lead and bones and all.

At the Skelf Hill the cauldron still
The men of Liddesdale can show
And on the spot where they placed the pot
The grasses they will never grow.

Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain.


The above bit of British history and folklore seems appropriate as we approach the Vernal Equinox. It’s a time when our thoughts turn to things old and weird — standing stones, bonfires, fertility rituals, and the like. For your enjoyment this outing we’ve a sampling of folk music old and new, intriguing fiction and non-fiction, and  bits and pieces of the usual entertainments and diversions.


Cat had the pleasure of reviewing a special offering, the Author’s Preferred Text and The Reader’s Copy of same, of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. ‘It features over 12,000 words, roughly 40 pages, of new material that did not appear in the trade edition of the book. It have heard that this material did appear in a very limited edition printing by Harper Collins, but nowhere else! Did this additional material add to my enjoyment of the story Gaiman is telling. Oh, yes. It’s a story with enough difference from the previous version to make sure that you too will pay close attention to the story once again.’

Christopher found Scott Mebus’s Gods of Manhattan to be a bit of a pastiche. ‘He begins by borrowing the underlying concept from Neil Gaiman’s excellent novel American Gods, namely that those individuals who are remembered and perhaps even revered by a sufficient number of people live on as gods. He then moves down the shelf to liberally grab elements from the Potter series: a reluctant boy hero, with a special gift he’d gladly relinquish for a normal life with a whole and normal family; a dark, mysterious villain seeking the boy’s destruction; a magical mentor; a parallel world unseen by all but the select few. Finally the author grafts on bits and pieces from a middle school textbook on the history of Manhattan.’

Gary says the City of London is one of the supporting characters in The System of the World, the third installment of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. ‘The plot is as convoluted as a four-dimensional map of that city, but at its heart is Daniel Waterhouse’s mission to attempt to reconcile Newton and Leibniz, who have developed competing philosophies of Life, the Universe and Everything. Newton’s remains based on the ancient principles of alchemy while Leibniz’s is based on monadism, which is a bit closer to our own current molecular and atomic system, which was developed over the ensuing couple of centuries.’

Joseph was nervous about reading Amy M. Clarke’s lit-crit book Ursula K. Le Guin’s Journey to Post-Feminism. ‘I deeply love Le Guin’s writing. Reading The Left Hand of Darkness I learned how science fiction can plumb the depths of human experience. Her Earthsea series taught me more about character growth and development than any course ever could. And her strong female characters in a hyper-masculine genre gave me the courage to include the rarest of characters in SF, non-stereotypical gay males. I did not know what I would do if I learned that somebody whom I’ve placed on the most precarious of pedestals may actually be a flawed human.’

Lenora gave a thorough review of Susanna Clarke’s beloved novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. ‘The world Susanna Clarke creates is altogether as thoroughly detailed as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, if rather more prosaic and less full of wonder. The story we read is only a late part in a much longer history, set in a few small locales in a much broader universe. The sense of just how much world there is outside the story — in England, Europe and the rest of our world, in Faerie, and in even less known worlds — is one of its riches.’

Michael reviewed what is obviously one of the foundational texts of Green Man Review, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. ‘This is, without a doubt, his best work to date, certainly one of his most impressive. Freed from the constraints of the 32-page monthly pamphlet format, allowed to go where the story takes him all in one sitting, Gaiman’s given us a hallucinogenic, hypnotic, insightful guided tour into the workings of our own belief structure.’

Robert got a lot of pleasure out of reading Daithi ÓhÓgáin’s The Lore of Ireland: An Encyclopedia of Myth, Legend and Romance. ‘It’s a treasure house of names, places, stories and ideas — everything from a short biography of Ní Mháille (Grace O’Malley, a sixteenth-century pirate queen who once visited Queen Elizabeth) to St. Patrick, and from pigs to fairies (not as far apart as you might think.) I admit it — I spent hours wandering from cross-reference to cross-reference.’

Jennifer read an entire series of books about Folklore Made Simple by Dr. Jeana Jorgensen, all about folklore, sex, fairy tales, sex, and sex education. ‘All four books are a lightning read. The tools of folkloric study are laid out clearly, the anatomy of fairy tales lovingly laid bare, the history of sex education swiftly yet thoroughly plundered, and the back end of each book crammed with juicy references and resources.’


Jennifer tries Red Ass Rhubarb Wine with a little dark chocolate mousse. Why rhubarb? And really with chocolate? Check it out, and, bonus, a mousse recipe so easy it’s a crime.


Michelle had very mixed feelings about the Walt Disney version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. ‘On the level of children’s fantasy, I can’t imagine that anyone could be dissatisfied with this film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe regardless of whether one has read and enjoyed Lewis previously. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, and if there are images or themes in the filmed version that seem familiar from Harry Potter or A Series of Unfortunate Events, I suspect it’s because Lewis has been so influential on contemporary children’s authors rather than because of any borrowing on the part of the filmmakers.’


April filled us in on what John Constantine: Hellblazer: Rare Cuts was all about. ‘As with most monthly comics, Hellblazer has seen reprint in graphic novel form; however, until recently, a number of the earlier issues did not receive this treatment. The reason’s unclear: it wouldn’t seem to be for content reasons . . . few storylines could be more controversial than Garth Ennis’ version of the Annunciation, which was collected. For whatever reason, when Rare Cuts was published in 2005, it was a first look at some key stories seen only by those who collected the individual issues.

Camille liked what she saw in Eddie Campbell’s The Black Diamond Detective Agency. ‘The palette Campbell uses is soft, almost faded around the edges, reminiscent of an old sepia photograph or the yellowed parchment of worn maps. The occasional clarity and sharpness of hard black and jarring red effectively illustrate violence, emotional and physical. The looseness of line and blurry edges help soften the sharp delineation of time and space: between childhood and adulthood, between love and hate, between good men and bad, between innocence and guilt.’

Michael was quite pleased with Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s Baltimore: or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. ‘Golden and Mignola make a good team, as witnessed by their previous collaborations (Golden’s written a few Hellboy novels) and Baltimore is certainly a success for them both. It may have its flaws, but all in all, once I got into it, I couldn’t stop reading, eager to find out what manner of twisted horror would be thrown at the characters next, and whether they’d see a victory over the vampires terrorizing the world.’


In new music, Gary reviews releases from two Russian women’s ensembles, Slavyanochka Ensemble’s Molodoi Tud Wedding, and Vereya’s Soitua Maa. Of the former, he says, ‘As is typical of Russian and Ukrainian songs in my experience, the harmonies are less dissonant than you’ll find in Balkan offerings, but the performances here are fresh, energetic, and professionally performed and recorded.’ And of the latter, he explains, ‘The group was formed as an authentic folklore ensemble in 1995 in the city of Sortavala, in the Russian Karelian oblast that borders the Karelian region of Finland. This new release is the first attempt by founding director Margarita Berezhnaya to perform and record these songs in modern settings, and it succeeds quite well for the most part.’

From the archives, Gary reviewed Teddy Thompson’s second solo release Separate Ways. ‘No sophomore slump for Teddy Thompson. On the contrary, his second outing, Separate Ways, is altogether a more muscular and cohesive affair than his 2001 self-titled debut. He’s aided and abetted by dad Richard and mom Linda (on the hidden bonus track), in addition to a fairly hefty handful of other standouts, including Garth Hudson, Dave Mattacks, Smokey Hormel, Tony Trischka and the singing Wainwright sibs Martha and Rufus — oh, and another folksinging couple’s offspring, Jenni Muldaur.’

Naomi enjoyed The Lighthouse, a CD by Paul Cranford ‘and friends.’ ‘Should you like good Cape Breton fiddling and original compositions, then this is the disc for you. Paul Cranford is a talented fiddler with sensitive fingers and impassioned playing.’

And Naomi was thrilled at …and time goes on …, a CD of music and stories from Scottish Traveller Sheila Blair. ‘This CD contains a wide variety of tales and songs, from the dark and frightening to the magical and happily-ever-after. This CD will make you laugh, gasp, bite your lip in anticipation, and then sigh in relief. I really liked this delightful CD, and will listen to it many times in the coming years. Much to my surprise, my whole family actually sat and gave it a listen and enjoyed it — even the teenager who listens only to “metal.” ‘

Noam gave a mixed review to Kevin Burke’s In Concert. ‘This recording was made over the course of two evenings shortly before Christmas 1998 in Portland, Oregon, which is where the London-born Sligo-style fiddler Burke has lived for the past twenty years. Although Burke has recorded several albums with various line-ups, this is his first solo album since Open House, which was released in 1992. It contains twelve instrumental tracks, although there are actually something like twenty-five tunes contained within, since most of the tracks are medleys.’

Peter explored Polar Bear and Another World Away, a couple of early albums by multi-instrumentalist and singer songwriter Ben Walker. ‘Some of the subject matter and lyrics for his songs had me puzzled for a while, until I learned that Ben has worked as a psychiatric nurse and teaches a special-needs music class for adults with learning difficulties. Ben has drawn on his own life experiences and emotions, so then it all came into place.’


As our Coda, Gary offers up “Brobakken,” a new single by Norwegian folk rockers Gangar.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Apple Brandy


A letter from Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, to Tessa, her botanist friend who is on an extended botanical collecting trip in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere. She copied her letters into her Journal and her will stated that they should be shared after her death. Alex, as she preferred to be called, lived to be well over a hundred and indeed outlived her beloved Queen.

Dear Tessa,

I must confess that I just got over a headache brought on by drinking more than a bit of a most excellent apple brandy that we laid down ten years ago. We were celebrating the birth of a daughter to a couple who works here, Ingrid and Jacob. It’s their first and she takes after her mother in both her blue eyes and flaxen hair.

Our idea for doing apple brandy came to us from a Several Annie whose family in Normandy was fond of Calvados, their version of apple brandy that is produced as a rather coarse, rough brandy that must age for several years to acquire its flavor, amber color and the right amount of alcohol, which our Brewmaster, Sven, says is ideally between 40 and 43 percent. Sven got the distillery equipment that he needed to produce it from France, and didn’t The Steward complain about the cost as he approved the funds transfer to our agent in Normandy.

We sampled it after the preferred two years of aging, then at five years, and now at ten years. Sven figured long aging would make it more smooth, less biting, and he was right. Sipped cold, it’s simply wonderful. And all too easy to drink while sitting by the roaring fireplace in the rooms of The Steward on a nippy early spring night.

We were also celebrating Ingrid’s being promoted to Lead Publican in the Green Man Pub when her baby was past nursing, the first woman to hold that post. She’s been studying with the retiring Lead Publican, who’s moving back to Glasgow so he and his wife can be near their grandchildren.

Love Alex


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What’s New for the 3rd of March: Mysteries and Murderbot; fiddles Hardanger, nyckleharpa and violin; springy music; rhubarb wine and dark chocolate mousse and a Seabiscuit, and more

I hate misplaced apostrophes.

Detective Sergeant James Hathaway on the Lewis series.


MacKenzie here. One moment while I feed Hamish, our resident hedgehog, his live grubs. I keep trying to convince him to try woodworms, but a hedgehog is really not an innovator. Unfortunately. There, now we can talk…

The number of patrons of our Library always jumps dramatically when the evenings start getting colder. Now, understand that all of the staff here are voracious readers, a fact not at all surprising to me. Mind you, there’s a fair number of dilettantes among the scholars: the Reference shelves aren’t as trafficked as I’d like to see. This lot has its collective head in the clouds and its collective arse on a faerie mound as often as not.

Of course, the overstuffed leather chairs near the well-stoked fireplace in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room invite long sittings on cold nights. And one can learn all one needs to know about what is going on around here, over a cup of tea and a tatty scone or two; there’s no finer room in the place for a bite and a gossip over High Tea than in the Library staff room that overlooks Oberon’s Wood. But I hope the real attraction is the books here. It had better be!

I decided to do all mysteries this time. So do read them, along with the music reviews Gary has rounded up, Jennifer’s creative use of rhubarb, Reynard’s pick of a Dylan’s song performed by a trio of legendary musicians and other reviews Gary found.


So how about a bevy of mysteries to consider reading on these oh soon to be Spring evenings? I’ve selected a few of the myriad ones we’ve done over the years (and one new SF mystery); you’ll find they cover everything from English Manor House mysteries to psychic detectives…

April leads off our reviews with an unusual novel from an SF writer doing his only thriller: ‘Dead Man’s Brother is a delight to read — Roger Zelazny’s language and characters seem right at home in this genre — and regrettably over all too fast at less than 300 pages. If only more such jewels were left to unearth…’

Cat has a review of Rita Mae Brown’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie of which he says that ‘This series grows out of her passions for horses, hounds, and American fox hunting which show up frequently in her fiction and non-fiction works – she has for some time now been a member of a local fox hunt club. Please note that American hunt clubs do not kill the fox as part of their hunt but let it escape. Indeed they care for the foxes on their property by feeding them and making sure they get enough food in harsh winters.’

He also looks at the first novel in a now long running )fourteen books deep so far) mystery series: ‘Christopher Fowler’s Full Dark House is the best mystery set during the London Blitz of the early 1940s that I’ve ever read, bar none. It is also the best mystery set within the very peculiar world of the theater that I’ve read.

Craig looks at a noir novel from a beloved author: ‘In 1985, over twenty years since the publication of his last full-length work, 1962’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury reentered the novel-writing world with the release of Death is a Lonely Business, his foray into a genre dominated by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald — the crime novel.’

Elizabeth looked at a unique shared story narrative: ‘The Medieval Murderers (authors actually: Michael Jecks, Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson and Phillip Gooden), after pooling their talents on The Tainted Relic, have done so again with The Sword of Shame. As in Relic, each author contributes their own murder mystery, written within the time period of their choice and with their own characters, with the only catch being that each story revolves around the same object.’

The latest installment of Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries is of course SF also a mystery of sorts. We have Gary’s review of System Failure. ‘Things are proceeding as they do in a Murderbot story, with our intrepid, shy, sarcastic hero providing security services and advice to a group of humans who seem, to Murderbot, determined to get themselves killed through curiosity or lack of planning or carelessness, or, most often, all three. But wait … there’s something we’re not being told. And we know it’s being kept from us because every so often Murderbot’s report file is interrupted by the word redacted just like that, in italics.’

Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg’s Once Upon a Crime definitely appeals to Grey: ‘Fairy tales had a major impact on shaping the imagination of folks long before they were first written down. And mystery fiction goes back many, many centuries as a genre. The themes that were the basis of the material shaped by such writers as the Brothers Grimm, Victor Hugo, and Hans Christian Anderson are also ideally suited to the mystery genre. The possibilities are endless, with questions such as “What makes you think that a wolf ate your grandmother?” being ripe for treatment as mysteries.’

Joel has a review of China Miéville’s intertwined cities as told in his Hugo winning The City & The City novel: ‘With acknowledgments to writers as diverse as Chandler, Kafka, and Kubin (to say nothing of Orwell), I don’t need to tell you this won’t be your typical detective story. But given this is Miéville, would you have really expected a typical anything?’

Black Is the Colour of My True-love’s Heart  gets a loving look by Lenora: ‘Ellis Peters has a gift for titles. This aptly named book is the story of a fierce ballad-singer named Liri, who fell in love with a musician — then saw him cheating on her. It’s the tale of a venerable college of music-lore in danger from scandal. It’s the story of a misunderstood, brilliant young musician carrying a volatile secret. It’s all of these, and none of these, and it’s more than that. This is a book of music, of silence, of words; it has love, hate, and all their analogues. Myths and fact combine to wrap the storyline in a heavy cloak of authenticity. This is a story of high passion and cool deliberation; it dances through the morals and minds of another age and gives the reader a wide window into the world of folk music and ballad-singers.’

A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel that gets looked at by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’

From the Rivers of London books by Ben Aaronovitch, Lis has a review of the audiobook of Whispers Under Ground. ‘When Peter Grant’s young cousin, Abigail Kamara, drags him and his colleague and fellow magical apprentice, Leslie May, to a railroad track running under a school playground, they do find the ghost. But the ghost is no threat, and doesn’t seem to be pointing to anything of concern now. So when the first case that lands on his desk on Monday is a man stabbed to death on the track at Baker Street Station, he puts the ghost aside, and sets about finding out why the British Transport Police officer, Sgt. Kumar, thinks there’s something odd about the case in a way that makes it the Folly’s business.

Lory says of another mystery series: ‘Before there was Lyra Belacqua, there was Sally Lockhart. Prior to creating the unforgettable Lyra of The Golden Compass and its blockbuster sequels, Philip Pullman was perhaps best known for his trio of books featuring another kick-ass female: a pistol-packing, checkbook-balancing, mystery-solving Victorian orphan. I adored these books as a teenager (like Sally herself, I was sixteen when the first volume was published), but hadn’t read them in years when the chance came to review them for GMR. Would they still be as compelling as I remembered, half a lifetime later?’

Lory also gives us a mystery set in a Britain that never existed: ‘Jo Walton has a knack for genre fiction with a twist. In the World Fantasy Award-winning Tooth and Claw, she gave us a Victorian family saga — complete with siblings squabbling over an inheritance, the woes of the unwed daughters of the house, and the very important question of What Hat to Wear — with a cast of dragons, literally red in tooth and claw. Now in Farthing, her material is the mid-century British country house murder mystery. The story is told in alternate chapters through the eyes of Lucy Kahn, a reluctant visitor to the family estate of Farthing, and over the shoulder of Inspector Carmichael, who has been sent from Scotland Yard to investigate the death of one of the other guests.’

Richard offers us a bit of pulp in Manley Wellman’s The Complete John Thunstone: ‘he’s a familiar character with a few unique twists. A psychic detective in the old-school style, he’s wealthy, well-built, and as quick with his fists or his saint-forged swordcane as he is with his wits. Erudite, charming and nattily attired, he tangles repeatedly with the nefarious, seemingly unkillable sorcerer Rowley Thorne, a nemesis seeming cloned from bits of Aleister Crowley and Professor Moriarty. Where Thorne strives to unleash darkness on the world (and win the affections of the Countess Sharon Montesco by fair means or foul), Thunstone and his allies fight to hold the shadows at bay. As such, he fits comfortably within the psychic detective tradition; it’s Wellman’s skill at characterization that makes him stand out.’

Robert’s review of 9Tail Fox that whittles down the general genre label and gets to the heart of the story. ‘The book cover claims that Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox is ‘A novel of science fiction.’ Considering what science fiction has become over the past generation, that could well be valid — with some qualifications. I’m going to call it ‘slipstream’ in honor of its genre-bending tendencies and let it go at that.’ is it mystery? Read his review to see if it is.


Remember rhubarb? That huge tropical-leafed plant in your grandmother’s garden with red, red stems, and you chew the stems and your mouth goes dry for the next three days? Jennifer reviews Red Ass Rhubarb wine and gives us a recipe for dark chocolate mousse to eat with it.


Grey, in her review of the film Seabiscuit, says her eyes stayed perfectly dry whenever the visual and audio cues said she should be crying. ‘But I teared up every time I saw the horse(s) who play Seabiscuit take the track. It’s beautiful! The way horses run when they’re racing… there’s an emotion in it that isn’t human, but that I find heart-rending all the same.’


April was pleased with Jim Butcher and Ardian Syaf’s Welcome to the Jungle, a standalone story connected to a series of novels featuring the exploits of wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. ‘Butcher’s usual snappy dialogue translates quite well into the comic format. Syaf’s art is clean and attractive and he does an excellent job of realizing Butcher’s characters, Harry in particular, right down to his trademark duster, pentacle pendant, blasting rod and staff.’


In new music, Gary reviewed the third album by one of his favorite groups, Nils Økland Band’s Gjenskinn. As with the Hardanger fiddler and his band’s earlier efforts, he says, this one presents Norwegian folk themes viewed through a multifaceted lens that incorporates jazz, classical, minimalism, and more. ‘All of these players are top-tier, in demand musicians in their fields, and all are adept at improvising within the rarified levels at which Økland composes and into which he leads them. The sense of focused joy in their performance is palpable.’

Gary also attended a show billed as Väsen and Hawktail, and figured the two bands would play separately. ‘But it turns out that Hawktail isn’t just some Americana group but in this case is the acoustic supergroup I formerly knew as Haas Kowert Tice, and they’re not opening for Väsen but playing along with them in a sort of super supergroup! It was the best night of music I’ve enjoyed since before the pandemic began four years ago.’

From the archives, Barb reviewed a bunch of Nordic fiddling CDs in her omni review of Alicia Björnsdotter Abrams’ Live at Stallet, Marianne Maans’ Marianne Maans, Majorstuen’s Jorun Jogga, Jan Beitohaugen Granli’s Lite Nemmar, and Kristine Heebøll’s Trio Mio. ‘With this group, the versatility of the violin is evident as we move from solo settings to a sextet and everything in between. Through all of it, the violin is the binding force. The geographical areas represented include Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.’

Christopher gave a mixed review to a couple of albums by Darrell Scott. ‘Live in NC works so much better than Theatre of the Unheard because the songs are given space, both terms of both the arrangements and timing. All of the songs but one go over the five minute mark, being allowed to unravel themselves slowly and powerfully, the rhythm section giving its best and Scott himself proving to be a talented and effective guitarist. His voice, much more relaxed, is fitting and there are times that he even shows potential to be a remarkably good singer.’

Gary liked Jolie Holland’s Springtime Can Kill You, which he said ‘ …is a 12-song cycle about love, its joys and disappointments. It opens with “Crush in the Ghetto,” a lovely and lilting love song with the sighing refrain of “look what you’ve done to me.” Lightly plucked electric guitar and lightly brushed drums accompany her singing, grounded by a low, thrumming bass and the distant soughing of horns and organ.’

Judith reviewed Dark Light from Waterson:Carthy, which at the time was Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, and their daughter, fiddler Eliza Carthy, with accordionist Tim Van Eyken. ‘You would think that after all these albums, the little extended family would get boring, rest on their laurels, but actually Dark Light is quite fresh-sounding, a nice album with subtly interesting interpretations of the old songs.’

It’s not too early to start planning to attend Denmark’s annual Skagen Festival – which fans of Seaside Hotel may be interested in! Lars told us all about it. ‘On the last weekend in June every year Skagen hosts an international music festival with a folky direction. Fairport Convention, the Dubliners and Runrig have played the festival in recent years.’


Reynard found a really interesting song while he  looking at the list of the latest additions to the Infinate Jukebox, our digital media sever. It’s the Dylan song, ’Highway 61 Revisited’ as performed this time by Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. You can hear it thisaway as it was performed on the 17th of November, 2000 at the Shrine Auditorium in Mountain View, California.

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on What’s New for the 3rd of March: Mysteries and Murderbot; fiddles Hardanger, nyckleharpa and violin; springy music; rhubarb wine and dark chocolate mousse and a Seabiscuit, and more