What’s New for the 11th of July: A Pig Roast, Grateful Dead Beer?, Kage Baker on Terry Gilliam, live music from Penguin Cafe Orchestra, another look at Chicago’s Field Museum and Other Summer Matters

The problem with sending messages was that people responded to them, which meant one had to write more messages in reply. — Arkady Martine’s  A Memory Called Empire

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It is  pleasantly quiet here in the Green Man Pub on this summer morning so I’ve been reading Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace, the sequel to her Hugo Award winning A Memory Called Empire. I’m drinking our house cider and I’ve listening to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra playing ‘Music For A Found Harmonium’ on our sound system.

There’s a pig cooking over an applewood fire outside in the fire pit on the patio near the Pub which should be ready in a few hours. Plenty of other fare as well — earlier today I saw corn ready for roasting, German style potato salad, lots of cheeses, fat sausages, a coleslaw with poppy seed dressing and lots of other tasty foods. Not to mention lots of libations including of course ale and cider.

Indeed, I finished this edition earlier this week, so I too could take the day off. After you read this edition, join us on the Greensward for music, libations, food and other summery things.

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Cat, our Editor in Chief, was pretty excited to review the ARC of Peter S. Beagle’s story collection The Line Between. ‘Reincarnated lovers, dead critics, an ambitious mouse, implacable assassins, kings that Lear himself could sympathize with, and sailors who discover that good luck might be quite a bit worse than no luck at all — there’s many a story here to entertain you!’ One of the stories, “Two Hearts,” a sequel to The Last Unicorn, won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, so it apparently pleased other readers as well.’

He says for some time he’s been looking forward to a full length novel in P. Djèlí Clark’s Dead Djinn series set in an early 1900s alternative Cairo where magic has returned to the world. It’s now here in A Master of Djinn, which Cat enjoyed on audio. ‘Now let me be clear that this is a pulp story with a heroine who has her own sidekick and truly deliciously evil antagonists. The story starts fast, gets faster and never slows down.’

Deborah wasn’t sure at all she was going to like editor Mike Allen’s fantasy anthology Clockwork Phoenix, but it all worked out in the end. ‘It seems that Mike Allen started with the worst stories and built this edifice into a dizzying and satisfying end. It was definitely an anthology that necessarily folded out over time, best consumed slowly and intermittently rather than quickly.’

Donna got all wrapped up in Tasha Alexander’s A Poisoned Season, one of a series of late-Victorian murder mysteries featuring a young high-society widow, Lady Emily Ashton. ‘It’s a decent mystery, sufficiently challenging, with just enough red herrings tossed about to keep the reader wondering until the last few pages who did what and why. At just over three hundred pages, it’s also a bit longer than is typical of this genre. Of course it ends happily, but there was never any serious doubt about that.’

Then she got caught up on the doings of Lady Emily in two more offerings by Tasha Alexander, A Fatal Waltz and Tears of Pearl. The former, she says, ‘… opens at one of those dreadful hunting parties members of the British upper class used to hold at their country estates.’ In the latter, Lady Emily and her new husband board the Orient Express for a honeymoon in Constantinople. ‘Alexander does a reasonably good job of portraying the distinctive topography, buildings, marketplaces, food, and general ambiance of Constantinople at this point in time, although I would say not as good a job as she did with Vienna in A Fatal Waltz.’

Gary says Martha Wells’ Fugitive Telemetry novella is another top-notch entry in her Murderbot Diaries series. ‘Martha Wells is making a lot of points in this splendid series. But [the] need for doing the legal, ethical, philosophical, etc., heavy lifting in advance is a big one. Of course The Murderbot Diaries is also about workers’ rights, late stage capitalism, PTSD and other psychological maladies, humans’ capacity for doing the wrong thing, and feelings. Especially feelings.’

Jack says ‘Jane Yolen tackles much here: the older material takes on subjects ranging from the double helix of teller and tale, tough magic, the gift of language, and the nature of once upon a time. The new section, according to Jane in her new preface, is six essays in which she converses ’bout the most important classics of children’s fantasy, i.e., the books of Beatrix Potter, her attempt to define what a story is, the morality of fairy tales, and other juicy subjects. There’s enough good — and meaningful — reading here to keep one reading for many a cold winters night. Having been admonished by one writer this week for giving too much away in my reviews, I’ll think let you discover just how wonderful Touch Magic is!’

In looking at The Time Quartet, Naomi has a confession to make: ‘As far as I am concerned, Madeleine L’Engle’s books should be required reading in all schools, as they open doors — not only in the imagination, but also in the academics, math and science especially. These wonderful tales could inspire the next Einstein to take the proper courses and feed his mind. I enjoyed the journeys that Mrs. L’Engle’s works took me on, and yet, I am saddened by the fact that I never read them as a child. I will rectify this mistake by introducing my own children to them posthaste!’

Steven Brust, a musician himself, brings us, in collaboration with Megan Lindholm, The Gypsy, which — well, as Robert puts it: ‘There are three brothers who have become separated. They are the Raven, the Owl, and the Dove. Or perhaps they are Raymond, Daniel, and Charlie. They are probably Baroly, Hollo, and Csucskari. One plays the fiddle, one plays tambourine, and one has a knife with a purpose.’ There’s a lot more to it, of course, so check it out.

He next came up with a series that is quintessential space opera, with a twist: C. J. Cherryh’s The Chanur Saga, including Chanur’s Homecoming, and the sequel, Chanur’s Legacy: ‘C. J. Cherryh’s The Chanur Saga is an almost-omnibus edition of her tetralogy about Pyanfar Chanur and her ship, the interstellar trader The Pride of Chanur. Because of length, the “omnibus” volume contains the first three in the series . . . , and one would be well-advised to be sure that Chanur’s Homecoming, issued separately, is within easy reach, lest one be left hanging off a cliff.’

Warner leads off with this novel: ‘A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a wonderfup read, and Becky Chambers a treasure for giving it to us. It will keep a reader comfortable, give them a nice warm feeling and something to think upon. This little volume is heartily recommended, and the fact it is likely to continue as a series represents a rare bright spot in a genre so often dim.’

Next he says ‘Overall Marjorie Liu’s The Tanglewood Palace is a nice collection, and features excellent stories by an author who knows her craft well. It is of course easy to recommend to fans of her work; however it can be heartily recommended to those with only a vague curiosity about her. Stories in this volume evoke everyone from William Goldman to Tanya Huff, from Hayao Miyazaki to Kevin Smith, and do so with almost poetic ease.’

Up next for him is a short story collection: ‘O Henry’s 101 Stories is the Library of America’s volume collecting works by that American master of the short story. Included are many of the man’s most famous tales, such as “Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief”. It also includes many lesser known works.’

Finally he looks at a book that’s a little bit mystery, a little bit thriller, and a bit of police procedural, too. ‘Deep Into the Dark is P.J. Tracy’s first volume in a new series following LAPD detective Margaret Nolan. It is more on the thriller side of the equation than the traditional mystery, with a quick moving plot and a cast of colorful characters.’

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Denise dips into a funky offering from Terrapin Beer Company: Dancing Gummy Beer Hemp Cherry Berliner Weisse. If that’s got you thinking of music and…edibles…you’re not alone. ‘This beer is A Lot, y’all. Hemp + cherries + Weißbier? Deeeeeam. Get ready, as that hemp comes straight at you as soon as you pop the top. I immediately wanted to turn on some Grateful Dead and change into my tie-dye.’

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Many years ago Jennifer decided to throw a pig roast. The most helpful online sources for a pig roast in the upper Midwest climate suggested that, “if you see what looks like a bunch of drunks standing around a trash fire by the side of the road, it’s a pig roast, you’re invited, pull over. As long as you bring your own liquor.” Another fine source, who does it not the way Jennifer does, is David Whitfield at Mississippi State University .

To do it the way Jennifer and her hubby do it, look here.  It’s surprisingly easy, once you have all the gear, the pig, and seventy-five close friends who bring their own beer.

Raspberry dividerKage says ‘With The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, alas, the malign gods were paying attention and behaving not unlike Terry Pratchett’s Auditors, practically warping time and space to mess with Terry Gilliam. They failed to ruin the film — Munchausen is magnificent, and a fitting conclusion to the Trilogy of the Imagination — but they ruined everything they could, to such an extent that Munchausen is unfairly and incorrectly called one of the most expensive disasters in cinema history.’

She was, as many of you know author of  The Company series featuring  time traveling cyborg immortals who loved chocolate, so it’s no wonder she liked this film: ‘Blessed with a cast that included Sir Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being, David Warner as Evil, and Sean Connery as King Agamemnon (and a fireman), Time Bandits is a classic magical adventure story in the mold of E. Nesbit’s books, but with an updated edge and a sharper sense of humor. Unlike most candy-coated parables handed out to kids, it tells no lies and ends in a brutal and surprisingly exhilarating way.’

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April has a look at the opening salvo in a not-run-of-the-mill graphic novel series, The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite: ‘Part steam punk, part superhero comic and all attitude, Umbrella Academy is the brainchild of rock front man Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance). The titular “academy” is actually a group of oddly powered kids, raised by an eccentric space alien masquerading as an entrepreneur known for his work with chimpanzees.’

Robert follows up with his take on the second volume, The Umbrella Academy: Dallas: ‘The story is rather fragmented, but does draw together into a coherent narrative focusing on the assassination of JFK — eventually. But first there’s a dog race (Number 5 loses heavily), a trip back to 1963, a short interlude in Heaven, and a stint in Vietnam before everyone winds up where they’re supposed to be.’

Raspberry divider‘I remember David Bromberg from years ago,’ David says. ‘He wrote a song with George Harrison, he played guitar for Bob Dylan, the Eagles, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson and the Grateful Dead. In memory he was one of those flash acoustic guitar players, but a pretty lousy singer.’ So what did he think of the archival release by the David Bromberg Quartet of Live, New York City 1982?

Gary has a look at Treasure of Love from The Flatlanders, three fellas who get together about once a decade to record a new album. ‘This is Texas country music done right. Actually the album is pretty much a showcase of the subgenre, from Tex Ritter and Ernest Tubb to Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury, and some Texas style takes on some musicians from elsewhere, like Leon Russell (who grew up next door in Oklahoma), Johnny Cash, George Jones, one Robert Dylan (honest, that’s how he’s credited), and New York native country-folk singer Paul Siebel.’

Gary was smitten by a new release from Smithsonian Folkways, Joseph Spence’s Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing. ‘Island music, folk music, gospel, a bit of the blues and more, Joseph Spence rolled them all into his utterly unique music. It’s otherworldly yet accessible. I promise you, you won’t hear anything else like Joseph Spence’s Encore this year.’

Gary reviews The Indian Bansuri, a recording by Pandit Ronu Majumdar, a globally renowned, Grammy nominated, multiple award winning player of the bansuri flute of Hindustani classical music. ‘I truly can’t write knowledgeably about Hindustani music, but I’m a fan and know what I like. And I like Ronu Majumdar’s The Indian Bansuri very much indeed.’

Gary’s been feeling a bit nostalgic, so he penned this review of Gordon Lightfoot’s Don Quixote, which he says has been one of his favorites since it came out in 1972. ‘I probably listened to it nearly exclusively for several weeks, and to this day as we near its 50th anniversary I can still sing along with every song and even sing most of them without the record going. It’s one of the classic albums of the era that I play most often even today.’

Michael found a couple of 2008 releases from Fairport Convention – Live At Cropredy ’08 and Fame and Glory – were revelatory of the band’s prowess at that point in time. ‘Taken together, both albums show a couple of important aspects to the current Fairport Convention. They salute their past music and members on the Cropredy CD, and rediscover some long lost highlights from their previous repertoire, adjusted easily to fit the band as it is now. On Fame and Glory, they show how they can adapt to the work of other composers as well.’

Mike had mixed feelings about Solas’s For Love And Laughter. After greatly enjoying the opening reel set, he says: ‘This invigorating four minutes will leave you on the edge of your seat with anticipation of the roller-coaster ride that is to follow. And that was the problem for me — the roller coaster has a tendency to come off the tracks on a number of occasions after this opening number.’

Peter has good words to say about Irish guitarist Daithi Sproule’s The Crow In The Sun. ‘If the sound of an acoustic guitar beautifully played turns you on, then this is the album for you. Daithi Sproule is a superb artist and has a style of playing that would leave other lesser guitarists (including me) in awe.’

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Robert takes us on another adventure at Chicago’s Field Museum — and quite an adventure it is, as we find ourselves Traveling the pacific: ‘The Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water on the planet, at its widest stretching about 11,000 miles across — almost half the diameter of the earth. This is just one of the fun facts that lead into the Field Museum’s exhibit “Traveling the Pacific”.’

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I’ll show you out you with yet more Penguin Cafe Music, to wit ‘Numbers 1 – 4’ recorded at the Glastonbury Festival near Summer Solstice twenty-seven years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Our Pub

Green Leaves

It was a fairly typical evening in our Green Man Pub. The weather had turned sharply colder and that meant a steady flow of customers, which kept Finch, my lead barkeep, busy along with one of the Several Annie’s, Iain’s Library apprentices, who was working the floor for us tonight.

So listen as I give you a tour of the Green Man Pub.

The Pub got expanded and modernized when we started hosting music festivals, community gatherings and even the occasional wedding here. The location of it is actually underground as it’s on the first of three levels of cellars under the Estate Main Building. You get in from the greensward side of the building where it has a door out to a stone patio that overlooks the greensward. That wall consists almost entirely of very energy efficient windows which make for a spectacular view, especially during Winter storms.

The other way in is a circular staircase near the check-in area for guests here. It’s interesting to watch first time visitors emerge from the stairs there as they more often than not expect a Ye Olde Pub and get something that looks like a Scandinavian coffeehouse.

Ale, bourbon, cider, mead and whiskey, both Irish and Scottish, are the mainstays, with us making the first three here. We also stock bourbon, brandy and vodka. Don’t ask for a cocktail as we don’t do them ever, though I’ll make you what I consider the best Irish coffee anywhere.

The fireplace is reputed to be a thousand years old but I doubt it. It’s big enough for me to stand in and I’m nearly six feet tall. We made it energy efficient several years back, so it gets used from early Fall to late Spring. We have roasted a whole hog in there and the smell permeated much of the Estate Building.

We can seat upwards of sixty punters here but it’s best when there’s a smaller crowd. I like it best when there’s thirty or so, with the Neverending Session playing tunes as the punters talk quietly among themselves and we serve them as need be. No TVs, but there’s a dart board that gets a lot of use.

There’s an area in left corner that’s always dark and cold. I’ve seen the ghosts that haunt that area and I’ll spare you the nightmares that the ghosts engender. If you’re lucky, you’ll never see them. Just don’t sit near that spot.

Come sit at the bar and I’ll pour you an Autumn Ale for you to enjoy. It’s got a touch of our honey in, the raspberry honey to be exact.

Green Leaves

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What’s New for 27th of June: B-52s live, Beowulf, Fables, Beer, Banks’ Culture series and Its Summer!

He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing. The fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why. Why this Doctor who had fought with gods and demons, why he’d run away from us and hidden. He was being kind. — Doctor Who’s ‘ The Family of Man’

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I’m a long term fan of British writer Simon R. Green and am very pleased to be reading a galley of his Jekyll and Hyde Inc. novel, the first in a new series. It’s one of  two new series he’s writing, the other being his Gideon Sable series. These series come as he’s wrapped up two of his long running running series, the Nightside and Secret Histories series, both of which got wrapped up in the Night Fall novel.

We’ve decided to share some of our ale reviews this time as Gary had a review of a good dark beer he just discovered, so I dug deep into the Archives and added some of the other ales we’ve tasted and written notes on, and added two books on American beers as well.

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Cat has a small treat for us: ‘Neil Gaiman’s “How The Marquis Got His Coat Back” is a fun appetiser of a story though it really should be put back into Neverwhere: The Author’s Preferred Text where it really belongs instead as an appendix at the end, or as a separate audio story, as it’s really just a chapter within that greater story. It’s wonderfully played here by the cast of Paterson Joseph, Bernard Cribbins, Samantha Beart, Adrian Lester, Mitch Benn and Don Warrington with a special appearance by Neil Gaiman as he always does in his radio productions.’

He next has a collection with an an interesting premise: ‘Now we can add to the list of great Sf and fantasy pub tales  this Larry Niven collection, The Draco Tavern, which collects all of the previously printed Draco Tavern tales, with a few new pieces thrown in for a bit of value added like all the extras we get on DVDs these days.‘

Gary read recent editions of the first and third novels of Iain M. Banks’s Culture series , Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons. It wasn’t the first time he’d read them, but he still found both gripping, as he says in his dual review.

Gary also reviews a book of literary criticism about the Culture series. He says Simone Caroti’s The Culture Series ‘is valuable reading for anyone who wants to move into a deeper understanding of what that series is really about, where it stands in the history of SF and literature, and why it’s important.’

We don’t like all books that we read and review. Really. Truly. And Jack proves that here: ‘I’m a fiddler. I like Steven Brust. I love most any novel with folk music as a theme, particularly when musicians are the characters. So why the fuck did I find Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill to be not even worth finishing? Good question — and one that I will answer in some detail. Perhaps more detail than this badly written novel deserves.’

One of my fave Summer reads gets a look-see by Mia, a Charles de Lint novel to be precise: ‘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.’

Michael has the first in a truly literary series, Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair: ‘Enter a world where things are very, very different. Where in 1985, Britain is a virtual police state, engaged in border wars with the People’s Republic of Wales, and well into the 131st year of the Crimean War. Where all told, thirty divisions of Special Operations take care of business, everything from Neighborly Disputes (SO-30) to Art Crime (SO-24) to Weird Stuff (SO-2) and Weirder Stuff (SO-3), to ChronoGuard (SO-12) and Internal Affairs (SO-1). Thursday Next is part of the Literary Detectives (SO-27).  Her beat: manuscripts, forgeries, literary crimes, and keeping tabs on Britain’s national treasures, including the much-beloved first editions of Dickens, Swift, Shakespeare, Austen and the Brontes.’

Naomi is a big fan of Fred Saberhagen, including his series that incorporates elements of Greek mythology: ‘I’ve enjoyed reading Fred Saberhagen’s novels for almost twenty years now. He is very talented, having the ability to breathe life into the worlds which he creates, worlds which become, for all intents and purposes, real, and which many of us would love to live in, no matter the dangers to be found there. His new series, Book of the Gods, which begins with this book The Face of Apollo, is highly imaginative and thought-provoking.

Other entries in this series Naomi reviewed include Ariadne’s Web, The Arms of Hercules, and God of the Golden Fleece.

Meanwhile, Rebecca reviewed another offering from the prolific Mr. Saberhagen, Merlin’s Bones, and we … think … she liked it. ‘Saberhagen tells his story well. It is full of action, suspense, and magic. (There are also instructions on how to fight trolls, which some of you may find helpful.) There are many surprises in this novel; some of which I guessed long before they were revealed, but one which truly startled me.’

And then there’s a book about a baseball game which lasted  almost as long as a cricket test match, which is reviewed by Richard: ‘Bottom of the 33rd, as scribed by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dan Barry. The book is his ode to the longest baseball game ever played in an organized league, a 33 inning behemoth staged between the AAA Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket PawSox in 1981. Playing third base for the Red Wings that day was a guy everyone agreed was too big to play shortstop: Cal Ripken Jr. His opposite number for the PawSox was Wade Boggs. Mixed in with these two all-time greats were a few quality players (Bruce Hurst, Bobby Ojeda, Rich Gedman), some journeymen and cup-of-coffee types, and of course the guys who never made it at all.’

Robert brings us two reviews of works that also occupy places outside of what we’ve come to expect in fantasy and science fiction. The first is Octavia E. Butler’s Parables series: ‘The late Octavia E. Butler is one of those science fiction writers whose work can — and does — stand easily in the company of the very best “mainstream” literature being produced today. She is, I regret to say, another one whose novels I am only just discovering, and at this point I can’t think why I waited so long to investigate her writing: she wrote with power and authority and was one of those writers who brought the formal and stylistic tools of literary fiction into the service of some of the best genre writing available.’

He follows that with Butler’s Lilith’s Brood: ‘Octavia E. Butler, at the time of her emergence as a major voice in science fiction, was a rarity because she was a woman and she was African-American. In neither area was she unique, but the combination was. Lilith’s Brood, also known as Xenogenesis, has been called Butler at her best and for that reason alone would deserve a close look. There are, however, many reasons to look at these books closely, because they raise so many issues and operate on so many levels.’

Robert also reviewed Dark Jenny: ‘What do you get when you mix the legend of King Arthur with the detective fiction of Raymond Chandler? It seems you come up with Alex Bledsoe’s stories of Eddie LaCrosse, sometime mercenary soldier, sometime hardboiled detective.’ In this novel, he’s in the wrong castle, a situation not uncommon for him.

Warner leads off his reviews with an SF story: ‘J.S. Dewes’ The Last Watch is the first novel in a planned series which combines an imperial setting with the far future in familiar manner, and as a result Dewes needs more to distinguish her work. Fortunately good plotting and an enjoyable set of elements and characters go a long way towards drawing reader interest.

Next up is a neat sounding mystery: ‘Col. David Fits-Enz’s The Spy on Putney Bridge: A Mystery Novel of Espionage, Murder, and Betrayal in London is a fascinating use of the mixture of family history, wartime spy thriller, and crime novel. The result is a fast moving novel that nonetheless spans decades, and a steadily twisting bit of intrigue that is believable and difficult to assess in equal measure.’

A nifty set of short stories wraps up his reviewing: ‘Isabel Yap’s Never Have I Ever is a wonderful collection of clever and inventive stories. Ranging in genre from fantasy to horror to weird, Yap has a style that will remind readers of authors like Yolen and Blume at times.’

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Great beer, good food. Chris reviews a book that bring them together: ‘Garrett Oliver is the Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery. His hefty tome, The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, is part brewing history, part culinary advice column, part travelogue and all useful information for anyone with an interest in (a) eating, (b) drinking, or (c) both. In other words, anyone whose health does not require absolute abstinence from alcohol in any form.’

Denise takes a sip of two non-alcoholic brews: BrewDog Elvis AF and BrewDog Punk AF. Besides the nice play on acronyms, what’s she got to say? Well, for Elvis, ‘[t]his beer is A Lot, y’all. Hemp + cherries + Weißbier? Deeeeeam. Get ready, as that hemp comes straight at you as soon as you pop the top.’ For its cousin Punk, ‘…there’s a whole lot for hop-lovers to enjoy here. At 0.5% alcohol and 37 calories – no that calorie count isn’t a typo – brew snobs? Get ready to be shocked and amazed.’ Read her reviews to find out why beer lovers should give these a try!

‘I’ve always enjoyed a good dark beer, even when here in the States that meant the dark lagers you’d occasionally find at a pizza parlor,’ Gary says. ‘Finally in the late ’80s or early ’90s you could get Guinness’s stout in most places, and since then with the craft beer revolution you can get a decent porter or stout in just about any pub you find.’ Read his review of Block 15’s The London Chronicle, a London-style porter, to see what he thinks about this particular brew.

The history of beer is, if nothing else, tasty. And that’s why I’m offering you this review as done by Kelly of a Russian River Brewing Company release: ‘Wandering through my neighborhood grocery store on a Saturday afternoon, I came across a wine tasting. “What the heck!” I said to myself and sauntered up to the guy with the wine glasses. I was chatting pleasantly with a couple sipping next to me when the male part of the party stopped a young man in an apron walking by and asked if they had any Pliny the Elder in the back. The young man scowled, but said he would bring one. My fellow taster boldly asked for a second bottle for his wife and received another black look.’

He notes that he greatly expanded his appreciation of beer by reading one particular guide: ‘even with my recent development of my palate to include dark ales and porters and bitters and IPAs (but not quite stouts; I just can’t get into those), I never really knew the difference between a lager and an ale until I read Ken Wells’s book Travels with Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America.’

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Camille, while basically live-blogging it, has a good time skewering Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf, in which a lot of Vikings get, well, skewered: ‘The gore is considerably more graphic than the sex. Lots of thane-bodies flying around, pierced and skewered on random sharp spikes conveniently incorporated into the feast hall decor. And another! And another! Right through the mead-gut. These guys must’ve seen that all spikes home decorating special issue of Metropolitan Home.’

Joseph was impressed by James Cameron’s popular SF film Avatar … up to a point. ‘While Cameron is a great story teller, the story he tells is not that great. Avatar retells the classic cowboys versus Indians or, more accurately but lesser known, US Marines versus Hawaiians. All the right tropes of the American mythological landscape appear. All the expected morals play out sans a challenging twist to make a viewer reflect.’

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April has mixed feelings about Fables Vol. 8, Wolves. ‘This eighth installment of Bill Willingham’s long-running series of fairy tale characters alive and well in our world (and at war with a fierce Adversary) finds Mowgli of Jungle Book fame still hunting down the Big Bad Wolf on behalf of Prince Charming, embattled mayor of Fabletown.’

And Cat’s ready to break out the champagne for the 75th issue of Fables: ‘I don’t recall us ever reviewing a single issue of an ongoing series, nor do our master review indexes — as maintained by our Library staff — show that we have done so. So why the seventy-fifth issue of Fables? What makes it worth reviewing? Oh, damn near everything in it is worth talking about, particularly given that it ends a story line that has run for the entire seventy-fifty issues of this groundbreaking series.’

Richard feel sorry for the hero of Brian Azzarello & Victor Santos’s Filthy Rich, in spite of the lovely boss’ daughter: ‘Pity the protagonist of noir fiction. Because he dwells in that world of dangerous dames, brawny gangsters and flashy period cars — not to mention impressive and stylish men’s hats — he does not have the opportunity to read noir, to learn its basic tenets and thus avoid falling into its most commonplace traps.’

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Big Earl has something to say about Sleepy LaBeef’s Rockabilly Blues, an archival release from one of the greats of the early era of rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Sleepy LaBeef was the last artist that the original Sun Records (of Elvis fame) promoted in the 1950s. Bridging the gap between Presley and Chuck Berry, LaBeef continues to be the real bridge between country and the blues, the true king of Rockabilly.’

David dug into the trove of 21st century reissues put out by the great Memphis soul label Stax, for a couple of cool reviews. ‘Stax Records re-introduced itself to the world with a series of brilliant retrospective CDs celebrating their long history.’ First up is his look at Steve Cropper & Felix Cavaliere’s Nudge It Up a Notch, and Eddie Floyd’s Eddie Loves You So. Then he dives head first into two collections, Soulsville Sings Hitsville, and Stax Does the Beatles.

David waxes enthusiastic about Maria Muldaur’s 35th album, a collection of protest songs called Yes We Can! ‘This is a beautifully constructed, wonderfully played collection, and it’s as funky as all get out. Gotta love it! And, if it inspires just a few people to work toward making this world a better place, then Maria will have done her job.’

Donna listened closely to a couple of discs from the estimable label GO’ Danish Folk Music – one of which she liked a lot, the other not so much. Of Kristine Heebol’s 10 Point, she says, ‘This is a charming, highly listenable CD. My only complaint is that it’s just over 40 minutes long. You’ve barely gotten into it and it ends!’ Of the latter … ‘Henrik Jansberg’s Omnivor is a whole other kettle of fish, if you know what I mean.’ Read her review for the full story.

‘Marc Ribot is the guitarist you go to if you want someone whose choices will never be formulaic or expected,’ Gary says, by way of introducing Hope, a new album from Ribot’s trio Ceramic Dog. ‘His Ceramic Dog noise rock trio is a vehicle for some of the most experimental of this highly experimental artist’s works (and also one where he employs his voice in addition to his prodigious guitar skills).’

Gary also reviews Happy Again, an album of sad songs by Bill and the Belles, which doesn’t have anybody named Bill in it. How’s that? ‘Happy Again … is an excellent showcase for Bill and the Belles that deserves attention outside this group’s home base. It’s fun music on themes ranging from silly to serious, and it synthesizes a wide swath of American styles from jazz to bluegrass and beyond.’

Gary enjoyed a new album from a new group, two young musicians who play accordion and violin from Spain’s Celtic region, Galicia. ‘Galician music has long been a favorite in my household, and it’s good to know it’s in good hands of yet another generation of enthusiastic and capable musicians. Caamaño & Ameixeira’s Aire! is a real winner.’

Gary also reviews two new collections in the Naxos World series Folk Music of China. Of Vol. 13: Songs of the Tibetan Plateau, he notes, ‘It’s a bit different from those I’ve reviewed so far, in that its selections include some pop songs based on traditional and folk music, as well as pop instrumentation on most of the tracks, which purport to be traditional songs.’

And of Vol. 14: Songs Of The Tibetan Plateau – Monba and Lhoba Peoples, he says ‘This one has songs from the Monba and Lhoba peoples, ethnic groups who live around the border with India. Both are farming, herding and hunting peoples traditionally, with only small populations of about 10,000 of the Monba and about one-third as many of the Lhoba people.’

Mike has something to say about Thinkers & Fools, the second album by UK singer-songwriter Darren Black. ‘Everything about Thinkers & Fools is likeable. Black’s lyrics are thought provoking and reflective; the instrumental arrangements are accomplished but never intrusive.’

Mike also reviews U.S. singer-songwriter Johnny Duhan’s Just Another Town. ‘Johnny Duhan is one of the few songwriters who can move me to tears with just one well-placed, exquisitely written line. This 2007 release contains countless such lines. The title track of this album alone stands tall as an absolute masterpiece of song writing; Duhan takes a blank canvas and fills it line by line with the rich and vivid imagery of the buildings and characters that make up “Just Another Town.” ‘

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Happy Pride everyone! Cheers to all our guys, gals and non-binary pals! Denise, your friendly neighborhood graysexual, here. And I hope you’ve been having the very best month ever, or at least the very best month since lockdown. And to help with that, I’ll be reviewing two Pride-esque (it’s a word; I just made it up) brews for everyone to enjoy.

First off, I dove into The Stone Wall Inn IPA by Brooklyn Brewery. It’s in honor of The Stonewall Inn, a place – and perhaps THE place – where LGBTQIA+ activism started. Heck, I dig it for the rainbow can alone, though the brew is pretty darn good as well. ‘It’s the official beer of The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, and that makes my wee heart go pitter-pat with joy.’ So read my review, already!

Next on the agenda is one big mouthful of a beer name, which is apt for one big mouthful of a beer. Devils Backbone Wine Barrel Aged Glitter Bomb fits into the sour category, but doesn’t make me feel like I need to call my gastroenterologist after I’ve finished the bottle. Plus, with a name like Glitter Bomb, I had to share it with you. ‘And though smooth won’t be a word folks call the citric acid-y punch Bomb delivers, it’s much more drinkable than the sours I’ve tried in the past. … I want to enjoy my pours, and Bomb is something I enjoy.’

Intrigued? Well, I hate to shill for my own reviews, but give it a look and see if you’ll want to add either of these – or both – to your Pride month wrap-up party. 

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So let’s take our leave of each other this time with some spritely music in the form of  ‘Love Shack’ by the B-52s whose only official live recording got reviewed by Cat: ‘If you’re a fan of the band, you’ll definitely want Live! 8.24.1979, because official live recordings of this band are scarce. The liner notes are both informative and entertaining — kudos to Real Gone Music for these. Oh and ‘Rock Lobster’ is wonderful played live!’ Alas the Live! 8.24.1979 recording predates ‘Love Shack’ so you’ll need to enjoy it here instead! It’s a feel good summertime song that’s guaranteed to give you an earworm for days after you hear it.  The ‘Love Shack’ I have for you to enjoy was recorded  in Atlanta sometime in 2001.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Our Greensward

Green Leaves

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 who do play cricket. And we usually get a lot of summer visitors who also like cricket, but not obviously since the Pandemic started.

Summer weddings used to get held here very 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 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 intensive 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 area 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 13th of June: Oysterband Gone Trad, Constantine Isn’t That Hair Colour, Music to Tickle Your Fancy, Yet More Chocolate, Anthony Bourdain, Gaiman’s Sandman and Other Matters

She wanted to apologize again, but how many times could she repeat empty words without becoming empty herself?  ― Aliette de Bodard’s On a Red Station, Drifting

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I’ve been listening to Laurie Anderson’s Life On A String recording this fine late Spring afternoon as I do paperwork in the Library. I saw her once eight years ago at the Edinburgh Festival who’d commissioned a new work from her, and also decades back down London way. I’ve always lusted after her electric blue violin which is one of the coolest instruments I’ve ever encountered. Not to mention amazing sounding.

I just finished breakfast. I always drink tea as I never developed a taste for coffee no matter how good that I’m told it is. So it was lapsang souchong, a loose leaf first blush smoked black tea from Ceylon. With a splash of cream of course. And there was a rare surprise for breakfast too — apple fritters served with thick cut twice smoked bacon, using apple wood only, and yet more apples in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg infused apple sauce. There was even mulled cider for those wanting even more apples in their breakfast fare! Thus fortified, I’m now turning to writing the edition for this week…

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Cat leads our book reviews off with a look at the Sandman audio drama: ‘It’s hard work to adapt the Sandman graphic series to another medium, but I’ll say that Audible, with the participation of the author as the narrator, has done it most excellently. It’s a full cast production with the usual exceedingly high production value that I’ve come to expect from Audible. This is the second Gaiman audio drama that I’ve listened to lately as I experienced the recent BBC production of Neverwhere as well, which I highly recommend.  And I recommend this as well, as long as you’ve got a strong stomach, as this is a dark fantasy with more than a touch of horror.’

Somehow we missed doing a full review of a major work by Charles de Lint despite doing an edition on him a decade or so ago and reviewing pretty much everything he’s written or performed. Well, Robert rectified that some years back: ‘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.)’

Denise is happy as a pig in … well … about Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits, a collection of previously published articles edited into book form. ‘Readers who are familiar with his other books, or who have seen No Reservations, will be glad to know that his trademarks are well represented here. His love of the Ramones, the Stooges and Manhattan, his history with coke and heroin, and his ability to drink like seven sailors are mentioned throughout this collection, whenever it might be relevant or enlightening to the topic at hand.’

Donna reviews Isabel Allende’s novel Zorro, in which Allende provides the backstory to the titular character of a popular television show from the 1950s. Reading the book sent Donna down a bit of a rabbit hole that led her to early 20th century pulp fiction, Disney Productions, a recent Antonio Banderas movie, and musings about Batman. Join her, won’t you?

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.’

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

Mia liked … some … parts of Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour. But as a whole? Not so much. ‘What could have been a marvelous and inspired culinary journey turns out to be a drug-addled literary meander. There are some fascinating stories here but it requires a dedicated reader to filter them out of the sludge.’

Richard looks at a novel from a beloved writer: ‘Peter S. Beagle’s Summerlong is an exercise in masterful, hopeful heartbreak. Deeply steeped in mythology yet relentlessly modern (if a bit sentimental), it tackles the big questions of love, compromise, dreams, and what you might do – or forgive – in the face of the sublime.’

Robert has some some tasty poetry for us: ‘Born in 1942 in New York City, Billy Collins has published numerous collections and garnered, among other recognition, fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is possibly one of the most widely exposed of living poets. Questions About Angels, originally published in 1991, was selected by Edward Hirsch for the National Poetry Series and has been reissued by the University of Pittsburgh Press.’

He follows up with another tasty collection, The Complete Poems of Cavafy: ‘Modern Greece has produced an amazing body of literature including works by such luminaries as Nikos Kazantzakis, George Seferis, and others. One of the most significant members of this select community is the poet Constantine Cavafy.’

Speaking of Isabel Allende, Tabatha has some issues with Allende’s first YA novel, City of the Beasts, but gives it an overall positive review. ‘Allende maintains a quick pace throughout the book, which should appeal to younger readers. She makes learning about another culture interesting: young readers will probably enjoy watching Alexander adapt to another culture – for instance, from being a fairly picky eater to being willing to try new, even unappealing foods.’

Warner starts off with a bio of the James Bond author: ‘Oliver Buckton’s The World is not Enough: A Biography of Ian Fleming joins a crowded field in an effort to produce something interesting. There have been a number of past biographical pieces on Fleming, ranging from short articles to long books. The deep dive this volume takes from a point of view for biography and life, as literary influence does much to set this volume up on its own strengths.’

Next he has review of J. North Conway’s Crime Time: Twenty True Tales of Murder, Madness, and Mayhem which he says ‘is a nice little volume taking a quick peek into a number of cases that, with or without a conviction, have both an interesting course of events and an interesting outcome.’

Up next from him is some general fiction: ‘Overall this is a nice collection from Alaya Dawn Johnson, with powerful and often mournful materials contained within. It is easy to recommend to readera whom enjoy the subject matter, and certainly the title story is recommended true fans of historical genre work. Reconstruction should be an easy yes for a tempted reader.’

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Vosges Haut-Chocolat, say April, isn’t your usual chocolate: ‘Applewood bacon, alderwood smoked salt, hickory smoked almonds, plus guajillo and pasilla chilis – oh my! This exotic selection of ingredients are just a few of the flavor surprises in store for chocolate aficionados, such as myself, when they reach for a Vosges candy bar. Definitely not your garden variety chocolates here.’

Gary went a long way for this treat: ‘On a recent vacation (or “holiday”) trip in New Zealand’s South Island, we were doing some grocery shopping before hitting the road for our next destination. We’d already picked up a couple of bags of Cadbury Jaffas to take home as candy mementos, and were looking for something else unique and representative of Kiwi candy culture. These RJ’s Licorice Choc Twists immediately jumped out out me.’

Chocolove’s Coffee Crunch in Dark Chocolate pleased Leona: ‘I enjoyed it, however, and found the slight sweetness of the dark chocolate matched wonderfully with the bitter coffee pieces. I don’t know that I’d shell out for another bar anytime soon -– the taste does tend to stick with you for days afterwards -– but I’d definitely give it as a gift to another coffee and dark chocolate fan.’

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Rebecca watches Constantine and has a question as a result of doing so: ‘Anybody who reads DC’s Vertigo line of comics will be familiar with him: a trench-coated Sting look-alike with a Liverpuddlian accent, a Silk Cut cigarette dangling from his lip, a hoard of dead friends, and a problem with authority. John Constantine is one of the world’s finest occultists, and in the war between Heaven and Hell, he’s firmly on the side of humanity. He’s a smart-ass, a former punk rocker, a man who can spit in the devil’s eye and get away with it (seriously: he once tricked Lucifer into drinking holy water). I wish someone would explain to me how Keanu Reeves got cast as John Constantine?’

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Rebecca says ‘I’ve now been immersed in Sandman and Gaiman for a solid month. Reading and reviewing all ten volumes, plus one, doing my research in The Sandman Companion and on Neil’s Web site, picking up Jill Thompson’s Death manga digest, finally reading Adventures in the Dream Trade and watching Neverwhere (and, apparently, volunteering to review it), and participating in collaborative fan fiction (and Neil points to the ongoing saga there when he’s asked about good fanfic), I feel a bit like the narrator at the end of Milne’s Once on a Time. Now I can take all of those volumes off of my desk, where they’ve stood as a rampart between me and the world, behind which I’ve lived in far-off lands and days, surrounded by dreams.’

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Christopher was pleasantly surprised by a 1956 field recording of Mrs. Etta Baker and her family and friends, Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. ‘The recording quality is exceptionally good considering how roughly and how long ago the tunes were taped, and it is worth reflecting on how the trend in much of today’s folk music has reverted back to the raw, driving style found in these recordings. The standard of performance is very high, the tunes a good selection of dances and song melodies.’

David liked a reissue of some early country rock recordings by Chris Darrow titled Chris Darrow / Under My Own Disguise. ‘There’s a real rootsy quality to this stuff, as if Mike Seeger was his mentor — all folky and string band-oriented. And that’s a good thing. … Acoustic guitar strums and Darrow’s very southern California voice, then steel guitar and the rhythm section, and some harmonies lift Darrow right into the era of the Byrds and the Burritos.’

David has some more reissues, this time two albums by Bobbie Gentry that followed her megahit single ‘Ode To Billy Joe.’ ‘What was it that Billy Joe McCallister threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? Who knows? Who cares? Bobbie Gentry had clearly moved past those questions when she recorded these albums. They are filled with a commercialized swampy funk.’

Donna had a mixed reaction to a couple of CDs from a Danish folk music label. She liked Kristine Heebol’s 10 Point: ‘This is a charming, highly listenable CD. My only complaint is that it’s just over 40 minutes long. You’ve barely gotten into it and it ends!’ The other one, not so much: ‘Henrik Jansberg’s Omnivor is a whole other kettle of fish, if you know what I mean.’ Find out what she means by reading her review.

Gary reviews a new record from Americana singer Turner Cody. He says the music on Friends in High Places combines spare European production style with deep American roots music and sharply observed lyrics. ‘The lyrics and vocal stylings conjure up some chimerical conjoining of Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, and Michael Hurley.’

Gary likes what he hears on the debut self-titled album from Sam Filiatreau, which he says is ‘…Classic ’70s country meets Appalachian-based folk meets modern indie folk.’ He goes on to say, ‘It’s the right length for an old vinyl record, eight songs ranging from less than two to a little more than four minutes each. And they have that kind of warm feel to them you get on a classic LP, too. The production is simple and uncluttered, some acoustic guitars, bass and drums, some electric guitar accents here and there.’

Mike found an album by British singer songwriter Darren Black very much to his liking. ‘Everything about Thinkers & Fools is likeable. Black’s lyrics are thought provoking and reflective; the instrumental arrangements are accomplished but never intrusive.’

Peter got his kicks from Rockin’ Memphis, a compilation album of rock ‘n’ roll made by musicians in a certain Tennessee town that’s more known for the blues than rock. ‘This album is a testament to the fun they had in those heady days making innovative music. The album was born out of work done by a little known record label and a collection of young Memphis players who were more influenced by the English invasion than by what was being recorded at Sun Records or Stax Records at that time in Memphis.’

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Speaking of All Things Sandman, Vertigo’s The Sandman Death Statue came from an interesting history says Cat: ‘Death as personified in flesh is one of the most interesting characters to come out of The Sandman series, as she’s not designed by Neil Gaiman, who wrote the series and designed almost all of the other characters as we see them in his series. Rather, he says, ‘the initial visual design of Death was based on a friend of [artist Chris] Dringenberg’s named Cinamon Hadley’. He later ran into a waitress dressed all in black as Dringenberg has shown her and decided that was indeed how Death should look.’

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I think a bit of rather lively music in the form of ‘Red Barn Stomp’ to show us out this edition will do very nicely.  Recorded sometime in June of 1990 in Minneapolis by the Oysterband with June Tabor joining them there as well though she’s not on this piece. The lads were on tour in support of their Little Rock to Leipzig album where you can find another version of this tune.

Ian Tefler, a band member, tells us that the name of this piece was chosen to sound trad. It features John Jones calling the tune and very neatly incorporates the actually trad tune, ‘The Cornish Six-Hand Reel’ in it as well.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Dolmens

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I was passing by the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room when Iain was lecturing the Several Annies on a subject that was dear to his heart:  ‘There are a number of  dolmens — ceremonial standing stones — scattered about the Kinrowan Estate. And these are not Victorian follies built to look like the real things, but are all very real dolmens situated where a number of ley lines come together, forming a nexus of supernatural energy.’

He went on to say that ‘The Victorian follies were new constructs, dolmens and water wheels to use two examples, made to look very old. So the water wheel would be broken, or the dolmens falling down. I think there were Greco-Roman temples built on some of the Estates. Fortunately it was something the prim and proper Edwardians disdained, so it ended as fast as it began.’

A Several Annie asked a question: ‘Do we know the purpose of the dolmens?’ Iain said, ‘No, not really. They’re far too old to have either oral or written histories that could be considered reliable. Sacrificial sites to whatever bloody gods the culture believed in is entirely possible, given many dolmens have a flat centre stone in them. Leyden’s ‘Ballad of Lord Soulis’ describes one such sacrifice at Skelf Hill — it was a horrid affair by any standards!’

I asked from the doorway where I was listening in, ‘So were the ley lines there before the dolmens were constructed? Or did the sacrifices bend them to where the dolmens had been raised?’ Iain looked at me and said, ‘Absolutely no idea. Archaeologists admit they have not a clue, though lots of New Agers think they know. Me, I know that those here on the Estate who’ve The Sight, including myself, know that some of them are safe to be around and some of them feel bad.’

He went on to say, ‘If you’re uncertain ask me, Tamsin, or Finch, as we can advise you. And never visit any of them without taking one of the Russian Wolfhounds with you as they’ll give you warning if a safe dolmen has changed its nature, as they ofttimes do. Someday I’ll tell you the story of Bloody Bones, who appeared as a shade out of one of the dolmens that had been quiet for years…’

With that, he broke off the lesson as it was afternoon tea time.

Oh, and here’s the tale in ballad form as recounted in Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain.

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.

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What’s New for the 30th of May: Simon R. Green and Elizabeth Bear, Naomi Kritzer’s and Everina Maxwell’s full-length debuts; faux-Italian SF and revived pulp fiction; Brian Wilson tribute and food and footie on film; fantasy jazz, lo-fi country, Väsen from the archves; lots of chocolate, and more;

Having access to knowledge didn’t always mean understanding things. I do not entirely understand people. ― CheshireCat the AI in Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on CatNet
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Just what the Internet needs: more cat pictures. Lots more. Or at least that’s what I’m getting from reading Naomi Kritzer’s Hugo Award winning “Cat Pictures Please” short story in her Hugo Award winning short story collection Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories which she later riffed off in her novels, Catfishing on CatNet (see our review below) and the just published Chaos on CatNet. Highly recommended.

Of course I’m playing music as I read this afternoon and I like string quartets quite a bit, be they playing compositions written in the present day such as the music of the Methera Quartet or groups such as Les Witches whose usual fare is the likes of John Playford, a composer active in the early Seventeenth Century.

The latter’s what I’m playing as I’ve got the Library to myself this afternoon as the warm weather has Gus, our Estate Gardener and Groundskeeper, using many of the Estate staff as possible including my Several Annies out helping him with needed work. So I’m now drinking masala tea with a splash of cream and writing up this Edition for you…

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Simon R. Green’s The Dark Side of The Road was another fine outing according to Cat: ‘The story here of Ishmael Jones, the not human Very Secret Agent Solves Weird Problems is a bit science fiction, and with more than a dash of horror, and a lot of fantasy. And it’s a mystery as well though I don’t think that it’s really possible for the reader to solve the question of who the murderer is as Green doesn’t really play fair on the matter. Let’s just say that it’s a lot of fun and the first person narrative by Jones being highly entertaining, with the tone here similar in tone to his Ghost Finders series which I liked a lot.’

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

Gary reviews Machine, the second installment in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. This one features a doctor and rescue specialist named Brookllyn Jens, known as Llyn. ‘The story of Machine is several things — including murder mystery, police procedural, and utopian/dystopian novel – wrapped up in a space opera. Bear also is using sizable chunks of this book to continue to build her universe and the Synarche, explaining how they work and why. Core General is a big part of that; it’s a huge multi-species Clarkean ring of a habitat-hospital in the crowded region of the Galactic Core to which Llyn is highly devoted.’

Kit has a look at a book that has been praised widely: ‘Naomi Kritzer’s Catfishing on CatNet is one of those really kind, sweet, human novels where everyone except the villain is doing their best. They make mistakes — “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” could be this book’s subtitle — but they’re all trying.’

Matthew looks at a Kage Baker venture into children’s fiction: ‘In comparison to her other works,’ says he, ‘I would consider The Hotel under the Sand to be one of Kage Baker’s lesser works, but it is still highly enjoyable.’

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

Robert brings us a collaboration that he could hardly wait to open: ‘In my view, a new novel by Steven Brust is something to be eagerly awaited. And when he collaborates with another writer, the results can be both unexpected and very rewarding. And so, I opened The Incrementalists with a large measure of anticipation.’

And there’s more: ‘Call it “slipstream”: it’s not exactly science fiction, although it could be; nor is it fantasy, although it has elements of that, in the gritty, contemporary, urban vein; and anything it takes from mainstream fiction is more from the realm of Pynchon than Hemingway. I’m referring, of course, to The Skill of Our Hands, the sequel to The Incrementalists from Steven Brust and Skyler White.’

Warner has a romance to start off his reviews: ‘Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit is a brilliant piece of writing. It features a well thought out world, compelling characters, and enjoyable romance, all fitted surprisingly comfortably into less than 450 pages. It is highly recommended, and Everina Maxwell is an author to watch out for; this first novel is a good running start.’

He next has an interesting SF book for us: ‘Bruce Sterling’s Robot Artists & Black Swans represents a fascinating concept. A set of science fiction stories told by a fictional Italian author from an Italian point of view. Coming from a classic master of cyberpunk, such a collection is bound to be of interest, and the variety of stories range from the near future sci-fi to fantasy in the distant past.’

He has a pulp mystery for us: ‘Donald E. Westlake’s Castle In the Air is another example of Hard Case Crime bringing relatively forgotten volumes back into print. Castle In the Air is a technically accurately titled book, and an intriguing example of the heist novel as well.’

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April classifies her chocolate cravings in her look at three Amano Artisan Chocolate bars: ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’

This edition, Denise digs into Lily’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – 70% Cocoa, and seems to like what she’s found. ‘…this is about as guilt-free as you can get when you’re digging into a cheat day treat. Or an “I deserve this” treat. Or a “screw it I’m doing this” treat. You get the idea.’

Newman’s Own Organic Chocolates gets a review by Michael: ‘I find myself sitting and surveying some empty chocolate wrappers. Three of them, in fact; the product of Newman’s Own Organics. I’m not sure if these are available in my home country of Australia generally, as a view of their Web site seems to only show stock lists in the US and Canada. I’ve been well aware of Newman’s range of pasta sauces and the like for many years though, along with their reputation for quality. Of course, it is Paul Newman and family who were the instigators of the various food lines, though now the products are credited to “the second generation”.’

Robert has a very tasty chocolate bar for us to contemplate consuming: ‘The latest example of their craft to cross my desk is their “Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree.” It comes in a flat 3.5 oz (100g) bar divided into large squares. It also contains roasted almond bits (which has become a cliche in my estimation).’ Read his tasty review here.

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David had mixed feelings about a DVD presentation called MusiCares Presents: A Tribute to Brian Wilson. ‘Just before the 2005 Grammy Awards a “star-studded gala took place in Los Angeles.” It was the MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year Awards, and the winner was Brian Wilson. Beach Boy extraordinaire, composer of the surf and hot-rod songs of my youth, and the “teenage symphony to God” that is Smile.’

Remember the food-and-football coming of age film Bend It Like Beckham? Nathan does. ‘Jes comes across as a girl who doesn’t want to reject her family or show disrespect for her culture, but is also desperate to pursue her own dreams. How this is resolved is a story of Indian cooking, cultural absurdity, family love, and an abiding desire to play what the English call “the beautiful game,” all done without ever becoming preachy or saccharine sweet.

Green LeavesGary says the webcomic ‘Questionable Content is a “slice of life” comic set in an alternate universe that’s very much like ours except the AI Singularity has already taken place.’ The characters, mostly twenty-somethings in a fictionalized Northampton, Mass., interact with AI characters who are also learning to navigate life within human society. ‘Be warned, it is R rated. What’d you expect with a name like that? Jacques is a very humorous writer but also politically and socially progressive and deeply compassionate, and it’s reflected in his characters and story lines.’

Green Leaves‘Let’s get this straight right off the top. John Mayall has long been a problematic artist for me,’ David says. What brought this up? Well, he reviewed a couple of archival releases by Mayall, The Masters and Live at the Marquee 1969. So what did he think of these particular albums? Read his review and see.

‘Rolling Stones! What the heck are the Rolling Stones doing in Green Man Review!?!?’ So says David in this archival review of something called Forty Licks. ‘In fact Forty Licks is a two disc best-of set that was probably designed around a boardroom table by cigar smoking lawyers seeking to make a quick few million bucks on a Christmas release, the same way The Beatles 1 had done the previous year. The thing is, they got it right for a change!’

‘Okay, I’m in love. Electric sitar! Bliss!’ says Deborah of one of her favorite musical discoveries, The StrangelingsSeason of the Witch. ‘Subtle touches, gorgeously layered vocals, a flying fiddle and wonderful musicians all the way round put this one into my heavy rotation.’

Music and fantasy cross paths in a new jazz release, Gary says. ‘Perhaps it was because I’d been editing some old GMR reviews of fantasy books by the likes of Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, and Charles deLint, but I got a spooky sense of living oak trees dancing under a moonless sky when I first heard “Oak” as I was listening to Jason Branscum’s Beyond The Walls Of The World. It’s the kind of serendipity that adds enjoyment to both literature and music when they complement each other that way, and it happens more often than you might think.’

The Canadian indie folk group The Deep Dark Woods has a new album called Changing Faces, which Gary reviews approvingly. He says ‘[singer and songwriter Ryan] Boldt’s biggest accomplishment on Changing Faces may be the way he moves and shifts through styles including doo-wop, Celtic folk, Appalachian folk and more, while maintaining a continuity of sound and feel throughout. And that sound and feel is a folk version of the old “wall of sound” technique, this one made of layers of guitars, keyboards, percussion a string quartet and even some horns.’

For something a little different, Gary reports on The Marfa Tapes, a new CD of songs recorded in an informal setting in Marfa, Texas, by country music veterans (and good friends) Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall. ‘Low fidelity rules the day, and highly emotional ballads rub up against heavenly harmonies and hijinks around the campfire.’

Michael raves (a bit) about a sprawling set of “Dark Brittanica” called John Barleycorn Reborn: ‘Brought to you by the people at the legal folk download service Woven Wheat Whispers, John Barleycorn Reborn‘s remit of dark traditional and tradition-based British music does not necessarily focus on negativity and gloom as the wording might suggest. It is more an exploration of the less “pretty” side of the genre, with no attempts at expurgation and a freedom for the musicians to express that side of the music and themselves. As a result, the set contains a great variety of arrangements from acoustic to folk rock to electronica and beyond, and a combination of ancient and newly written material that fits together easily.’

Just about everybody here at Green Man Review is a fan of the Swedish folk band Väsen. From the archives, here are some of the things we’ve published about this superb ensemble:

April starts us off with Väsen’s 1999 disc Gront. ‘Many of the tunes on Gront are a wild, wonderful ride. Not because they’re played fast and furious, but because of the many mood and tempo changes which the band springs on their unwary listeners.’

Barb reviewed Väsen’s Trio, and seems to have liked it a lot. ‘All of the cuts on this CD are wonderful. Just when I think I have a favorite, I change my mind. Each of the musicians contributes original material and there are two traditional pieces that round it out.’

After Väsen performed at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 2002 Barb noted: ‘These three musicians have obviously been playing together for a long time. They have that unspoken musical understanding that allows them to move through the music seemingly with little effort while at the same time expressing huge amounts of emotion. And their sense of humor put the audience at ease immediately – they are very funny fellows, especially when it comes to explaining to Americans the Swedish obsession with polskas … ‘

Barb also reviewed Keyed Up and attended a show on their 2004 tour behind that recording, this time in Portland, Maine. ‘This performance was toward the end of their very busy two weeks in the states, but you wouldn’t have guessed that they were operating on little sleep and lots of travel time. These men love what they do and they do it so well.’

A concept album by a Swedish instrumental folk group? That’s what Cat says their 2007 release Linnaeus Väsen is ‘The concept for this CD is centered around the renowned 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the system of scientific nomenclature used in modern biology. Described by biographers as having no ear at all for music even though he came from a family of musicians, Linnaeus was, though not a musician, a rather good dancer of polskas. It is worth stressing that the majority of the tunes performed here have at least a minor connection to him. Would he recognize these tunes? Most likely. Indeed “Carl Linnaeus Polonaise” which leads off the album was composed for him by his brother-in-law, Gabriel Höök.’

Gary reports on a CD/DVD set from Väsen, Live på Gamla Bion. ‘In a rarity for me, I actually prefer the DVD version of this concert program. The concert footage is nicely shot, using good angles and paying attention to the performers’ faces and bodies as well as their instruments.’

Finally (for now), Scott reviews two related discs, Väsen’s Väsen Street, and Mikael Marin and Mia Gustafsson’s Mot Hagsätra. Of Väsen Street, he says, ‘On Väsen Street, Väsen provide the usual assortment of self-composed and traditional polskas, schottishes, and waltzes. The schottishes – bouncy tunes in 3/4 or 2/4 time – get a bit more emphasis than usual, and “Garageschottis” is my favorite track on the CD. And he notes that Mot Hagsätra by the married duo of Marin and Gustafsson is more traditional than the usual Väsen program. ‘Fans of Väsen who are in the mood for something with a more purely traditional feel will like this recording a lot.’

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Our What Not this week is another adventure at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, courtesy of Robert — and it’s a real adventure: ‘We tend to think of museums as places that display artifacts, sometimes on the walls, sometimes in cases, with descriptions of varying degrees of completeness on labels next to the objects. That is also true to a large extent of the Field Museum, although if you’ve read previous entries on the Museum, you know that’s not always the case. The Field Museum has gone beyond being a repository of objects, however, as evidenced by the exhibition “Restoring Earth”.’

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So I’ve got some music for you that I think fits pretty much any season. It’s Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’from Rodeo from his Rodeo album. I sourced it off a Smithsonian Institution music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: I’m the Estate Gardener

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Though I’m called the Estate Gardener, my job covers far more than that, as it’s been enlarged many times over the centuries. So let me detail what I do.

Of course I’m responsible for both the edible gardening and the ornamental landscaping we do here. Given the size of the Estate staff, the events we host and the bartering we do with our farms, we’ve many, many acres under production, all organic.

We have extensive livestock — bees, poultry (chickens, ducks and geese), pigs, and sheep. To keep the sheep safe, we have Russian wolfhounds — I dare any predator to tangle with them! Most of that work is done by my staff but I reserve the beekeeping for me as I love working with them.

Though we no longer heat the buildings with wood, we do have enough usage (kitchen, library, saunas, smoking bacon, et al.) that we burn twenty cords a year. That means we need to keep the acreage devoted to harvesting maintained. Much of that work gets done in the winter, a quiet time for pretty much all of the other outside work. Oh, and we have horses for harvesting work now.

We also maintain the pathways here, none of which are paved. We use stone, crushed stone and granite dust. Likewise we need to keep the paths through the woods safe by removing unsafe trees and limbs as quickly as we can.

We do all of the infrastructure work from the yurts to the massive Estate building by hiring extra staff that lives here all summer in a group of yurts we set aside for them. That frees us up to do everything else that needs doing.

There’s other stuff, such as maintaining the solar power setup and the low head hydro, the salmon spawning pools, and numerous other tasks.

It’s hard work, often with very long hours, but I (mostly) enjoy it.

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What’s New for the 16th of May: Space opera from Elizabeth Bear, Kage Baker’s last Company novel; lots of dark and milk chocolate, music from South Africa, Mali, China and Canada; Two Fat Ladies on DVD, and more

People need belief systems, Barnaby. Druidism is as good as any.― Caradoc Singer to Dectective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murder’s “The Sleeper Under The Hill”

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The Kitchen here at the Kinrowan Estate decided to make Eggs in Purgatory this morning which is baked eggs full of leftover finely diced ciabatta along with smoked sausage, onions, peppers, and two different cheeses, cheddar and mozzarella. They were baked in individual casserole dishes as that makes them easier to serve. They were serve up with fried turmeric spiced potatoes and lots of masala tea. Most delicious!

I’ve been reading the first in Simon R. Green’s latest series, The Best Thing You Can Steal. The character there is Gideon Sable, a master thief who steals magical items. It’s set in London, Green’s favorite setting. It doesn’t appear to overlap with his other series from what I’ve read so far, but I’d bet it does. Green’s ended several of his long-running series as of late, so it’s nice to see that he’s starting up some new series.

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Cat starts off our book reviews with a look at Charles Stross’ The Halting State, which he says ‘is the best near future thriller I’ve read since first encountering John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider nearly thirty years ago. Indeed I’m quite surprised that it’s being marketed as sf genre fiction and not as a mainstream novel! Like Brunner’s novel, The Halting State is a clear and logical extrapolation of current technology pushed a mere decade into the future. And like Brunner’s novel (which deserves to be read by anyone who cares about what technology can do to a society), Stross’ novel presents a society both like and quite unlike our own.’

Gary takes a deep dive into Ancestral Night, the first volume in Elizabeth Bear’s White Space series. ‘I love a good space opera and Ancestral Night is a very good one. Bear mentions both C.J. Cherryh and Iain Banks in her Acknowledgments, and I definitely see traces of both those space opera forbears in this book’s themes and accoutrements.’

For a change of pace, Gary looks at a book that has a murder mystery, some folk music lore, some Irish history and more: ‘ “Star of the Sea” is the ironic name of a leaking, creaking hulk of a ship that is making its last crossing of the Atlantic, with a handful of first-class passengers and a belly full of the dregs of Europe, destitute Irish people fleeing the horrors of famine.’ For a change of pace,

Gary also reviews Molly Gloss’s Wild Life, a re-examination of the Sasquatch myth with a healthy dose of Western history thrown in. ‘The book adds up to a lively portrait of life in the Pacific Northwest 100 years ago; an exploration of the differences and similarities between “civilized” men, “savages,” and “lesser” animals; and a thoughtful meditation on the relationships between art, dreams and insanity.’

Gili is a self-professed ‘Oz freak’. So what did she think of Gregory Maguire’s Son of a Witch, the sequel to his very popular book Wicked, which spawned a popular Broadway show? ‘Like its prequel, Son of a Witch abounds with atrocities, brutality and betrayal, with a good dash of the simply gruesome. But whereas the main theme of Wicked was righteousness and hypocrisy, Son of a Witch seems more concerned with fallibility as a universal and humanizing trait.’ Read her full review to find out what she really thought!

Matthew reviews Kage Baker’s Not Less Than Gods, her last Company novel which Kathleen, her sister, told Cat that apparently only she and Kage liked. (Cat says he liked it too.) Matthew says of this novel that ‘Ultimately, this is not going to be considered one of Kage’s strongest works. For someone who is a Company junkie, it is a nice installment, but the newcomer would not understand the novel’s position in the entire series. A lot of “inside” knowledge is required to more fully appreciate the novel.’

Mike got hold of a copy of her Thirteen Orphans, the first book in Lindskold’s ambitious urban fantasy series Breaking the Wall, which is, he says, ‘one of the best things I’ve seen from her in quite a while. Drawing from Chinese history, mythology, and astrology, she’s created a fascinating new setting, one that straddles two very different worlds.’ Jane Lindskold is an author who has done some adventurous things with urban fantasy.

He also had a copy of the next book in the series, Nine Gates: ‘Nine Gates is a wonderfully-told story, using the mythic resonance of the Chinese Zodiac along with elements of history, gamescraft and magical theory to build a world almost entirely divorced from the European traditions that make up so much of urban fantasy. It’s new and different, but not enough to create culture shock.’

Richard has a marvellous treat for all of us: ‘Seven Wild Sisters, a collaboration between Charles de Lint and Charles Vess, holds no surprises, and that’s a very good thing. The companion-cum-sequel to their earlier collaboration The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, the book delivers exactly what it promises: Gorgeous illustration and an encounter with the otherworld that’s ultimately more about wonder than it is about peril.’

Happily, Robert had a copy of the third (and final) novel in the Lindskold series that Matthew looked at above, Five Odd Honors: ‘Five Odd Honors continues the story begun in Thirteen Orphans and Nine Gates, leading the Orphans and their allies back to the Lands of Smoke and Sacrifice from which they were exiled years before. . . . The group decides on reconnaissance as the first necessity, but the scouting party runs into Lands bizarrely changed by a ruthless emperor determined to remake the Lands according to his own somewhat rigid and limited sense of what should be. (Yes, one can read a political subtext into this, if one wishes.)’

While poking around in the back reaches of the Library, Robert ran across an old favorite, Roger Zelazny’s collection The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories: ‘Although he published his first story in the early 1950s, Roger Zelazny didn’t really impact the science fiction scene until 1963. That’s when I remember reading “A Rose for Eccelsiastes” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (with their best cover ever illustrating Zelazny’s story). He followed it up the next year with the title story of this collection, which won him his first Nebula award. Zelazny and his contemporaries went on to become the American branch of science fiction’s New Wave, and pushed the envelope until it was altered beyond recognition.’

Vonnie looks at a novel by Patricia Mckillip, a favourite writer around here: ‘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.’ .

Green LeavesBissinger’s Coffee Toffee 75% Dark Chocolate, Almond Toffee & Rich Roasted Coffee Bar really impressed Denise: ‘Sometimes I feel as though I’m not cool enough for some of these uber-fancy chocolate bars. Such was the case with this one; made in Italy, sustainable trade, single-origin chocolate…I’m way out of my league here. And I’m not telling anyone I’m out of my depth. Well, except you. Because this bar is a wonder.’ Read her sweet commentary here.

Gary checked out Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark Blood Orange Sunset bar: ‘This bar with its crispy bits, chewy bits and pleasant blend of tart and bitter flavors, is pretty good for what it is. Decent chocolate with a fun mix of flavor and texture.’

Robert has some really great chocolate for us: ‘As you will remember, Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG is a major German chocolatier and candy manufacturer. I happen to have recently received two of their Limited Edition candies for review, Raspberry Creme and Buttermilk Lemon, which means, sadly, that I wasn’t allowed to just snarf them down. These are part of a series of candies made with yogurt and flavorings and covered in chocolate.’

He goes on to talk about another Ritter bar: ‘I have another (huge) bar of chocolate from Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG of Germany , a major chocolatier. This one is the Ritter Sport Golden Edition Milk Chocolate Squares, and when I say “huge”, I mean just that: It’s about half a pound (8.8 oz, or 250 g) of fairly thick squares of milk chocolate. Now, I’m admittedly a dark chocolate person, but hey, chocolate is chocolate, right? So I’m willing to set my reservations aside and give this one a try.’

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If ever there was a series that broke all the rules, it is the one Kathleen and her sister Kage wrote up, the  The Two Fat Ladies. They were brilliant English cooks who rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, drank excessively, smoked whenever they pleased and cooked using bloody great hunks of meat, butter and anything else that isn’t ‘tall good for you. And funny as all Hell, as is the review.Green Leaves

April has a warm response to the first volume of what looks to be an intriguing comics series, Air: Letters from Lost Countries: ‘Blythe is not your typical airline attendant. Sure, she’s blonde, pretty and personable, playing into every conceivable stereotype there is. But Blythe is much more than that. For starters, she’s acrophobic, surviving each flight only through the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals. Then there’s the attractive, mysterious passenger she’s fallen in love with, who may or may not be a terrorist.’

Green LeavesCat had mixed feelings about Valiant, the sophomore effort of the New England Celtic/American roots band The Sevens: ‘Now I must admit I liked the songs on their first album a lot more than I do on this album — for pity’s sake, why would anyone cover Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”? But the instrumentals here more than make up for the less than stellar songs.’

David enjoyed Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu: ‘Like an African doo-wop group combined with a gospel choir, Ladysmith, under the leadership of the great Joseph Shabalala, sound fantastic on this recording. Their harmonies are pure and gentle. The clicks and hoots that come from the native Zulu tongue add an exotic touch, but never distract from the enjoyment of the music.’

David is pretty enthusiastic about a best-of collection from the Canadian supergroup Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. ‘As an introduction to a remarkable band, Swinging From the Chains of Love can’t be faulted.’

Deborah has strong opinions about Raising Sand, the duet album by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. ‘There are no weak spots on this CD, either in the song selection or in the supporting band [producer T Bone] Burnett has put together.’

Phil Hardy, Donna tells us, makes whistles. He’s also ‘a musician who plays pipes, didgeridoo, guitar and bass, as well as a composer of tunes that I would characterize as somewhere between neo-traditional Celtic and plain old new age,’ so what does she think of his album Revisited?

Gary reviews another in a continuing series of Folk Music of China, this one Vol. 12, Folk Songs of the Bai, Nu & Derung Peoples. ‘This volume is yet another fascinating offering in the Naxos World series bringing examples of China’s rich and diverse musical heritage to the rest of the world.’

Richard takes a close look at two releases from Putumayo. Speaking of Putumayo World Music Presents: Mali, he says ‘… the CD contains a wealth of Malian music, and even if not every track will suit every taste, there is enough good music here to please every lover of Malian sounds.’  And regarding Putumayo World Music Presents: Afro-Latin Party, he says ‘This CD is a very good introduction to the fusion of African and Latin American music that has proved to be such a lasting force, beginning with the popularity of the rumba over half a century ago and passing through the mambo, the cha-cha and the samba that filled the dance halls, down to the Buena Vista phenomenon of the 1990s.’

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Our What Not is a role playing game this time. So let’s let Warner tell us about it it: ‘Overall, if something like the Dungeons and Dragons Starter set is a first car, Symbaroum: Treasure Hunts in Davokar would be one’s first car as a high performance vehicle. It is wonderful to look at, well constructed, well written, and easy to understand. While it is not a sure thing purchase for just any fantasy fan, it is effortless to recommend to gamers and worth more than a look even by those who doubt they would find the time to toss a few dice.’

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So let’s wander over to the Infinite Jukebox and see what we can find for something upbeat to usher this edition out. I think I’ll skip something from the Anglo-Celtic traditions in favour of something from France this time. The band’s Malicorne, which Gabriel and Marie Yacoub formed in the fall of ’73.

Gabriel had been a member of Alan Stivell’s band, playing folk-rock based on Breton music such as ‘Kost Ar C´hoat’ which was performed Germany on the 11th of May 1975, but the couple decided to focus more broadly on French trad music, which is why Steeleye Eye Span’s the most apt comparison in British folk music to them, as both are decidedly electric folk. So let’s now hear ‘Pierre De Grenoble’ which is also the name of what I consider their best album. It was recorded at Hunter College in New York sTate on the 21st of July ’84.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Riddles (A Letter to Elizabeth)

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Dear Elizabeth,

You asked me about the power of rhymes as I mentioned they’re common in Swedish children’s songs, and indeed there is power in the old rhymes, spells that they be, which even most hedgewitches forget, but not our Tamsin. Like all hedgewitches who have lived here at the Kinrowan Estate, she has a working knowledge of how important they are as she’s read the Journals written by centuries of the of hedgewitches before her at the Estate. She even claims that there’s an old fox with one eye that listens keenly when she recites riddling spells in the woods near her cottage!

I was drinking Oberon and Titania’s Ale in the pub with Tamsin and Reynard, the latter taking the evening off as Finch was on duty. There was a contradance later that night with me calling and Reynard playing with Chasing Dragonflies. Somehow the subject got into the matter of rhymes as sung by children.

Tamsin mentioned ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ first appeared in print in the late eighteen hundreds, but it’s probably at least a century older, maybe a lot more. She noted that some folks, particularly fellow hedgewitches, say that the song originally described the plague as posies were thought to prevent the plague, but folklorists of recent years reject this idea. Silly lot, those folklorists in her opinion — she says that just because you can’t prove something is true is not proof it isn’t true.

Iain had just added a book on riddles in The Hobbit. He mused about the idea of riddles, as a riddle is a statement or question or even just a simple phrase having a double or often hidden meaning which makes what is a riddle rather expansive.

That led a Several Annie who was listening in to suggest a riddle slam, a contest in which anybody can state a riddle and both the riddler and the riddle get judged on the best of each. We set it for the next stormy day so that the Steward could declare it a Respite Day in which everyone (including the Kitchen staff as our eventide meal would be soup and such to keep prep minimal) got the day off.

That was several weeks ago and it’s been fun to watch everyone writing riddles and reciting them aloud to see how they sound. Tamsin has cautioned them about saying aloud riddles with an embedded wish, as they might just come true.

I’ll tell how the riddle slam goes after we have it. It might be a while (I almost said ‘spell’ but resisted) as the weather’s been ideal for my estate work crews and we’re still in lambing season as well!

Your friend, Gus

Green Leaves

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