Welcome to GMR

If you haven’t encountered us before, read on; otherwise skip to the weekly edition which is up every Sunday morning and which alternates with a Story every Wednesday morning.

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Rock and RollIrish music, a  jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,   Folkmanis puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novelsfiction inspired by folklore, sf filmsegg nog recipes,  ymmmy street foodchocolatewhisky and cookbooks… Well you get the idea.

Stories about the Kinrowan Estate will show up every Wednesday, be it Gus the Estate Head Gardener talking about pumpkins; Reynard, our Manager of the Green Man Pub located in Kinrowan Hall, sharing stories; Zina on the Neverending Session and Midsummer as well; or even Iain, our Librarian, talking about life there such as the Several Annies, his sort of Library Apprentices.  And you’ll see material from The Sleeping Hedgehog, the in-house newsletter for our staff, such as Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Estate Gardener here in the Victorian Era, on a tree spirit. You might even meet Hamish, one of the current hedgehogs living in the Library who sleep the Winter away in a basket near the fireplace in the New Library.

So if you’ve got something you’d like reviewed, whatever it might be, email me here as you never know what’ll tickle our fancy.

PS: you’ll also get to hear some choice music here every week such as Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’  from his Rodeo album. I sourced it off a Smithsonian music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things.

PSS: If you look to the far left of the standing menu, you’ll see Words. That’s where you can find the various pieces of fiction that authors have given us exclusive permission to reprint here. Some are excerpts such as from Charles de Lint’s Forests Of The Heart whigh is reviewed here or Deborah Grabien’s The Weaver and The Factory Maid with the review thisaway.

Other are full stories such as ‘Solstice’ by Jennifer Stevenson, or poems such as ‘The Sturgeon’s Wife’ by Catherynne Valente. Some exist too as audio readings by authors of their work as you’ll note by the link at the bottom of the fiction piece where they exist. There’s quite a few pieces up now and more will follow. 

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What’s New for the 23rd of February: A Collaboration between Steeleye Span and Terry Pratchett, Two of the Best-loved Fantasy Movies of the 1980s, Eight Classic SF Novels of the 1960s, Ritter Chocolates, Jazz Drumming, A Choice Zelazny, Live Nightnoise and Other Lively Matters

All of these things considered, it is not surprising that one can detect echoes, correspondences and even an eternal return or two within the work of a single author. The passage of time does bring changes, yea and alas; but still, I would recognize myself anywhere. — Roger Zelazny in his Unicorn Variations collection

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Yes, we’re hunkering down from the effects of the worst rains we’ve seen in generations here. Gus, our Estate Grounds Keeper, has his hands full making sure that none of the buildings get damaged from the high winds and torrential rains, but otherwise everyone’s inside until this passes, which it should by the time you’re reading this Edition.

So I’ve put together our usual eclectic Edition of books, music, food and such to tempt to open your purse strings. There’s everything from classic Sixties SF alongside the latest in a beloved offbeat detective series. There’s chocolate and hedgehog puppets and of course music.

So I’ll take your leave now as I smell Toll House cookies being delivered to the Library right now and I think they’d go very well indeed with a very large mug of hot chocolate made in my Office from that gift of Trader Joe’s Organic Hot Cocoa Mix. Do join me after you read this Edition. I’ll try to save some cookies and cocoa!

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Cat has an interesting work for us: ‘On a whim, I picked it up a novel and started reading it  — it felt like classic Zelazny such as The Isle of The Dead, so I kept reading. Now keep in mind that this never before published Zelazny novel was finished posthumously with the help of his co-author and companion, Jane Lindskold. But unlike so many of this sort of collaboration, Donnerjack has Zelazny written all over it. This is important to emphasise as the online reviews that I looked at for it generally trashed it as not being true to the spirit of Zelazny!’

Richard says ‘Lavondyss is perhaps the most problematic of the Ryhope Wood books, the least accessible and at the same time the richest. It also plays the most games with time, narrative flow and character identity, and as such is either going to delight or frustrate the reader far more than an ordinary tale of a young girl lost in the wood has any right to.’

Warner has a look at the latest in a beloved detective series: ‘The Hap & Leonard series is one of Joe R. Lansdale’s most engaging works, a series of strange and fragmented crime stories which showcase two men who care for one another like brothers and find themselves frequently in complicated situations of one sort or another. The latest collection of these stories is Of Mice and Minestrone and follows Hap and, to a slightly lesser extent, Leonard through some of their childhood formative years up to the time the two reunite after a Vietnam-war related separation.‘

Looking for some classic SF to read on these long Winter nights? Well, Warner has the collection for you: ‘The Library of America’s Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s is another impressive feat by editor Gary K. Wolfe. As he explains in his introductions, stories in this two volume slipcase set were chosen both for quality and impact. In addition, he includes information about the selection process to avoid including volumes that appear elsewhere in the Library of America collection. Of those included, two are very worthy of note.’

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Raspberry Creme and a Buttermilk Lemon are the two flavours in chocolate bars Robert looks at this time: ‘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 — 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. Strangely enough, I wasn’t able to find information on the Ritter Sport website. I guess when they say “Limited Edition,” that’s just what they mean.’

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Michael has a double bill for your viewing pleasure: ‘Some of the greatest fantasy movies in recent memory have come from the incomparable, unbeatable, and sadly never to be repeated collaborations of Jim Henson and Brian Froud. Take the magical madness of Henson’s muppets and the bizarre mythic imagery of Froud’s faeries, throw in some special effects and superb actors, and you get two of the best-loved fantasy movies of the 1980s, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.’

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April reviews the first volume in an ongoing series by David Petersen: ‘The year is 1152, treachery is afoot, and the Mouse Guard, defenders of all mice, must suss out the traitor in their midst before the Guard is destroyed. So goes the basic plot of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, a graphic novel collection of Petersen’s award-winning comic. And just so there’s no confusion, Mouse Guard isn’t a nickname or colloquialism — the protagonists really are mice, the small, furry rodent kind.’

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Gary reviews Nous III, the third release from the eponymous experimental rock ensemble based in New York. Here’s how he describes one of the songs on this album: ‘ “We Hope The Weather Will Continue” is a six-and-a-half-minute blast of minimalist rock, with the straight-up hard-rocking kit perched out front of a bed of polyrhythmic percussion and a one-note bass line, punctuated occasionally by flute and blasts of industrial guitar noise.’

Gary also enjoyed Wild Wild East by jazz drummer Sunny Jain. ‘It’s as wild a mashup of genres and styles as I’ve encountered in 30 years of reviewing music, and one of the most engaging and exciting releases of this young decade.’

Let’s have Michael say a few words about the next recording: ‘It would be easy to say that a collaboration between Steeleye Span and Terry Pratchett was always inevitable, given their respective histories and their proclaimed admiration of each other’s work. It may be an example of retrospective inevitability now that it has actually happened in the form of the Wintersmith CD, however. In any case, the end result is one that is overwhelmingly a credit to all concerned; worthy of the names involved and their reputations.’

Robert has a look at a couple of concert hall staples, none other than Beethoven’s Symphonies 5 and 6: ‘There isn’t much to be said about Beethoven: there he is, take it or leave it. It is doubtful that anyone had more influence on the music of the 19th century than he did — even the archenemies Brahms and Wagner both claimed Beethoven as their artistic forebear.’

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From the Archives a long time ago, comes our What Not this time: ‘“OK, you do know that we have a resident hedgehog at this Scottish Estate by the name of Hamish? So it won’t surprise you that Robert reviewed this puppet: ‘Well, I finally got my first Folkmanis puppet to review, and appropriately enough, it’s the Little Hedgehog — and let me tell you, he’s a real charmer.’”

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So let’s finish off with some choice music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘Toys, Not Ties’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April twenty-six years ago. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and also included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

 

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Spring is Coming. Eventually.

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The time of the year  when cold, nasty weather here at the Estate is more common than not is upon us as I sit writing these words in my office behind the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room. A freezing sleet is being driven by a steady wind and even Gus, our Head Gardener who is outside in all manner of weather, is inside consulting with Mrs. Ware, the Estate Head Cook, on how many of the Estate geese she’ll need for our Candlemas feast this year.

I think the promise of yet more bread pudding with rum and dark chocolate also figured into his desire to be in the Kitchen. And I see that a goodly number of the Neverending Session musicians have taken up residence in the sitting area of the Kitchen where I heard then playing a hornpipe attributed to Billy Pigg when I passed by the Kitchen earlier today.

The Kitchen here is quite large as its been expanded several times down the years, most recently thirty years ago, when we added more yurts for visitors to stay in. And the Kitchen’s actually in an area of the sub basement though it’s got lots of windows facing the back courtyard there.  That expansion added a cozy sitting area where the Neverending Session as I noted above is oft times playing in the Winter. And it’s not at all  unusual to the Stitchers group to take up residence there.

It’s a mostly throughly modern with gas stoves, four eight burner Vikings, along with walk-in coolers and of course restaurant sized walk-in freezers. There’s always a stone soup of whatever the staff there thinks is appropriate to toss in — one time it might be lamb, lentils, and onions, another time it might be beef from High Ridge Farm with veggies we grew, or my favourite, smoked turkey with veggies and dumplings.

Mostly throughly modern because we do have an eight burner wood stove with a griddle area that those lovely soups and stews, plus other slows cooked food gets done on. Not to mention  superb pancakes and thick sliced bacon.

The best thing I think about the Kitchen is the fresh baked goodies from muffins with Turkish dates in the morning to a late night snack of double dark chocolate cake with a scoop of Madagascar vanilla ice cream. Or the warm enough to melt butter whole wheat rolls with the soup of the day for the Eventide meal.

Damn I made myself hungry! Shall we head down to the Kitchen for a snack? I heard that there might well be carrot cake. With cream cheese frosting. Doesn’t that sound tasty?

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What’s New for the 16th of February: On Breakfast, Judy Collins Live, Cats, Tolkien in Person, Champagne, Music from Just About Everywhere, and much more

One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast. — Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday

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Potatoes… Onions…  Smoked salmon… Well-aged cheddar cheese… Oh the eggs? Chicken, duck or goose? Your choice as we’ve  got all of ‘em. They’ve all got their own unique colour, flavour and, yes, texture.  The Kitchen has decided to do omelets on this Winter morning along with thick sliced bacon and oh so delicious corn bread with warmed butter for breakfast on this Winter morning. Oh and of course coffee. With cream.

Yes we like breakfast here a lot. It’s been covered here in the form of baked eggs, a history of breakfast, a Bison Uncured Bacon and Cranberry Bar (really it tastes great), Spam: A Biography (it is a superb breakfast food, particularly with eggs and sharp cheese) and Charles Stross on the full Scottish breakfast to name but a few of the things we’ve covered. Care to join us? Of course you do!

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Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest with illustrations by Charles Vess is based on A Circle of Cats by the same talented duo, which Mia reviewed here. Cat found a lot to like in this charming novel, so read his review to see why he liked it.

Jack has a rather charming book for us to consider: ‘Not surprisingly, the Kinrowan Estate library where the Green Man offices are contains many items related to J. R. R. Tolkien and his works. Tolkien is one of the best creators of fantasy that ever lived, period. And the recent films based on The Lord of The Rings have caused a resurgence of interest in him and his works. I have no doubt that you’ve read both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, as you wouldn’t be reading this review if you hadn’t, but have you ever encountered the man who wrote those works? Well, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien will give you a look at Tolkien himself in ways that are both charming and perhaps surprising.’

Robert has a look at an entry in Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series, this one titled Blood and Iron: ‘One of the freshest and most interesting developments in fantasy literature over the past decade or two has been the emergence of what I tend to call “contemporary fantasy.” Known also as “urban fantasy” or sometimes “mythic literature,” it combines the trappings and motifs of classic fantasy and sometimes horror with a modern-day, usually urban milieu. It also moves freely into other genres. Call it fantasy’s answer to cyberpunk: it has that kind of fluidity and, more often than not, that kind of hard-edged, dark vision.’

Warner has a choice bit of Sherlockian fiction for us: ‘Interesting new points of view for Sherlock Holmes tales are difficult, and even finding a new way to express an old point of view is impressive. Michelle Birkby, in All Roads Lead to Whitechapel, has produced a very nice mystery, one that simultaneously feels true to Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories while also producing an interesting and unusual read. The beginning of the unusual approach can be seen in the simple fact that rather than focusing upon Holmes and Watson, the story features them as secondary characters, with none other than Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson as the leads.’

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Denise decided to go with the Valentine’s weekend vibe and pop open a (mini)bottle or two of  Cook’s Brut Champagne 187ml Bottle 4 pack. Wait, you ask; has our resident beer snob decided to slum it? Yep, and she’s just fine with that. ‘Sure, the purists will scoff, but it’s a lovely bottle to crack open on a Taco Tuesday when you’re feeling a bit Treat Yo Self.’ So why not treat  yourself and read her in-dept review of this bubbly!

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Jennifer loves the new Edward Norton film Motherless Brooklyn, which tears a strip off the unholy trinity of commercial real estate, public works projects, and corrupt government with a big fat creamy jazz-soaked noir project full of stuff to love.

Motherless Brooklyn talks explicitly about the role of racism in the (re)building of New York, but class is implicit, too, in everything from characters’ dress to their accents, homes, and the way they walk: class and race, race and class, joining and dividing these New Yorkers. PS, if you think you can’t get a crush on a guy with OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome, tough girl, give this a look.

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Gary takes an extensive look at three publications that marked the 25th anniversary of Maus, Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking graphic novel about his family’s experiences in the Holocaust. They included the original books, Vol. 1, My Father Bleeds History and Vol. 2, And Here My Troubles Began; and a hardcover volume called MetaMaus, about the making of the original works.

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Aaron Copland’s A Copland Celebration gets looked at by Gary who notes that ‘Sony Classical disgorged a cornucopia of Copland works. This three volume, six-CD set gives a good overview of the career of this quintessential American composer. It includes the best-known works — chamber, orchestral and choral — as well as a smattering of some of Copland’s lesser-known works, and some alternate versions and rarities previously unreleased on CD; and even a few never before released at all.’

He next has a review of an album by jazz saxophonist Oded Tzur. The mostly mellow music on Here Be Dragons is a blend of jazz and Indian classical styles and techniques. He says that if you listen closely, ‘you realize that this isn’t some variant of smooth jazz, just utterly controlled melodicism.’

He then says of porous structures a recent release by an acoustic quartet led by Belgian multi-instrumentalist and avant garde composer Ruben Machtelinckx: ‘Each of the eight performances recorded here is a variation on gently plucked guitars, high-pitched droning from reeds or voice, and a compendium of percussion.’

Gary rounds out our music reviews with a recording by Amarillis which has Allison Thompson on accordion and concertina and it gets high praise from him as a  contradancer: ‘Waltzing in the Trees is a delightful record that brings lively contra dance music into your home.’

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Our What Not is our perennial question of what’s your favourite Tolkien. Catherynne picked The Silmarillion: ‘I love The Lord of the Rings. I was once a hardcore Sindarin-speaking LoTR geek, in the days of my misbegotten youth. It is a vast and important book. But I have to say that I feel the book is incomplete without The Silmarillion, which provides a depth and mythology, an understanding of the forces at work, a breadth and beauty that LoTR does not have on its own. I am one of the few who loves The Silmarillion for itself, devoured it in one sitting, had no trouble with the archaic language. It should get more love than it does.’

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It’s been bloody cold here so let’s se if I can find something to remind us that every season will pass on the Infinite Jukebox, our media server. Ahhh Judy Collins will do very nice. ‘Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)’ was recorded by her at the Newport Folk Festival fifty five years ago this coming July. (Now I’m feeling old.) It’s a lovely take on a very old story that reminds us that everything is transient, even this time of bitter cold.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Pub Rules

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Like any good pub, there are of course rules at The Green Man Pub. Everyone is welcome, provided they can behave like a reasonable being. (I don’t say human as some of our visitors are most decidedly not human, although most are humanoid in shape.)

No one gets drunk in our Pub, no one. And no one, other than visiting musos, drinks for free (with a few exceptions) here. Even raising your voice in what the Barkeep thinks is an agressive manner will get you banned from the Pub. Never have a staff — save one several decades back that was coming off a bad breakup — been banned as it effectively meant being ostracized from the Estate, but we’ve had several visitors to the Estate, band members all, who thought high spirits meant being really rowdy. Neither they nor their bands got invited back.

All manner of currency are excepted from the local pound scots to the decidedly odd such as the Roman coins the Traveling Doctor, as she called herself, offered that were as if newly minted. And no one runs a tab that extends beyond closing time. Yes, we close — generally between four and noon for cleaning and restocking as need be. Besides nobody should really be drinking that early in the day.

Buying rounds is allowed but the barkeep on duty has the right to ask for payment upon ordering. And we will ask for payment before pouring the decidedly expensive single drams, some of which cost over a hundred euros a shot. Just prudent policy on our part.

Though talking and general goings-on are expected when the Neverending Session is playing, respect and paying attention to visiting musos, storytellers, and such are indeed expected. And you will be asked to leave or be quiet by someone rather quickly.

That’s pretty much it. Otherwise just enjoy yourself.

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What’s New for the 9th of February: Horslips live, Bourbon, Definitive Earthsea, Traveling the Pacific, Robin Hood, and more

Every good fiddler has a distinctive sound. No matter how many play the same tune, each can’t help but play it differently. Some might use an up stroke where another would a down. One might bow a series of quick single notes where another would play them all with one long draw of the bow. Some might play a double stop where others would a single string. If the listener’s ear was good enough, she could tell the difference. But you had to know the tunes, and the players, for the differences were minute. — Fiaina in Charles de Lint’s Drink Down the Moon

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Ahhhh, you’re in the mood for a really great bourbon, eh? I’d recommend the WhistlePig fifteen Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey. We just got it in and it’s proved popular among bourbon drinkers willing to pay dearly for it. It’s finished off for six months in White Oak barrels harvested on the WhistlePig farm in Vermont. Bloody good if I must say so myself.

Oh and Gary has a loving look at Reid Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire which bears the subtitle of The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey. A history of bourbon lovingly told? Need I say more to get you to read his review and afterwards the book itself which of course is in our Library? I think not!

Now let’s get this Edition started which again has Whovian reviews, along with anchovies (yes anchovies), music composed by de Lint, Carla Bley‘s newest recording, another exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and music from the Horslips. Shall we get started?

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Chris has a review of The Books of Earthsea: ‘Saga Press has released Ursula LeGuin’s collected Earthsea works, beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess. This collection includes the original trilogy: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971 ) and The Farthest Shore (1972), as well as the novels in which LeGuin revisited the trilogy, Tehanu (1990) and The Other Wind (2001), which conclude the saga many years after the events of the originals. Also included are Tales from Earthsea, LeGuin’s 2001 collection, and four other stories, including the never before published “Daughter of Odren.” Her illuminating essay, “Earthsea Revisioned,” which she delivered as a lecture in Oxford in 1992, is also here, along with an introduction from the author. In short, this giant of a volume includes everything you need to know about Earthsea, and it’s a delight to see it all collected in one place.’

Triskell Press has released a digital edition of Charles de Lint’s Yarrow: An Autumn Tale, which Grey delightfully notes is ‘set in de Lint’s Ottawa, the one he first envisioned for his novel Moonheart, and expanded in its sequel, Spiritwalk. Those readers who have fallen in love with the wonderful Tamson House of these two novels will be delighted to note its brief appearance in Yarrow as well. However, the characters in Yarrow are part of different story than the residents of Tamson House and their associates, and Yarrow is a stand-alone novel.’

Warner has two Doctor Who reviews of which this is the first first: ‘The final novelization of classic era Doctor Who has arrived with Eric Seward’s adaptation of his own Revelation of the Daleks. This volume has been a long time coming, with over thirty years between the airing of the television story and this release. Working from the relatively well regarded Colin Baker Sixth Doctor story, Seward brings a tale of Davros re-engineering the Daleks, a strange and deliberately anachronistic behaving DJ to the dead, honorable and impressive assassins, food shortages with familiar solutions, and planet wide graveyards, to  simply name some of the elements.’

His other Whovian book is a look at a collection of short stories: ‘One of the noticeable oddities about Doctor Who as a franchise is the tendency to use and reference historical personalities. Vincent van Gogh, William Shakespeare,  Charles Dickens, and any number “of royal figures have appeared on the television series. Many more characters have appeared in the various books, comics and audio dramas featuring the the Doctor. The short story collection Doctor Who: Star Tales represents an interesting attempt to push this aspect to the fore by dealing exclusively in stories of the famous throughout history, and how their experiences and lives crossed with those of the Doctor. The celebrities range from actors to scientists, and from the recent past to the ancient.’

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Either you love ’em or you have to run screaming from any room containing them and flush your mouth and sinuses, or at least your brain, until the very idea that you have shared the planet with them has been washed away. Enter at your own risk, because Jennifer’s about to get anchovy.

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Tim recalls a film classic (from 1938, no less), The Adventures of Robin Hood: ‘While numerous Robin Hood movies have been made, my dad steadfastly refuses to watch them. “There’s only one Robin Hood,” he says. He’s talking about Errol Flynn, of course, and this 1938 classic.’

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April is back with the next installment of Bill Willlingham’s Fables series: ‘In this ninth installment in the ongoing Fables series, Bill Willingham is back in top form, delivering solid character development and intriguing plot in spades. A mix of multi-part and one-shot stories, Sons of Empire introduces new characters and provides insight into the lives of others while driving the over-arching story forward.’

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Cat has some comments on a very non-traditional rendering of the music of Charles de Lint, Zahatar’s The Little Country: ‘Zahatar is more akin to a classical music ensemble than it is to a folk group, and their arrangements of de Lint’s The Little Country compositions very much reflect that. It’s a lively but dignified approach to his songs, more closely akin to what you’d hear if you were listening to any classical music ensemble than to, say, a contradance band.’

The Guardian said of Kathryn Tickell, the great Northumbrian piper and fiddler, that her live show features ‘… tunes played at times hauntingly with fingers blurring as they flick up and down the chanter or over the fiddle neck. Each set of tunes is separated by stories about friends and places all told quietly, ramblingly and with a gentle wryness. Her act is gripping, funny and moving.’  Ed  certainly agrees, as his review of her Debateable Lands is quite glowing.

We get the nicest things in the post, which is how Lahri ended up reviewing Celtic singer-songwriter Jez Lowe’s Live at the Davy Lamp. He comments, “Jez Lowe is one of the consummate performers in Celtic music today. Hailing from the Northumbrian lands of Northeast England, near the Scottish Borders, he brings a distinctively northern edge to his music.’

‘In addition to her prodigious output of composing, performing and recording in a wide variety of settings, 81-year-old Carla Bley has been playing in this trio with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard for some 25 years,’ Gary notes in his review of their latest release Life Goes On. ‘Theirs is the kind of musical relationship that, when it’s right, is capable of producing astounding results.’

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Robert takes us on a tour of yet another exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History: 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”. The focus of the exhibition is the islands, of which there are 20,000-30,000 — a firm count is hard to determine, since many of the islands are too small to be seen from space — another fun fact from the lead-in.’

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It’s certainly quite definitely Winter here as the calendar reckons such things and it feels like it with cold mornings and snowy, chilly days. So let’s see what I can find on the Infinite Jukebox, our server of all things digital, to brighten us up a bit… I’m choosing  the Horslips doing ‘Drive the Cold Winter Away’ as their cover of the John Playford composition is outstanding. It was recorded at The Spectrum, Philadelphia on the 24th Of March  forty years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Ghostly Librarian

PI haven’t seen him despite having The Sight but several persons down the years have said they’ve seen a man dressed in Victorian Era clothes and looking apparently quite solid. He looked to in his late fifties or early sixties, tall and skinny, wearing sliver rimmed glasses. He was putting away books on the shelves well after midnight according to one person and a Several Annie some sixty years ago was unable to sleep, as the Estate Journal of that time notes, and decided to get something and was surprised to see a person in the Library at three in the morning.

That’s when it got weird. She said what she called The Librarian turned to her and asked her what book she was looking for. She didn’t think anything of it beyond the oddness of the hour — no Librarian ever works that late, not even the very much unlamented and hopefully quite dead Grubb — and so she said she was looking for the latest Christie and he said it was on the desk waiting to be put away.

She said thanks, started to turn away, and remembered that she was also looking for any Sayers she hadn’t read, so she turned back and watched him fading away to nothing within a few moments. She decided that getting back to her bed was a very good idea and got out of there was fast as she could.

The last time that he was seen was by another Several Annie only twenty years back. She saw him in the early evening when Iain and Catherine were off on a trip to the Nordic region for a much deserved vacation. It appeared to her that he had simply decided to fill in as Librarian while Iain was elsewhere. Now that’s what I call a dedicated professional!

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What’s New for the 2nd of February: Johnny Clegg’s Final Album, More Fables Considered, Live Steeleye Span, Some Things Whovian, An Unusually Flavoured KitKat and Other Matters

Don’t be scared. All of this is new to you, and new can be scary. Now we all want answers. Stick with me — you might get some. — She Who is The Thirteenth Doctor

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Spring isn’t that far away with lambing season upon us, a sign of the coming warmth always, but you wouldn’t know it right now as we’re going a major clusterfuck of a snow storm starting yesterday and expected to be here ’til tomorrow. It’s kept the staff of Gus, our Estate Head Gardener and Groundskeeper, up around the clock. My Several Annies, the Library Apprentices, are off helping him out by watching the soon to give birth ewes. So I’m putting this Edition together by myself.

We’re avid fans of The Doctor here, and the Thirteenth incarnation has quite pleased nearly everyone saved reactionary fanboys, many of whom frankly hate the entire rebooted Who. Denise reviewed Her first season thisway and even looked several of Her figures including the Funko Rock Candy one. And Cat has a spoiler filled review of a Thirteenth Doctor episode that’s as much about the nature of spoilers as it is about that episode. So let’s get started. Oh and Warner looks at Doctor Who fanfic by an earlier Companion as well.

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A novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans  by Tim Lebbon & Christopher Golden is definitely rated adult by Richard: ‘Readers who come to The Map of Moments looking for something similar to Mind the Gap are in for a rude shock. Where the first novel of the Hidden Cities was essentially YA, The Map of Moments is steeped in sex and death, a whirlwind ride through centuries of secret history marked by murder, cannibalism, and lust.’

Robert takes us into the adventures of a very unusual detective agency: ‘Daemon Eyes is an omnibus edition of Camille Bacon-Smith’s two novels of the half-demon Evan Davis; his father, known to mortals as Kevin Bradley; and Lily Ryan, another demon. The three set themselves up as detectives, doing business as Bradley, Ryan and Davis, specializing in cases that are, shall we say, something out of the ordinary. In addition to the two novels, this edition includes a prologue that fills in Evan’s history (which is very helpful).’

Warner has a sort of fanfic for us: ‘There is a long history in the Doctor Who franchise of actors taking on writing credits. Colin Baker, Mathew Watterhouse, Nicholas Briggs, Tom Baker, and others have written or co-written adventures featuring their characters. Sophie Aldred has (with the assistance of Steve Cole and Mike Tucker) joined this company with At Childhood’s End, a tale of her screen character Ace long after her adventures in the TARDIS have ended and she has instead taken to running A Charitable Earth. Starting as the story of a former companion still investigating, the book becomes an examination of coming to grips with the past.’

Next up is something a bit more toothy. (Sorry I couldn’t resist.) He says: ‘Carrie Vaugh has been writing urban fantasy for many years, and her Kitty Norville series is only one example of her work. It is a series focusing on a werewolf, and like many werewolf stories, vampires come into play. Feeling a bit like a side step away from the main narrative, and indeed barely dealing with Kitty or her other friends, The Immortal Conquistador deals with a particular vampire from the series.‘

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You know that there are lots of cool and unusual flavors of KitKats out there, don’t you? Well, if that’s news to you, let Denise start you on the road to knowledge with her review of Nestlé’s Kumamon Ikinari Dango KitKat. Though you may want to use her review as a way to discover other flavors… ‘I’d seen their delicious Matcha flavor…but missed out by not picking them up immediately. So here we are, with Dango “flavored” candies as a consolation prize. And to quote an old meme, I am disappoint.’ 

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Cat brings us his thoughts on another Dr. Who episode, “Fugitive of The Judoon” — but he starts with a warning: ‘Understand right now that if you really, really don’t like spoilers and you’ve not watched this episode, that you should go away now and do something else as this review consists of nothing really but spoilers. I’m serious — just go away.’

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April was not quite so enthusiastic about the eighth volume of Fables: ‘Wolves, the 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. Mowgli’s travels take him to Russia, then back across the Bering Strait to Alaska. We get to see him show off his buff body, unarmed combat skills and preternaturally keen tracking skills. To Bigby’s dismay, he’s found all too easily (by his standards), and made a offer: perform a task for Prince Charming and a way will be found for Bigby to live with Snow White and their cubs on the outskirts of the Farm.’

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We lost another great one as Scott notes: ‘In the fall of 2017, South African singer Johnny Clegg released what he knew would be his last album.  Clegg had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and while he’d already managed to complete a world tour after getting the diagnosis, the disease was winning.  King of Time is appropriately titled.  The album is very short — it has seven songs spanning 24 minutes — but Clegg was a busy man trying to get as much done in whatever time he had left.’

Gary says up of Quake, a  sort of trad Nordic recording from Den Fule that: ‘When I was trying to find something that my good friend, a Breton girl of 22 who loves nu-metal music, would like, I pulled out Den Fule. Her assessment: “That’s really fun, kinda’ like Irish music, but it rocks.” This accomplishes in ten words what will take me at least 300 to re-iterate.’

Joselle doesn’t like this time of year but a recording called An Ancient Muse cheered her up: ‘Normally, I can’t stand winter. It’s cold, it’s dismal, and I tend to get sick a lot. Nonetheless, winter 2006 has made me one happy woman, in spite of the general nastiness. This is largely thanks to an event that I and several other folk/Celtic/world/eclectic music fans have been anticipating for nine years?’

The self-named recording  that turned out to be the only recording by a Scottish group caught the ear of Naomi: ‘The sound of the CD really does reflect this large cast of musicians, revealing a broad spectrum of styles and influences with forays into country and pop music. However, the overall feel of this recording is remarkably unified and thoroughly Scottish at its core, although the members of Cantychiels clearly have the knack for injecting a pleasant modern sensibility into their music. Fans of early ’80s Clannad will not be disappointed with this CD.’

Richard wraps up our music reviews with high praise for a Maddy Prior album; ‘Flesh & Blood is one of the finest CDs I’ve heard in years. Prior’s voice, always angelic, has never sounded better; and, with the able help of Nick Holland and Troy Donockley, she has picked material that does her vocal talents justice. Indeed, the collection is so captivating that I’ve had to take it out of my work rotation; after all, I don’t get paid to stand around and gawk dreamily to music.’

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As some gear up for the annual football prom that is the Super Bowl, many of us here settle in to enjoy the commercials. One that’s gotten some advance notice is from Planters, who have decided to kill of their beloved mascot Mr. Peanut after 104 years of nutty service. (Gotta admit there were giggles when Michael Che did a “CREAM-ated” bit on the January 25th SNL.) But then Kobe Bryant, his young daughter, and seven other individuals died in a horrific plane crash…and death as marketing just isn’t feeling great right now. Planters is even pulling the social media hype for the commercial, though it may still play during the game as those spots cost companies millions and I’m guessing Planters doesn’t want to eat that loss.

Killing Mr. Peanut was a rather morbid stunt from the jump –  even though it’s sure to be a temporary thing –  and now it feels tacky too. Mr. Peanut dying in a fiery crash in one ad, then another for his funeral? It’s certainly bound to put an uncomfortable moment in this Sunday’s festivities. Cashew, anyone?

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So let’s have some music from what I consider the best electrified folk band ever that Great Britain gave birth to, Steeleye Span. Over forty years of live performances have produced a lot of excellent soundboard recordings. so let’s  start off with a perennial favourite of fans: ‘Tam Lin’ as performed at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival, August of 2006, before finishing with  ‘Long Lankin’ from the same festival. Lovely, isn’t it?

 

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Enter The Sandman

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It was well past the witching hour on a night when a hard rain was beating against the windows in our Pub when the stranger clad in her woollen cloak dyed a black so dark that I wasn’t quite sure I could see it started her story: ‘The Sandman is a far more dangerous, feral creature than modern folk think of him as being. The Sandman of old didn’t make children sleepy.  No, he gave them nightmares that harmed them deeply for years after they became adults.’

I asked why had The Sandman became a fairly harmless bogeyman. She reminded me and the other listeners that the original versions of the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm were full of incest, murder, and even cannibalism, but were watered down substantially by the Victorian Era translators who brought them first into the English language.

So The Sandman as she told the story was a creature cloaked in darkness whose face is so hideous that it made children scream. He would get very close to them and whisper in a voice so low that only his victim, and yes they are his victims, could hear the awful things he said to them. Whatever it was that he said, it made children wake up screaming.

There is a much darker version of this tale that says that The Sandman was so hideous that his victims became literally blind from seeing him. Call it nightmare creature induced blindness. I hadn’t heard this version but it sounded plausible. It’s surely a scary idea.  She added that there was a rare variant of The Sandman myth that said he induced the fear in children so that he could be the last thing they saw before he tore their eyes out leaving them blind, and also so he could savour the salty tears of fear in their eyes as he ate them down like treats.

She drank deeply of her Winter Ale and ended by saying ‘Pleasant dreams, everyone.’

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What’s New for the 26th of January: Lit Crit, Pulp Fiction, More Beer, King Arthur, Nordic Music, and more

After doing extensive research, I can definitely tell you that single malt whiskies are good to drink. — Iain Banks in Raw Spirit

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Yes, that’s a very fine Laphroaig quarter-century-old, cask strength single malt. You can thank Reynard  for it. One of the jobbers we deal with sent him a note about it. Yes, it is very costly, which is why I saw you wince when he quoted the single dram price to you. And as always, both of us strongly recommend the late Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as we believe it’s simply the best look at single malts ever done.

Indeed, it is a fine whiskey on a winter’s night when it’s cold and there’s nowhere to go, so let’s look at what we’ve got for this edition for you. I know we’ve a bevy of interesting books, as always, and there’s great music too and we’ll just have to wait and see what else we got that will surprise you, as I’m sure there’ll  be something else that will tickle your fancy. So let’s get started…

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Gary reviews a book of literary criticism about Iain M. Banks 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’d be remiss not to direct you to one of his Culture reviews, so here’s his look at The Hydrogen Sonata which according to him is ‘a book of equal parts jaw-dropping wonder and world-shattering violence, relief is offered by the Ships: their names themselves and the droll and witty dialog between and among them as they go about debating their course of action and concocting rationalizations for once again meddling in the affairs of another civilization.’

Warner delves into a crime story that holds its own in the genre: ‘Blood Sugar is quite a good little crime story, and a very nice example of psychological horror. There are characters one wouldn’t expect, twists and turns in both narrative and development, and very clever stylistic developments. This is a very clever but extremely dark story, very well told and easy to recommend for a good quick read.’

Next, he goes further into pulp crime fiction with Max Allan Collins’ Killing Quarry: ‘There is something nice about seeing an old character, genre, or style revived. Killing Quarry by Max Allan Collins once again delivers an adventure of his ’70s pulp character Quarry, a Vietnam veteran who finds himself dealing with frequent strange criminal conflicts in his role as a hit man.’

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Denise is back with yet another brew review – this go-round it’s Yuengling’s Hershey’s Chocolate Porter. ‘Yuengling knew what they were doing when they collaborated with Hershey’s. And the brewery definitely let the chocolatier take the wheel.’ Read the full review to find out exactly what she thought!

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We’ve got two films reviewed this time, both of the Arthurian mythos, and both by the same reviewer it turns out.

A rather  brutal take on the Arthurian mythos draws this comment by reviewer Asher: ‘Here is a tale of human folly — “Whatever the cost, do it”. Of a noble dream – “One land, one king!” Of magic – “Can’t you see all around you the Dragon’s breath?” Of its passing – “There are other worlds. This one is done with me.” And of memory – “For it is the doom of men that they forget.” Excalibur is arguably the most exciting film version of the myth of Arthur to date.’

He goes on to state forthrightly that Mists of Avalon which is based on the Marion Zimmer Bradley novel ‘is a revisionist Arthurian tale. The film opens much like Braveheart‘s “Historians in England will say I am a liar…” with an agonized and weary, almost crucified Morgaine narrating — “No one knows the real story. Most of what you know… is nothing but lies” — as her boat glides into the mists, a device that welded this viewer to his seat, not wanting to miss any of the necessary adjustments to the legend.’

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India shaped the British Empire every bit as much  the British shaped India over the centuries of ofttimes brutal occupation. Peter Milligan’s John Constantine: Hellblazer India, says Cat, ‘neatly plays off the British experience in India and what happens when that experience takes a horrible turn into the supernatural world that Constantine knows all too well.’

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Gary reviews aloha a new album by Son Little, whose stage name sounds like a Delta blues singer. ‘But although there’s a component of acoustic blues to his music, and some bluesy distorted electric guitar on a couple of tracks, what he’s making is old-school soul and R&B, liberally mixed with elements of classic rock and dare I say garage rock, and much more.’

Eclectic is the name of the game with Joe Russo’s phér•bŏney, which Gary says is a mostly instrumental album of electronic and analog music. ‘Not much like the majority of music I listen to, but it’s good to stray out of the comfort zone. These are some serious musicians having a bit of fun, which almost always results in something worth listening to.’

Finally, Gary brings us up to speed with music from the enigmatically named Squirrel Flower, ‘the stage name of the Boston-based singer-songwriter Ella O’Connor Williams, making her recording debut with the beautifully realized I Was Born Swimming … In an alternate universe I could hear a young Patsy Cline singing some of these numbers, which orbit around themes of movement and stasis, travel and home.’

Ranarop — Call of the Sea Witch is a recording Iain really liked — ‘Gjallarhorn is a foursome from Ostrobothnia, the Swedish speaking area of Finland. They are tightly bound to both folk music traditions, and ancient mythology. Musically, the band is a mixture of fiddle, mandola, didgeridoo, and percussion, with vocals provided by Jenny Wilhelms. Ranarop is an amazing album, with a singular sound which makes the band appear to be larger than it is.’

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Our What Not this edition is the matter of Arthur and the various tellings of his myth which  are writ both deep and wide upon the British folklore. (Robert Holdstock makes good use of that folklore in his Ryhope Wood cycle.) So let me offer you up A Gazetteer of Arthurian Onomastic and Topographic Folklore. Caitlin R. Green in her dense nineteen page article in Arthurian Notes & Queries lays out an argument for where Arthur fits in British folklore. It’s the usually dense academic prose but still worth reading if you got a keen interest in this subject.

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So let’s have some Nordic music to see us off on this not very pleasant Winter afternoon. ‘Vedergällningen’ by Garmarna, a Swedish band That has Emma Hardelin as their vocalist. The cut itself is of unknown origin but likely is at least twenty years old.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Old Ben

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Dear Anna,

You asked about the story you’d heard about Old Ben, the Steward in the early Sixteen Hundreds, who helped create the publishing house that is now here. I can’t tell you much about him as the records of where he came from or what he had for formal training as a printer is not recorded in the Estate Journals.

Yes, it’s true that the first thing Old Ben did was write and publish the first true history of the Estate. Or so they thought at the time. We now know that he, errrr, lied. Or if you prefer, Old Ben told his story in a way that he apparently thought was best for the Estate.

It’s a masterful piece of fiction accounting for all that a normal Estate would have, including a cleverly constructed history of the Kinrowan family all the way back to the Conquest. He even included genealogical charts for the family and insisted that somewhere on the Estate there was a Kinrowan family graveyard. There isn’t any such graveyard. A later Steward got the Head Librarian and his Several Annies to search the Archives and they also conducted a physical survey of the grounds that took a decade to complete. They found a number of unmarked grave sites but none that could possibly be a Kinrowan family graveyard.

Why Old Ben did this is unknown to this day, as he even lied in his Journal. Quite amazingly lied. And no one had the slightest clue he was doing this as they assumed he was just doing something he wanted to do. It was ap Owen, a much later Steward who realized that what he said was not what local folk remembered and ap Owen trusted them more than he did Old Ben.

Some of what — no, let me correct that — most of what he wrote became received history here. It’s even possible that he created the story of the Neverending Session, the myth of the Jacks and Jills, and certainly created the origins of the Estate itself. But since most of it is quite entertaining, no one cares if it’s really true. Well, Iain cares.

Until next time, Gus

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What’s New for the 19th of January: Mike Resnick, Beer, Dr. Who (Again), Music from Many Places, Egypt, and more

All that anxiety and anger, those dubious good intentions, those tangled lives, that blood. I can tell about it or I can bury it. In the end, we’ll all become stories. Or else we’ll become entities. Maybe it’s the same.  — Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder

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Ahh, that coffee. Yes, it’s cardamom spiced, which I admit that you Yanks most likely haven’t encountered. The Kitchen staff here’s been making it for those of us addicted to it since, oh, I think Alexandra Margaret Quinn was Head Gardener here, and I usually drink it every day. Ours is Turkish in origin. Well, Ottoman really. Nibbles to go with it, of course, are good. I favour freshly baked chocolate rugelach which Kitchen staffer Rebekah from Israel gave us.

We like chocolate a lot here, as you can tell from our reviews of many things chocolate, and we’re always pleased to see a new way of appreciating it, but even I was surprised by the amazingly good dessert Mrs. Ware and her Kitchen staff served up this past eventide meal: dark chocolate bread pudding with cardamon flavored ice cream! Sounds weird but actually tasted great!

Now  I suggest we  had down to the Kitchen as there’s Toll House cookies right out of the oven being offered up with eggnog per the recipe of Jennifer, one of our Winter Queens offered up once upon a Winter evening.

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Robert here. In honor of Mike Resnick, one of the most awarded authors in the field of speculative fiction, who passed away on January 9, 2020, this week’s book section is devoted to reviews of several of his works.

If I remember correctly, the first of Resnick’s novels that I read was Santiago. Just to give you a taste of this one, here’s the opening: ‘They say his father was a comet and his mother a cosmic wind, that he juggles planets as if they were feathers and wrestles with black holes just to work up an appetite. They say he never sleeps, and that his eyes burn brighter than a nova, and that his shout can level mountains.’ It gets better.

Resnick’s imagination was — well, rich, I guess, is the best way to describe it. He wrote several novels set in the ‘Weird West,’ an American West, peopled by characters who are part of our folklore, with a distinct twist. Cat got dibs on the first in the series: ‘Though billed as steampunk, The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale is far more original than most of that genre, as it is tightly focused on a small set of characters and what they will do over a fairly short period of time, so the technology never overwhelms the characters in this tale.’

The first of this series that I ran across was The Doctor and the Kid: ‘Mike Resnick’s The Doctor and the Kid is an installment in his stories of the Weird West — an alternate universe in which the westward expansion of the United States has been halted at the Mississippi River by the magic of Indian medicine men. That doesn’t stop a few intrepid souls from making the journey to what would become the American West.’ I liked the series enough that I went to on read The Doctor and the Rough Rider and The Doctor and the Dinosaurs.

Resnick wasn’t finished with alternate history. Faith got to read and comment on The Other Teddy Roosevelts: ‘There are seven stories in the collection, all plausible (well, maybe except for the vampire and the extraterrestrials in Cuba), all nicely-researched to make them fit in with documented events in Roosevelt’s life, all fascinating. The eighth piece, “The Unsinkable Teddy Roosevelt,” consists of facts and anecdotes about Roosevelt.’

And yet again — Denise dove into Dragon America and emerged smiling: ‘I’d bet that early colonists were surprised, even frightened, by some of the strange new creatures America had to offer. But I’m sure nothing surprised them more than seeing dragons soaring overhead. Wait, you never heard about the dragons? Looks like schools just don’t seem to teach anything really important nowadays. Or maybe that’s because dragons don’t exist in the history we know. But what if they did? Well, they’d probably be pretty close to what Mike Resnick describes in Dragon America.’

Next in my adventures in the protean Mike Resnick was his series about John Justin Mallory, who — well, this, from my review of Stalking the Unicorn and Stalking the Vampire, should explain it: ‘“Protean” I say, because now Pyr has issued two of Resnick’s entries into the “fantasy noir detective” subgenre, tales of John Justin Mallory, a private investigator in a Manhattan that parallels our own and sometimes intrudes. Unless we’re intruding on it.’ And after that, of course, I had to go on to Stalking the Zombie.

Michael also had a go at the first volume in this series: ‘It’s supernatural investigation with a surreal twist, filled with sly humor, comic undertones, and pulp sensibilities. In short, it’s as though Ross MacDonald and Monty Python had gotten drunk with Lewis Carroll, and written a book together. Stalking the Unicorn is clever and funny, and one of those books I return to every so often just for the satisfaction of a familiar, well-told semi-urban fantasy.

Kilimanjaro could be considered a departure for Resnick, had he not already demonstrated a phenomenal range in his work. It’s a hard book to describe, so let me just give you this summation: ‘Kilimanjaro is a gentle book with a hopeful attitude and a somewhat dated moral, deeply concerned with good people in conflict for the best of reasons. For some readers, that may be enough, or it may be nothing at all.’

Dreamwish Beasts and Snarks is a collection of stories that, once again, is hard to describe, although there is a unifying theme: ‘The overriding metaphor of this collection is “on safari.” Take that in the widest sense: although there are a couple of stories that do deal directly with safaris (“Hunting the Snark” and “Safari 2103 A.D.”), the stories are about the hunt in a much wider sense.’

Resnick didn’t limit himself to fiction, as evidenced by a collaboration with Barry N. Malzberg. Faith lays it out for us: ‘The Business of $cience Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing is a collection of essays from “The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues,” a regular feature of the SFWA Bulletin. (The SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.) It’s another excellent example of WYSIWYG in the area of titles, because this is exactly what you get, a discussion of the business of writing and publishing science fiction by two experts in the field, for other authors and would-be authors.’

Another example of Resnick’s forays into non-fiction is a collection of WorldCon Guest of Honor Speeches, co-edited with Joe Siclari. Kellly got to wade through this one: ‘The World Science Fiction Convention is the most venerable of all the various annual gatherings of SF fandom, and it’s arguably the most important of them all, as it is at each Worldcon that the highest awards in SF, the Hugos, are awarded. Since the first Worldcon in 1939, there have been 66 such gatherings, with the only non-Worldcon years coming during the final three years of World War II. At each Worldcon there has been a Guest of Honor, usually selected on the basis of lifetime achievement in contributions to the genre; much of the time the Guests of Honor are authors, but there have also been illustrators, publishers, and editors named as Guest of Honor. The position of Worldcon Guest of Honor carries with it a single requirement: the recipient must deliver a speech to the convention. This book, therefore, gathers more than thirty of these speeches.’

That’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the work of Mike Resnick. As you may have gathered, he’s worth looking into if you haven’t already.

And now, back to Reynard for the rest of this week’s edition.

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Welcome welcome!  Denise here, and I’ve got a beer for you that’ll warm up a cold January night. Oliver Brewing Co.’s Creator Destroyer is a lovely espresso brown ale, with lots of twists and turns. ‘As the name suggests, this brew is a mix of contradictions. Sweet nose, peppery bite. Smooth pour, saucy bubbles.’ Ah, but what did I really think? Read the review to find out all the info!

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

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April has a look at the next two collections in Bill Willingham’s Fables: ‘Bill Willingham’s wonderfully developed series about fairy tales living among us today extends two more volumes with Homelands and Arabian Nights (And Days).’ Dive in and enjoy.

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Barb exclaims that ‘If there are superstars to be named on the Swedish music scene, I would like this opportunity to nominate Lena Willemark (vocal, fiddle, viola, whistle, drone whistle), Per Gudmundson (fiddle, viola, bagpipes, vocal), and Ale Möller (octave mandola, overtone flute, cow’s horn, drone whistle, folk harp, shawm, harmonica, vocal), otherwise known as Frifot. The group’s CD Sluring is most certainly a masterpiece.’

The intersection of Finnish and Balkan folk music for women’s voices is where Gary found Finn Emmi Kujanpää’s new recording Nani. ‘On this project, Kujanpää combines her strong, clear soprano with voices of the Bulgarian group on songs that address women’s lives – their joys and longing and sorrows, as well as what are now known worldwide as #MeTo topics.’

Jayme says that ‘Clannad is quickly becoming one of the most compiled bands in Celtic music. Already boasting two “Best Of” collections and a soundtrack collections, Clannad now adds An Diolaim to the list. Fortunately, An Diolaim isn’t just another opportunistic knock-off, for it repackages the majority of songs from Clannad’s hard-to-find second and third albums, Clannad 2 and Dulaman, respectively

A number of years into their career Lunasa got a best of treatment in The Story So Far of which Robert says ‘It’s easy to be enthusiastic about this collection. Yes, there is solid tradition here, from the haunting, intricate pipes that begin “Eanáir” to the intense fiddling that opens “The Floating Crowbar,” but there is a lot of contemporary sensibility that leads new places, not so much a matter of “hey, look, we’re being modern” as an integral part of the approach – guitar passages that could have come from R.E.M. (“Morning Nightcap”), a hint of Fauré by way of new age, perhaps (“The Miller of Drohan”), a bit of a jazz riff from time to time, never obtrusive, never really calling attention to itself, but undeniably there.’

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For this week’s What Not, Robert takes on a tour Inside Ancient Egypt, courtesy of the Field Museum of Natural History.

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In Roger Zelazny’s Isle of Dead, there’s a character frozen at the edge of death who has no heartbeat but instead always has music playing as a sort of substitute for the silence in his chest. If you visit me in the Estate Library, you’ll always find something playing and recently I’ve been listening to a lot of music by a Scottish neo-trad band called The Iron Horse who were active starting some thirty years ago. I’ve got two cuts from them performing live at the Gosport Easter Festival early in their existence,  ‘The 8-Step Waltz’ and ‘The Sleeping Warrior’.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Bloody bones, and not much else

Raspberry divider

Like visiting musicians who get food, drink, and a place to sleep, storytellers are treated in the same manner. So it was that a storyteller looking a lot like John Hurt’s character in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller came to be resident here this past week. He settled comfortably into the chair by the fireplace in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room and told us this tale . . .

Not all ancient barrow mounds are the resting places of warrior kings long forgotten. Some contain things far worse. Some of those securely buried with chains and magical bindings are human, some very much not so. Things that even hardened necromancers have nightmares about.

One of these has no name now, or at least no name remembered now. It was either a being to escort the dead into the next life or something far worse. All that storytellers from time beyond counting have said is that it be left well alone. And so it was for millennia until a Victorian archaeologist decided to dig that barrow mound up. And he didn’t live to tell the tale as whatever it was disposed of all that were there that evening. Only blood and very small bone shards remained of them.

It took a major league necromancer, one variant says it was actually Crowley, to put it back in its resting place, as it was not dead, just resting. The necromancer added an avoidance spell to keep everyone away.

Now won’t you sleep well tonight?

Raspberry divider

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What’s New for the 12th of January: An Alternate British Empire, Music from Latvia, SF by Women, a Haunted Violin, Cookies, Favorite Tolkien, and more

Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today. Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call… everybody lives. — River Song in the Eleventh Doctor story,  “Forest of the Dead”

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I think Our Library is at its very finest in the deep of Winter.  Yes, I’m the Librarian ‘ere so I like it all the time, but it somehow seems warmer, more friendly now. The travelers that visit us now tend to be readers who enjoy spending many hours in the warm comfort of the Library, with either a old favourite book or a soon to be favourite book. I overheard two readers discussing Catfishing on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer’s novel which is an expansion of her ‘Cat Pictures Please’ which won a Hugo Award for Best Short Story.  It’s now in my To Be Read pile after hearing their conversation.

Now I’m off to the Kitchen to see if I can snag a large mug of hot cocoa and one of those oversized chocolate chip brownies, as you Yanks call them. Yes I’ve the jones for chocolate, and may  I suggest the Toll House cookies also, which are right out of the oven, being served with eggnog per the recipe that Jennifer, one of our Winter Queens, offered up once upon a Winter evening, and will bee perfect for you as well this afternoon?
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Cat leads us off with an alternative history novel, The Peshawar Lancers, where the British Empire decamps to India: ‘The much more Indian than English culture is a brilliant re-visioning of British history that reads like vintage Poul Anderson, particularly his Dominic Flandry series. It features rugged heroes — male and female — vivid combat scenes, exotic locales, and truly evil villains. Hell, it even has Babbage machines, the great analytical engines that Sir Charles Babbage never built but which also play an important role in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine.’

Mia looks at a Charles de Lint novel: ‘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.’ If you’ve read The Wood Wife by Terri Windling, you’ll get a treat as you’ll spot de Lints authorised use of a setting from there.

Robert brings us two companion volumes to two series by Gene Wolfe, Michael Andre-Driussi’s Lexicon Urthus: A Dictionary of the Urth Cycle and The Wizard Knight Companion: A Lexicon for Gene Wolfe’s The Knight and The Wizard: ‘Together, these two volumes, the product of dedication, if not downright obsession, are, I think, valuable tools for the Wolfe scholar (yes, there truly are Wolfe scholars) and, what’s even better, fun to read in their own right.’

Warner has a great SF collection for us to considered reading: ‘Gideon Marcus’ collection Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (1958-1963) represents a narrow slice of writing from a historically marginalized group within the genre. Featuring stories by both forgotten and known authors, this volume plumbed the depths of old magazines to find women’s stories and present them to the reader.’

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Kathleen and her sister Kage wrote up the matter of Two Fat Ladies whose DVD series documented that they were brilliant English cooks who rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, drank excessively, smoked and cooked using bloody great hunks of meat, butter and anything else that isn’t good for you. And funny as all Hell as well. Which the review is as well. Like so many similar English series, there is a companion book which we’ll get around to reviewing someday.

PRobert has a second look at the second volume in an anime series: ‘I’m not sure why, but I remember The Devil’s Trill, the second chapter in the story of Asato Tsuzuki, his partner Hisoka Kurasaki, and the doings of the Summons Section of the Ministry of Hades, as being my least favorite segment of the season. It was a good idea to take a second look.’

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April continues our trek through Bill Willingham’s Fables series, starting with a volume that Robert reviewed last week: ‘These three volumes continue Bill Willingham’s fascinating tale of fairy tale denizens exiled to our own world, a story he began spinning with Legends in Exile and Animal Farm. Spanning issues 11-33 (albeit slightly out of order), these volumes provide further character development and some intriguing plot advancement, as The Adversary extends his reach far and wide to destroy those who escaped him.’

PGary reports back on Songs from Auleja, Latvian music by a women’s vocal group, Tautumeitas, whose name means folk maidens. ‘Their focus is the musical tradition of Auleja, a village in the eastern region of Latgale, which has a rich folk tradition, particularly in multipart singing of graceful, melodic song.’

Gary also reviews The Filter Bubble Blues by David Dondero: ‘The unjustly obscure blue-collar troubador who was once rated as one of the “best living songwriters” by NPR’s All Songs Considered, has made a good old-fashioned album of political folk songs to greet 2020.’

Hedningarna’s Karelia Visa gets this comment from Kim: ‘It’s an odd thing — one of the words which keeps coming to mind when I listen to this CD is “evocative.” But that raises the question, what exactly does it evoke? And I can’t really give you an answer, as I am not of Nordic origin and have never visited the area. So, it is indeed an interesting phenomenon to listen to a CD of a Swedish band travelling to the now-Russian province of Karelia, collecting the songs from that region to include on this recording, and to find it both exotic and evocative at the same time. Ah, the mysteries of music…’

Scott has more Latvian music for us: ‘Kitka are an all-female vocal ensemble from the the San Francisco Bay area that started in 1979.  While members have come and gone over the ensuing forty years, Kitka remain firmly committed to promoting and celebrating the rich and diverse musical traditions of Eastern Europe and the women who shaped many of these traditions with their voices. This past year, Kitka decided to revisit the musical themes they explored on Wintersongs with a new CD called Evening Star. Both albums are worth a close look, not simply to assess the quality of the music but to see how Kitka have evolved over time.’

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Our What Not is our perennial question: ‘What’s your favourite Tolkien?’ Catherynne picked The Silmarillion: ‘I love The Lord of the Rings. I was once a hardcore Sindarin-speaking LoTR geek, in the days of my misbegotten youth. It is a vast and important book. But I have to say that I feel the book is incomplete without The Silmarillion, which provides a depth and mythology, an understanding of the forces at work, a breadth and beauty that LoTR does not have on its own. I am one of the few who loves The Silmarillion for itself, devoured it in one sitting, had no trouble with the archaic language. It should get more love than it does.’

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Our music this time is ‘Out in the Ocean (Jig and Reel)’ from Rambling House, one of the bands founded by Brisbane based Paul Brandon, author of two very excellent novels, Swim the Moon and The Wide Reel.

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What’s New for the 5th of January: Little Christmas Is Here, Kushner’s Riverside series & Her Winter Queen Speech, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers considered, “Darkness, Darkness” covered twice and even recipes that are more or less inspired by that Riverside series!

Let the fairy tale begin on a winter’s morning, then, with one drop of blood newly-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as a single spot of claret on the lace cuff. ― Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint

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It snowed three feet in the past week here which means that no one, and I mean no one is coming or going from from this Estate. Fortunately we’ve but a handful of guests and all assure us that they have nowhere that they need be. It allows for just enough visitors to make it just a bit more lively here without being annoying.

We’ll likely be this way for at least a fortnight, so we do a few impromptu special things like a pouring of a reserve cider from my private Pub stock,  and assisting the Kitchen staff in baking sweet treats. Don’t laugh — it’s a great honour here to be allowed to be part of the Kitchen community! Rugelach made perfect is a hard thing to do right…

We’ve got Good Stuff for you including a look by Robert at all of Ellen Kushner’s Riverside works, two covers of Jesse Colin Young‘s ‘Darkness, Darkness’, some recipes to tempt you and…

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Ellen Kushner came up with one of the most captivating fantasy series in the history of the genre — at least, that’s Robert’s humble opinion. As he says in his opening remarks on Swordspoint: ‘Every once in a while, being a reviewer offers a special perk, whether it’s a new book by a favorite author, a new find who stands head and shoulders above the crowd, or the chance to take another look at an old favorite. So, when the Chief asked for a fresh look at Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, I was more than happy to agree. Call it “mannerpunk,” call it “fantasy,” call it what you will, it is still one of the best examples of speculative fiction I’ve ever read.’

Vonnie was equally enchanted by the audiobook: ‘A fantasy novel without overt fantasy elements, Swordspoint was written and now is narrated by Ellen Kushner, with some scenes dramatized by Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Nick Sullivan, and Simon Jones. It is a witty book, and an engaging audiobook. . . .’

The next episode in the story of Riverside is, indeed, history, or at least, the discovery of the history, as told by Kushner and Delia Sherman: ‘The Fall of the Kings is set sixty years after the events in the first novel, and with Delia Sherman as collaborator Kushner has broadened and enriched the context and created a story that still rings with the bustle of a vibrant city and adds an element of darker, more mysterious past to a time bathed in reason.’

Robert was equally impressed with a sequel: ‘If Swordspoint is a perfect gem, The Privilege of the Sword is the gem in its full setting: elegant, wicked, funny, intelligent, and fluent. There is, as is so often the case with truly good books, much more to this one than I can possibly discuss here.’

Next up for Robert was a novella in the series: ‘Ellen Kushner, in the tradition of writers of fantastic literature everywhere, has built an amazingly detailed and appealing universe in her series of novels and stories about the nameless City that contains Riverside and the Hill and those who inhabit it. The Man With the Knives takes us out of the City for a tale that takes place between The Privilege of the Sword and “The Death of the Duke.”

The final offering in the series — so far — is a multi-author collection: ‘Tremontaine is the latest foray into the world of Swordspoint, but it is not, as I had at first supposed, a collection of stories. It is, rather, an ongoing narrative with chapters by a group of writers, most of whom are new to me. . . . One thing that deserves mention, given the number of people working on this story, is the stylistic consistency: if there are differences in style or diction, they are so subtle as to escape notice.’

Cat ran across an omnibus in the form of an audiobook, including Swordspoint and more: ‘I discovered on Audible that it was the start of forty-five hours of listening pleasure called The Swords of Riverside, which also contains, if anything so mundane can contain such superb novels, The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings.’

There — that should keep you occupied on those long winter evenings.

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In keeping with our book reviews this edition, Ellen Kushner has published a group of recipes that are more or less inspired by the Riverside novels.  She notes:  “On this page, you’ll find everything from recipes and menus created by fans of the series to delight the Mad Duke Tremontaine and his Riverside friends, to ones created by friends of the author to keep her at her desk.”  You can find them all here.

PDavid looks at the The Three Musketeers  and The Four Musketeers, both directed by Richard Lester: ‘The two films stand on their own merits individually but also form a wonderful whole when viewed together. The characters develop from the first to the second film. The relationships grow convincingly, and the action never lets up. There is sex, romance, and true love. There is action, and wit, and slapstick comedy. The scripts are glorious models of the screenwriter’s art, and there is not a bad performance to be seen. The sets are rich and faithful to the time, and the score (by Lalo Schifrin) underpins it all.’

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For our Graphic Literature offering this week, Robert has a look at a collection in Bill Willilngham’s Fables series: ‘Storybook Love is the third collected volume of Bill Willingham’s Fables, and given the somewhat mordant cast of the first two volumes, one might guess that the love of the title is not all it’s cracked up to be — it’s certainly not anything you’re going to find in a fairy tale.’

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Brendan has a tasty recording from Finland for your consideration: ‘JPP — short for Järvelän Pikkupelimannit (” Little Folk Musicians of Järvelä”) — originally formed in 1983 as a local fiddle orchestra in the small town of Järvelä, Finland. Formed around the nucleus of 3 fiddlers, including leader Arto Järvelä, a harmonium player, and a bass player, they spent most of the Eighties and early Nineties gathering a devoted following in Finland and across the world and the reputation of being particularly inventive interpreters of Finland’s rich folk heritage. With the publication of Kaustinen Rhapsody, JPP proved itself to be excellent performers of contemporary music as well.’

Jayme looks at what I’d say is essential listening for Celtic music fans: ‘There’s no gloss and polish here like you’d find on, say, an Altan disc, no studio jiggery and double-tracked harmonies that are so commonplace on a Clannad release. Not that those are necessarily bad things, mind you, but every one of the 11 tracks on The Best of Silly Wizard sound like they were recorded in one take in the studio, with the entire band playing at once, rather than the more common practice of laying down each instrument separately and mixing later. Now, I don’t know if that’s actually the way Silly Wizard recorded the music here, but the end result.’

Mike went off to see a legendary group: ‘The Dubliners are true legends of folk music, having now performed together as a group for 44 years. Many of the stories they tell of Dublin, are of a city that has all but disappeared in this day and age, and they are now as much a part of folklore as the songs and tunes that they perform.’ The band would disband six years after this concert and on their 50th year of being together. They’ve done some re-unions, but who doesn’t?

And Michael  looks at an album from Maddy Prior: ‘An icon of English folk rock, Prior knows how to set her impressive vocal talents among supportive instrumental accompaniment. I won’t repeat the history of her career with Steeleye Span and Carnival, because Lahri Bond has already done that in his retrospective review which gives a great summary of personnel changes and albums, while Naomi de Bruyn covered her decision to leave the band after 28 years in her review of Prior’s compilation album Memento. Known and loved for her sweet, clear voice, Prior continues the tradition of fine vocal delivery with Ravenchild.’

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One of my Several Annies found this week’s What Not in the Archives: Ellen Kushner’s Winter Queen Speech on The City in Winter: ‘Once, not so long ago – but longer ago now than it was then – it snowed in the city, and did not stop until everything changed. When we woke up, all the usual sounds were gone. No one was begging for loose change, or yelling for help from muggers, or telling her husband everything was all his fault. Some children were laughing and building snowmen in the courtyard of our building. There were no cars.’

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The Infinite Jukebox, our Media Server, says it’s ‘Darkness, Darkness’, the Youngbloods song written by Jesse Colin Young way back in 1969, here performed by the Irish-American group Solas at State Theatre in Ithaca just eighteen years ago. Now it just happen that we also have Robert Plant doing the same song, so let’s give that a listen as well. Well that’s awesome.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: New Years Eve

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Time is never called in my recurring dream of pubs. — Ciaran Carson in Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music

It is a hundred different late evenings in the deep of a hundred different winters in a hundred different cities.

What little light we’ve had today is fading from the lowering clouds, the wind blowing ever more bitterly cold. The few birds left scavenging the sidewalks in the late afternoon gloom sound small and worried as they speak in tiny, short notes. Even fewer people, muffled and featureless in scarves pulled high and hats pulled low, move quickly through the streets on their way to somewhere warm. Everywhere there are grey shadows and deeper shadows growing together into dark. Rain and snow and sleet fall in intermittent spurts, adding a baffling reflective quality to the deepening, developing night.

Frozen moments of different winters layer themselves into the same winter, the same dark, the same gloom, the same scurry for warmer spaces, like one of those flip books with the sketches slightly off-kilter.

Inside the pubs, the bars, the common rooms, it is that same moment of afternoon moving into night, too early for just-laid fires in the clamorous grate to have any effect at all on the loneliness of the room. You’re still waiting for the space to be warmed by others like you, your footsteps clunking noisily over wooden floors with no company but the ghosts of other feet stomping over the planks. The people have not yet arrived to make the room alive, they’re heading home to get ready for the evening to come, they’re at the shops laying on provisions for dinner, they’re trapped in the Tube, the buses, in the cars, in the trains, but you can’t see them, you’re still waiting for the session to come together, the musicians still somewhere out in the cold, with only the potentiality of the session to come.

The winter solstice has come and gone, and the nights are supposedly getting shorter while the days lengthen, but the dark comes far too early for real comfort, making the days feel stunted, aborted.

You hold cold fingers out to the infant fire, to the hundreds of fires that came before and will come after, the coal, the wood, the peat, piled up in a lumpy pyramid in the grate, thin young flames licking up in quick flicks and leaps; the fireplace, the stove, the firebox actually seeming colder than before the fire was lit, in that strange, backward way of the swept fireplace and a new fire.

You tacitly volunteer to feed the new fire, adding some coal, a piece or two of peat, as the voices of the bar staff echo around the empty room as they slice the lemons, stack the glasses, and check the inventory.

Perhaps not quite empty, there’s almost always that regular who seems to magically appear without coming through any doors, sometimes more than one, sitting at the bar, lines sagging down beside his mouth, facing down a glass of amber liquid between his cupped hands, quiet words for the guy next to him or to the bartender as he clanks the bottles into place for the evening.

And in a hundred potential moments, you are dimly aware of the session gathered in the corner around the table, already playing in full spate; you’ve never heard Jim Donohue’s played that fast or that drive-y before, god that big-boned fiddler and that tall narrow piper are cranking through it, mighty and mighty again.

And in a hundred moments the musicians are still trailing into the pub, trickling in like drops of water gathering themselves into a puddle, instrument cases slung over shoulders or dangling down their backs, eyeing the spot they want to sit in, stopping off at the bar for a drink in the case of early arrivals, or coming over to put the goods down in a chair in the case of later, claiming a space for their own before stopping for their drink.

In a hundred quietened rooms, the pretty singer the men have been eyeing all evening has been called on for a song, and she sways as she sings of the wee girl with a dark and roving eye and bad company and love betrayed and love found and wars fought and won and lost, young men dying for love or war or the right or the wrong or for nothing at all, and maids with agricultural jobs and love on their minds losing garters to soldiers, to craftsmen, to shepherds, in unlikely circumstance; and for a hundred potential moments it’s all true and as likely as anything else that happens to anyone.

A hundred moments flash over and under each other, shifting without even the blink of an eye, and you choose the one you want and move into the moment, the space, the place where you need to be.

And, in this moment and in this time, there you are, here along with us.

And the fire leaps and crackles, as we play the tunes in the warm and crowded room, as the music shifts from reel to jig to reel to polka, from good to wreckingly horrible to brilliant, from the hotshots to the beginners to the lot of us. We toast to the new year and the cycles that bring us together and tear us apart, and to the publican and to each other, here in a hundred moments at the Neverending Session, at the Pub on the Edge, the Green Man Pub under Reynard’s watchful eye, in the kitchens of the Green Man’s building, in corners of hallways, as we launch into another set of tunes.

Outside, the night is black and unbelievably cold, the wind biting at noses and fingers, and Samhain’s ever-present ravens are croaking as they huddle under dripping, icy trees. Inside, at this moment and in this time, we are together, and warm, and happy (or, at the very least, content as only someone forgetting unhappiness for the space of a night can be).

Best wishes to you in the New Year. May it bring you peace and warmth and happiness and music. Stay with us a while.

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What’s New for the 29th of December: Best Music of The Decade, Holdstock Interviewed, and Other Holiday Matters

Did she form out of the leaf- litter? Did wild animals carry sticks together and shape them into bones, and then, over the autumn, dying leaves fall and coat the bones in wildwood flesh? Was there a moment, in the wood, when something approximating to a human creature rose from the underbrush, and was shaped to perfection by the intensity of the human will, operating outside the woodland? — Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood

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As I write these words up a few days before publication, all the windows on the three sides facing the outdoors of the four story cube that’s our new Library, well a century and some decades old new, are reflecting the snow that’s coming steadily down as the lights inside illuminate it. Even many of the Estate felines are intently watching it fall.

In scattered groups, Estate residents are reading or conversing; in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room, a book group’s enjoying the roaring fire there with Kushner’s Riverside series getting the liveliest commentary; and I see Ingrid, our Estate Steward, sitting with a cup of tea with Reynard, our Pub Manager who’s her husband, who’s  in turn enjoying a wee dram of his private stock, conversing quietly as they watch the snow fall from their seats on the fourth floor of the Library.

So let’s see what’s my Several Annies who helped my select the contents of this edition found for you to consider for your pleasure over the holidays.

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Gary leads us off  with a truly epic novel: ‘The world is groping for a new mythology, one that makes sense in a world that has seen nuclear devastation and sent humans to the moon; a world that encompasses both communications satellites and children starving to death in the midst of plenty. Perhaps the new mythology will be found in the multiple collisions of cultures, histories, arts and religions; maybe it will be birthed through the agency of pop culture, which has supplanted classical music and art. Or so Salman Rushdie seems to be saying in his sprawling, entertaining and challenging novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.’

Donal Hickey’s Stone Mad for Music gets reviewed by John: ‘Subtitled “The Sliabh Luachra story,” this book attempts to demythologize the heartland of Sliabh Luachra, a legendary area where Irish traditional music is concerned. To fans of Irish music, Sliabh Luachra will need no introduction. Something of a mini republic in Irish music terms, Sliabh Luachra, translated from the Gaelic as ‘the mountain of the rushes,’ is an area that has written its own rule book within the Irish traditional lexicon and produced its share of masterful exponents. The music is characterized by a wild reckless energy, which somehow symbolizes the rugged nature of the area.’

Autumn passing into Winter which is a time of  parting all too often so it’s apt that Richard has a look at this work: ‘Even before the untimely passing of author Robert Holdstock, it would have been impossible to read Avilion as anything other than a tale of partings, a resolution to many of the threads woven through the Ryhope Wood cycle. Now, it reads as a fond and graceful farewell to Ryhope and the Huxley family, an affectionate gift of endings to characters who, in their own ways, have all earned peace.’

Warner concludes his review of Nicholas Meyer’s The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols by saying ‘ This volume is easy to recommend to fans of Sherlock Holmes, and fans of period mysteries in general. To anyone who enjoyed The Seven Percent Solution this book represents an obvious must read. To those looking for an interesting novel of the great detective featuring historical evils, it is similarly easy to recommend.’ Now read his review to see how he came to those conclusions.

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Liz has a tasty offering for us: ‘Fairy Tale Feasts presents 20 classic fairy tales from around the world masterfully told by ace word slinger Jane Yolen. The tales are accompanied by recipes written by her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrations by Philippe Béha. The book includes fairytales from European, African-American, Ashkenazi Jewish, Arabic, Turkish and Chinese cultures. Sidebars give quick facts regarding the stories and the foods mentioned in them.’

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Robert takes a look at a sequel to one of his favorite anime series: ‘Given how much I enjoyed (and still enjoy) Gensomaden Saiyuki, the first anime series based on Kazuya Minekura’s manga, getting my hands on the sequel, Saiyuki Reload, was a foregone conclusion. It’s only half the length of the first series, and left me with some mixed reactions.’

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Robert thoroughly enjoyed two collections of Gail Simone’s Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation and Unhinged: ‘Gail Simone’s Secret Six is actually the third superhero team under that name. The first two were really, truly heroes; this group, not so much. They are, in fact, all bad guys from the DC Universe, some recycled from other stories, some created for this series, and brought together for the first time in Villains United.’

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Our sole music entry this week is Gary’s look back at his favorite music from the decade that’s just about to end. He says he found the 2010s something of a turbulent decade, and that seems to be reflected in the nature of the music he enjoyed the most. ‘That probably helps explain why so much of my favorite music from the 2010s has been … not comforting, but evocative. Capable of arousing deep emotions of a pensive nature; inviting of contemplation; challenging but at the same time welcoming.’

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Our What Not this time is an authors’ look at his work, a work deeply infused with Arthurian, Celtic and English folklore, to wit Robert Holdstock on his Mythago Cycle. Richard reviewed for us the entire Mythago Cycle as the author calls it here  but it’s illuminating to hear what the author has to say: ‘It came as a shock to realise that 2009 is the 25th anniversary of Mythago Wood, the novel I wrote from my dreams, and under the influence of my grandfather’s eerie tales, told to me when I was a child. I loved his stories: frightening and vivid. They shaped me.’ You can read his article here.

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And what shall we part company with for music on this Winter night? Something spriteLy I think, how about ‘Take This Waltz’? which is well not quite upbeat perhaps but interesting as this was Leonard Cohen some ten years ago at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. I won’t say more about it as it’s based off a Spanish poem which you can do a search on it after you listen to it.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Package from Budapest

PNicholas Winter, the Global News Service correspondent who’s a friend of many folks here, just sent Bela and others lovers of Hungarian food a very tasty shipment of food and spirits from Budapest! The lucky soul got to spend December in that city, which really knows hope to celebrate the season in good fashion.

In his letter with this shipment which I’ll detail shortly, he noted that he hadn’t been there for the Christmas season since the Wall came down and it’s certainly been an amazing recovery for that city from the dark days of Communist Party rule. He was there to review, among other things, the Budapest concert by Chasing Fireflies, a band that includes small piper Finn, my wife Catherine on violin, and, in her first professional concert, violinist Svetlana, Ingrid’s sister from Ukraine who’s now resident here.

(There was a small group of us from the Kinrowan Estate who went over for a week after Christmas as that’s actually the best time as the tourists are gone. Catherine speaks Hungarian as she did her postgrad work in music history here. And that’s very handy there.)

I suspect Ingrid helped in choosing the contents as she’s the expert at finding the best of anything wanted. Winter’s admitted to me that shopping is not his favourite thing to do, but he’ll happily tag along and pick up the tab if someone else is doing the decision making. It’s a good thing that his bank account is flush.

There was a case of properly aged barack palinka, the apricot brandy every Hungarian loves; lots of lekvar, a preserve made of plums; smoked garlic infused Kolbasz sausage; several rashers of Kolozsvari bacon; large strings of dried whole paprika peppers; Egri Bikaver, a full bodied red wine; and even Csokoldetorta, a chocolate cake favoured in this season.

There was enough szaloncukor chocolate to decorate the fir tree in the Great Hall in traditional Hungarian style and have enough left over to enjoy.

There was, for the Estate knitters, wool from the Hungarian Racka sheep, both white and black. Of course it was fleeces as its best prepared by those who would be knitting with it. The shouts of joy from them were indeed enough to me me smile.

Now you and I should make our way quickly down to the kitchen for afternoon tea. There’s fresh baked Turos Lepeny (Hungarian yeast bread with cheese topping) out of the brick ovens, which goes well with the lekvar.

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What’s New for the 22nd of December: Winter Solstice Edition

Most dragons don’t know how to read. They hiss and fume and guard their hoard. A tasty knight is what they need For dinner (they spit out the sword), Then go to sleep on heaps of treasure. They’ve no use for the written word. — Ursula K. Leguin

It’s a bitterly cold and quite snowy December afternoon, so I am hankering for a lunch that was contained in a bowl, and that was warm and comforting, preferably with a tomato and garlic stock. Fussy, aren’t I? Let’s see what the Kitchen is up to…

Yes, that’s Kathleen tending the stockpot over in the corner of our Kitchen. She has a journal where she talks about her late sister Kage Baker, author of the  exceptionally good  Company SF series. This entry, which you can read here has her reminiscing about Kage during the Christmas season. And her stockpot smells delicious! I wonder what’s in it?

There’s a veritable bevy of books, music, films and yes, even hot chocolate, to keep you warm and hopefully cheery as the Winter sets in this week. Now excuse me while I go enjoy a soup of smoked garlic pork sausage and navy beans with grated cheddar cheese on it with floating herbed croutons.

Cat leads off our book reviews with a novel he really loves: ‘Emma Bull hasn’t written many novels in her career but all of them are superb in their own way. Be it Bone Dance, Finder or War for The Oaks, my favorite of her novels, all are superbly written. So when I recently was looking for a novel to read on one of the many cold, rainy nights we’ve had this Autumn, I turned to Finder, a novel I enjoy re-reading every few years.’

Robert weighs in with a look at a pair of novels by C. J. Cherryh: ‘C. J. Cherryh is known mainly as a science-fiction writer who sometimes writes fantasy. And then there are the times that she seems to be doing both at the same time. Rider at the Gate, the first of her Finisterre novels, is, strictly speaking, science fiction, and is marked by Cherryh’s characteristic density of plot and solid universe-building. It reads, however, like a particularly frightening fantasy.’

Warner likes this series and book a lot: ‘M.C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series has been around for decades, and has permuted into both the television and radio series. The titular character, a public relations expert who finds herself increasingly drawn into crime solving, serves as an intelligent but odd and entertaining lead. The latest volume in this series is Beating About the Bush featuring the rather clever hook of the lead and her associate Toni finding fake body part disguised to look like that of a real woman, it is a volume that continues on a comic detective vein which Beaton has proven so well able to tap.’

Another mystery likewise appealed to him: ‘Another Sherlock Holmes tale has been released, in the form of Mercedes Lackey’s The Case of the Spellbound Child. Lackey is a very experienced author, known for her Valdemar series and this, the Elemental Masters, series amongst others. She has also written three prior volumes in this particular series which featured Sherlock Holmes, and 13 prior volumes in the series overall. Once again the reader is given a tale where Holmes plays something of an auxiliary role, and Watson, his wife Mary, and Nan and Sara must take the case.’

Hot chocolate becomes very popular with folks here when the weather turns cold, with or without a measure of brandy in it. Richard had a recommendation on where you can find great hot chocolate in a place called Matthews: ‘Now, North Carolina’s not what you’d call a hot chocolate hotbed, at least east of the mountains, on account of the fact that it’s generally pretty warm. Which is why I never expected the hot chocolate in this shop which my wife practically dragged me into (she’d done some scouting, having previously infiltrated Hillsborough with friends on a yarn-shopping expedition) would blow my socks off.’

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

Kathleen looks at a work by another well-regarded composer: ‘Indeed Claude Debussy is one of my favorite composers, but I hadn’t heard ‘“Noel des Enfants Qui N’ont Plus De Maisons” (“Christmas Carol for Homeless Children”)’ until recently. It’s on soprano Carmen Balthrop’s lovely CD The Art of Christmas, Vol. 1. Strange, disturbing (and possibly disturbed) thing – Debussy wrote it in 1915 during World War I as a plea for vengeance, a prayer from the French children that the Germans should have no Christmas.’

Let’s have Michael say a few words about the next recording: ‘It would be easy to say that a collaboration between Steeleye Span and Terry Pratchett was always inevitable, given their respective histories and their proclaimed admiration of each other’s work. It may be an example of retrospective inevitability now that it has actually happened in the form of the Wintersmith CD, however. In any case, the end result is one that is overwhelmingly a credit to all concerned; worthy of the names involved and their reputations.’

Patrick says of the Solas concert he saw that ‘I went to bed with their music in my head, and when I woke up the next morning, it was still there. That’s just how good Solas’ March 21 show at Rosebud in Pittsburgh was. Strains of “Black Annis,” “Darkness Darkness” and “Dignity” ran through my dreams all night, haunting me with melodies I could clearly hear but not quite grasp in the darkness of sleep.’

Robert has an omni review of a group that somehow escaped our notice until recently: ‘Somehow, we’ve never reviewed any recordings by the Anglo-Swedish folk-roots group Swåp here at GMR. The four musicians who compose Swåp (Ola Bäckström, fiddle; Ian Carr, guitar and vocals; Carina Normansson, fiddle and vocals; and Karen Tweed, accordion and vocals) met in 1995 and, being musicians, jammed together for a bit. And then jammed some more — they had the distinct feeling they were on to something.’

 

Our What Not is Ellen Kushner’s Winter Queen Speech on The City in Winter: ‘Once, not so long ago – but longer ago now than it was then – it snowed in the city, and did not stop until everything changed. When we woke up, all the usual sounds were gone. No one was begging for loose change, or yelling for help from muggers, or telling her husband everything was all his fault. Some children were laughing and building snowmen in the courtyard of our building. There were no cars.’

So let’s leave you with some seasonally apt music. Or at least what I consider such which in this case would a steller performance by Loreena McKennitt of her “Dickens’ Dublin”. It’s from ‘A Loreena McKennitt Christmas’ on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic program from December 1994. McKennitt announced putting her performing career on hold to devote her time and energy to fighting the harmful effects of technology and the threat of global warming.

Oh and I should note we make our own Christmas music as well, which you can see in this letter to Ekaterina by Gus on “Carols and Other Matters”.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Queens

Most stories about the Fey, she told us, say there is a duality to the rulers that reflects the duality of Summer and Winter — a King who rules over Summer, and one who rules Winter, each with his own attributes, the Oak King and the Holly King, the husband and the sage. Oh, the stories differ on which aspect of the year is made flesh by one or the other, but the idea of one to rule the season is very, very old.

But what if there were two Queens, a Summer Queen and a Winter Queen? She told us that story just recently on one of those blustery nights where a blazing fire and a whiskey seem just right.  The storyteller was dressed for early winter in a skirt that looked like falling oak leaves, a blouse in a brown dark as the bark on a spruce, and a hat like the black of the night sky.

She said that the Queens had ruled for time beyond knowing by any mortal. The Queens, she said, keep the balance of the Year from going askew. There are no sacrifices of Oak Kings, no fighting for dominance, as one queen cannot exist without the other. Oh, they do battle as they please — both have their sword fighters, mostly female, but they only do battle to first blood, and even that is rare, since both are peaceful sorts, one ruling the season of growth, one the season of rest.

She drank deeply of her whiskey, and finished off by stressing that her story of course was just a story, nothing more. Then she stood up and left us to think about it.

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What’s New for the 15th of December: Gwyneth on Chestnuts, Reynard on De Lint, the Ministry of Hades, Live Music by Tull and Other Wintery Matters

Let me bring you songs from the wood:
To make you feel much better than you could know
Dust you down from tip to toe
Show you how the garden grows
Hold you steady as you go
Join the chorus if you can:
It’ll make of you an honest man

Jethro Tull

So, you’re curious about that pile of books? You know that we’re very fond of the music, food, drink and, of course, the literature of the Appalachian Mountains?  Charles de Lint wrote a children’s book, A Circle of Cats, that was set there, which was marvellously illustrated by Charles Vess, an artist extraordinaire. Just take a look at it.

Years later they took this work and created The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a full-blown children’s book rich in the folklore of that region that has even more astonishing illustrations by Vess. Yeah, it’s lovely too. Though marketed to a younger audience, I’d recommend to anyone looking for a excellent read, including you. I’ve got a copy on my iPad that I’m reading right now.

Now for something more adult. Yes, that is a chocolate malted rye straight bourbon whiskey. There’s actually no chocolate in it, just simply a malted grain that’s been toasted to bring out a lot more of its sugars, which yields chocolatey notes in the finished whisky. Yes it’s pricey but oh, so worth it. Shall I…? Good.

Gary says it takes a while for the action to start in the new book by C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher, but it’s worth the wait. ‘Alliance Rising is approximately the umpteenth book set in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe, a space opera series that starts on near-future Earth and extends far into the future and a good way into our galactic neighborhood.’

Matthew says cautiously ‘it is with hesitation that I read a book that is a “prequel” to another book I’ve enjoyed. But when that “prequel” is by one of my favorite authors, I set aside the reluctance and dive right in. Kage Baker, in The House of the Stag, delivers us the background history of the Lord of the Mountain, the half-demon father of spoiled lordling Lord Ermenwyr, who we met in Baker’s previous fantasy novel, The Anvil of the World.’

Robert brings us three stage adaptations of three stories by Orson Scott Card: ‘Adaptations for the stage or screen are often problematical, as witness the critical brickbats thrown several years ago over the relative merits of the screen renderings of The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Stage adaptations are subject to much the same criteria for examination. What is most interesting, for those who do take interest in such things, is the circumstance in which the adaptations are done — such as with the willing connivance or (in the case of Posing As People) more or less at the instigation of the author of the original story.’

Warner says ‘Overall, Chloe Neill’s Wicked Hour is a rather good volume. It tells a complete supernatural mystery where the rules are fairly straightforward and motivations are understandable. The romance is believable and the interactions between the loving couple appreciated. If one likes Eileen Will’s World of the Lupi or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, this work might appeal.’

Befitting the time of year, we asked Gwyneth what her favorite winter comfort food was and here’s the lead-in to her long and delightful answer: ‘Chestnuts, I’m obsessed with chestnuts at Christmas. The obsession dates back to childhood, when chestnuts roasted over the coals on a fire-shovel were a winter treat, back in the primitiive and labour intensive days when my parents’ house was heated by an Aga (solid fuel range) in the kitchen, and coal/wood fires elsewhere. And marrons glacees were the ultimate in sophistication. . . until I finally tried them, and wondered what the fuss was about. (I’m sure they’re very nourishing, by the way) Now I live in Sussex, I expect to forage a kilo or so of sweet chestnuts in October or November. After that it’s hit or miss. One year I slung them in the freezer wet and still in the shell & they defrosted as mush. Another year I left them in a copper bowl in a corner they went mouldy & the bowl suffered too. The supermarket then provides, boring!’

Robert brings us his thoughts on the beginning of an anime series that he describes as “supernatural adventure with comic elements’: ‘Vampire’s Lure introduces us to the Summons Section of the Ministry of Hades, which is charged with leading the souls of the recently deceased to the afterlife, and with investigating any anomalies among such souls — like the ones who are supposed to be dead but haven’t shown up in the afterlife yet. The hero of the series, Asato Tsuzuki (voiced by Shinichiro Miki), is a very powerful shinigami (basically, “death god”) who happens to be a real slacker with an obsessive desire for sweets: as he says, he always makes sure to have dessert after every meal. At any rate, there has been a series of killings in Nagasaki, which is in Tsuzuki’s territory, all involving puncture wounds and bodies drained of blood. Tsuzuki is sent off to investigate. His new partner will meet him there.’

Gary say ‘if you’re looking for kick-up-your-heels Celtic rock, the Clumsy Lovers have it by the keg-full on Barnburner. A toast to these musicians, who not only write most of their own music, but also self-produce and distribute their own CDs and tapes.’

Kim says ‘Altan were one of the first truly traditional groups I came to love, and they will always be one of my favorites! I hadn’t seen Altan in five years or so–last time was at the World Theater in St. Paul–so this evening was a great treat, and anticipated with bated breath.’

The idea of four Finnish cellists playing Metallica didn’t appeal initially to Mia: ‘How often is an album of cover tunes the most original, creative, and enjoyable CD imaginable? Well, how about when the self-styled “Four Bowmen of the Apocalypse” released Apocalyptica Plays Metallica By Four Cellos? Yes, that’s right, four classically trained cellists playing music by one of the loudest, angriest bands in the heavy metal universe. Sound strange? Not being a big fan of Metallica to begin with, I wasn’t overwhelmed with any great desire to listen to Apocalyptica. Then I heard the first track, and discovered my mistake. Apocalyptica is amazing.’ As good as that album was, she also reviews a second album by them, Inquisition Symphony, which she says is even better!

Stephen reviews a CD that, well, never actually officially existed: ‘Overall, this is a fine piece of work from a talented, versatile and engaging group. The CD isn’t commercial available, and the criticisms expressed are almost certainly associated with recording on a ‘shoestring’ budget, rather than with musicianship. Rambling House should get lots of bookings on the strength of this ‘demo’. Hopefully, Mr. Brandon will still find the time to write a book or two!’

Our What Not this time is an authors’ look at his work, a work deeply infused with Arthurian, Celtic and English folklore, to wit Robert Holdstock on his Mythago Cycle. Richard reviewed for us the entire Mythago Cycle as the author calls it here  but it’s illuminating to hear what the author has to say: ‘It came as a shock to realise that 2009 is the 25th anniversary of Mythago Wood, the novel I wrote from my dreams, and under the influence of my grandfather’s eerie tales, told to me when I was a child. I loved his stories: frightening and vivid. They shaped me.’ You can read his article here.


Now indeed ’Songs From The Wood’ is one of the great Tull songs — full throated, pagan in nature and with Ian at his very best in this take of it. It was recorded some forty years ago at the LA Sports Arena off the soundboard by the band themselves, so it’s a great recording.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Maze

Dear Katrina,

The Several Annies wanted an outside work project for this early Winter so I’ve had them cleaning up the Maze, which has fallen into disrepair over the past few centuries. I blame that on it being in a remote part of the Estate, so remote that we had to pack lunches with us as it’s several hours walk each way to it. It almost made me consider the idea of having horses here once again as they would be ever so useful, but we really aren’t set up to house them without ramping up for hay and grain production and their upkeep is a pain in the royal arse. Small stock, the mastiffs, and the house felines are easy — the local vet comes in and does what needs doing with them at her convenience. Horses can need a vet at the spur of a bad moment and that doesn’t work when the vet in the Winter might be three hours getting here!

(I’ve suggested to the Steward that we need to hire a vet to be here but he balked at the cost of setting up a surgery for her. What I suggested is if we might serve as a sort of apprentice programme for the local practice instead. She said she’d mull it over.)

You’ll remember the Maze because we visited it several years back. Fortunately it’s made of stones set in the ground as opposed to the living mazes that the Victorians were ever so fond of. (Alexandra failed in her attempt to get the Steward to allow one of those to be constructed on the greensward. She pouted for months afterward according to her Journal.) So mostly the stones needed to pulled out of the ground where they had been mostly buried after falling over, vegetation cut back, and the stones scoured of dirt and uprighted.

It’s a big maze — well over thirty yards in breadth and shaped like a spiral. No idea who made it or when as, like the standing stones elsewhere on the Estate, the ancient builders didn’t leave records. The stones are obviously scavenged, showing no sign of being carved — just placed in a design. I’m very proud of the girls as they did all of the heavy lifting, sometimes using pulleys, to right the downed ones and generally being able to do what frustrates too many lads — thinking as they go along!

I think I’ll have Iain doing a Blessing of The Stones on Winter Solstice — If he’s truly ordained in the Church of Oak, Ash, and Thorn as he says he was when he did the handfasting this month, that should tickle his fancy. We’ll build a bonfire and have a feast here as well.

With love and affection, Gus

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Whats New for the 8th of December: Scarecrows, A Classic H.G.Wells’ Novel , Metallica in Antarctica, So-so chocolate, Improv Jazz, Steeleye sans Maddy and Other Interesting Matters

I cursed him in my heart. “Um, what day is it?” With the infinite patience of someone used to dealing with drunks, musicians, and techies, he replied, “Sunday.” — Sparrow in Emma Bull’s Bone Dance: A Fantasy for Technophiles (First chapter is here.)

Yes I’m covered with kibbles and bits of straw. It’s the time of year that we make new scarecrows, bodach ròcais in Scots Gaelic, to replace the ones created the previous Autumn as they only last a single growing season. No, they don’t go out until Spring but the straw’s available now and the Several Annies assist in the creation of them. There’s a minor magic placed upon them to keep the mice from eating them, plus the Estate cats are very good at keeping the mouse population way down.

Give me a few minutes to get clean clothes on and I’ll serve you. I’ve got a whisky that I think you should try, it’s Toiteach, which is a wonderfully peaty single malt from the Bunnahabhain distillery. Served neat with neither water nor ice is how we do it, as there’s no single malts here that shouldn’t be appreciated that way.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Scots whiskeys, take a look at the review by Stephen of the late Iain Banks’ Raw Spirit: In Search of The Perfect Dram as I believe it’s simply the best look at single drams ever done.

Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata according to Gary is ‘a book of equal parts jaw-dropping wonder and world-shattering violence, relief is offered by the Ships: their names themselves and the droll and witty dialog between and among them as they go about debating their course of action and concocting rationalizations for once again meddling in the affairs of another civilization.’

Marian looks at a trilogy by Jane Yolen that deserves to be a classic. First up is ‘The Books of Great Alta  which is the compilation of Yolen’s two books in the series,  Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna. It is the story of the women of Dale, who worship Great Alta, the mother goddess and what happens to them for better or worse.’ If you’ve read these already, then do read Marian’s review of  the final volume, The One-Armed Queen, but otherwise do not as it has major spoilers about what happens in the first two novels.

Naomi has what could considered what’s called a cozy mystery for us: ‘In Cat on the Edge, the first novel in a delightful series of fast-paced mystery and whimsical fantasy by Shirley Rousseau Murphy, we find tomcat Joe Grey undergoing a strange metamorphosis. Not only is he able to understand human speech, he can actually speak! This is enough to shake a cat out of at least eight of his nine lives, but then Joe Grey witnesses a murder in the alley behind his favorite delicatessen, and it could very well cost him his final ninth life!’

Warner has the newest edition of a classic for us: ‘There is something to be said for the extremely fine additions being put out at small presses today. An example of such would be the new edition of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau  released by Beehive Books, featuring an introduction by Guillermo del Toro and illustrations by Bill Sienkiewicz.”

Jennifer Stevenson substitutes a fancy brand of all vegan, all gluten-free, all dairy- and nut-free, all singing, all-dancing chocolate mega chunks in her whisky-cherry brownie recipe and reports on the results.

Gary reviews an album of trance and drone by a group called Nous. ‘Nous is a New York-based experimental music project with a fluctuating group of artists “exploring ritual and spontaneity,” and Nous II is an album of improvised instrumental works that seamlessly blend acoustic and electronic instruments and percussion.’

Gary also liked the two-disc vinyl LP reissue of Mal Waldron Trio’s Free At Last: ‘This package is a perfect way to put a wrap on ECM’s 50th Anniversary celebrations and to introduce Waldron to a generation of jazz fans who may have forgotten his unprepossessive genius.’

Kim sees an Irish singer sans her usual band: ‘If you are a fan of Solas’s early work, or if you’ve heard Karan Casey in one of her guest spots on other albums, you know why you will love Songlines. She’s simply got an amazing voice that is unique among Irish singers. I suspect this somber album will also work for those of us who long for more and find tales of like-minded, discontented types soothing. It certainly works for me, and I look forward to hearing Casey’s more recent work.’

And Tony sees Steeleye Span sans Maddy: ‘True of all Steeleye members is a good sense of humour; and Gay is no exception, during the inevitable ‘Hat’ instead of singing ‘a small sprig of thyme,’ Gay changed it to ‘a small sprig of logic’ which I found most amusing. If I was going to make any criticism of the evening it would-be that I would have liked to have heard more of the new album, and maybe a few more really old classics from years gone by, but I am nitpicking really, It was an excellent gig and a relief to know that Steeleye Span, despite a major upheaval, have lived to tell the tale, and here’s wishing them every success for a good few years to come.’

Vonnie really likes this recording: ‘Eivør Pálsdóttir has an astounding voice. I was speaking with two of my folk-music heroes at a folk festival the first time I heard her sing, and I stopped mid-conversation to find out who had hit that range of notes with such a clear and pure sound. In fact, the entire album of Eivør is about clarity and purity of sound, tempered by human concerns.’

Tis the season to hit the theater!  From Rockettes to your local school’s holiday concert, there’s a whole lot to enjoy. (Or sometimes to be dragged to, if we’re talking your distant relation’s piano recital…) But there’s one show that you’re gonna wish you could get to; Signature Theater’s A Chorus Line. Why am I excited about a musical that’s been around since 1975? Well, because this musical is incredible – don’t take my word for it, Line earned a Pulitzer in ‘76 – and in this production, the choreography has been modernized.

That’s right; except for ‘homage paying’ at the introduction and that epic kick-line ending, Signature’s choreography gives a fresh spin on the musical numbers, fitting perfectly in the smaller-ish theater. It’s the very first production to gain approval for a dance makeover in this musical’s history. And it’s outstanding. The production could easily go straight to West End or Broadway with little more than re-setting a few marks here and there to adapt to a larger stage. This Line is that good. And it had this Grinch’s heart growing three times when I saw it. Sadly, the rest of the run is completely sold out, but here’s hoping an extended run is in the cards. Trust me; it’d be a lovely holiday gift to any theater lover.

Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ is a definitely dark take on the Sandman myth for which vocalist and rhythm guitarist Hetfield wrote the lyrics, as it deals with the concept of a child’s nightmares. The lyrics such as this stanza, ‘Hush little baby, don’t say a word/ And never mind that noise you heard / It’s just the beasts under your bed / In your closet, in your head’ are as dark as any tale was that the Brothers Grimm collected oh so long ago.

This hour long concert was played acoustic outside with the sound transmitted to the listeners on wireless headphones so as not to disturb the the residents who weren’t human. Here’s what their website had to say about it:

This was the most unique show Metallica has ever done. The band, contest winners, research station scientists (from Russia, South Korea, China, Poland, Chile, Brazil and Germany), and the ship crew, all crammed in this little dome out on the helipad of Carlini Station in ANTARCTICA! The energy in the little dome was amazing! Words can not describe how happy everyone was.

The band cranked out 10 songs for the small crowd including Creeping Death, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Sad But True, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Master of Puppets, One, Blackened, Nothing Else Matters, Enter Sandman, and Seek & Destroy.

No word on if there were any penguins were attendance.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: On Maps

I overheard an interesting conversation that took place during High Tea in The Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room ‘ere in the Library on a rainy afternoon while our Librarian was taking a break from fussing over the edition of Green Man Review that he was assembling which is devoted to J. R. R. Tolkien and his splendid literary affairs. What follows is the condensed version of what was said as I took notes but didn’t write it all down. I found it to be fascinating, and I suspect so will you!

A Several Annie

Why maps? Isn’t the geographic descriptions in the text of work such as The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings enough to give the reader a grasp of where things are? I never had any trouble following narrative!

Sigh. . . . I see that you’re early in your apprenticeship here in my library; possibly even your first year, I gather.

(Mackenzie never remembers which of the Several Annies he’s talking with as there’s been dozens of them down the decades. Many aren’t even really named Annie!)

Have you not seen and appreciated the splendid map that Ursula Le Guin did for her Earthsea series? She’s said that it was for the children reading about Ged and his adventures so she gave them a map of Earthsea so they can orient themselves to the world. (Adults can benefit from this map as well.) Other notable maps include the one you’ll find in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Frank Herbert’s Arrakis map in Dune, China Mieville’s map of the city in Perdido Street Station (but not in the concluding volumes of this trilogy), Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy, and Philip Pullman’s Lyra’s Oxford to name but a few…

That Several Annie again

Ok, so they’re pretty. But are they useful? Other than for overweight, pimply boys into role playing games? I’ve never seen you actually looking at one of them while reading say The Hobbit. Are you simply being an advocatus diaboli?

Mackenzie

Not strictly true. See the copy of The Hobbit over on my desk? Go get it. See the silk bookmark in the back? Open to those pages. That’s the map of Wilderland, which gives you an excellent look — literally! — of where Bilbo, our reluctantly wandering hobbit, and his band of compatriots go as the narrative in the story unfolds. A good map enhances the pleasure of a novel. And bad maps, which are fortunately rare, can just be ignored.

Another Several Annie

I’ve been cataloguing and shelving the new edition of Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-Earth. Am I correct that maps to Tolkien were more than just an afterthought to the text? Certainly the sheer number of maps in this book suggest that the maps in his books were just as important to him as the narrative was.

Mackenzie

Ahhhh, The Atlas of Middle-Earth. A book that belongs in the library of any serious fan of Tolkien’s work. This edition is the first one since Houghton Mifflin first published it in the States over a quarter of century ago. I was traveling in Amsterdam at that time and even the Dutch Tolkien fans were excited about this book. Granted, not as excited as they would be about John Howe and Brian Sibley’s The Maps of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, about which our reviewer noted, in a comment apt to our conversation:

There were two things that evolved in tandem as Tolkien came to write his fictional works: the language of his made-up world, and its topography. Indeed, his fictional languages were the inception of his great works of Middle-earth, while the maps he drew were ever considered a necessity. As you will find in the introduction Brian Sibley wrote to accompany John Howe’s maps, Tolkien would not hear tell of publishing The Lord of the Rings without an appropriate map.

Now I know that some academics weren’t very pleased as it wasn’t written the way they would have done it — go look at the so-called lead review on Amazon to see what I mean, but the rest of us will find it invaluable, as the author’s a qualified geographer and cartographer who first mapped Middle-Earth in her 1981 edition and has since added new details based on those endless reams of drafts, abandoned and much modified passages in published texts, alternative versions that were used in some editions, and laundry lists of places and situations published since Tolkien’s death. (Or at least what the holders of Tolkien’s papers have allowed researchers to see. Only they know what has not been made accessible: prolly as much as has been made available!)

The other Several Annie

But The Atlas of Middle-Earth is more than just maps. Isn’t it really about the process of creating a fiction that is grounded in a place which feels as real as this building and its grounds are? Maps for me are a way of saying that there really is something underfoot that I can feel. I think Professor Tolkien felt the same way as I remember you quoting him as saying that ‘I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit… The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities.’

Mackenzie

Indeed it is. Glad to see that you’ve been paying attention during our afternoon seminar on Tolkien geography. Even in works without maps, most of us create our own idea of the geography, i.e., how far did the murderer in that not so quaint English mystery by your favourite writer travel in the middle of that dark, rainy night to kill her victim? We fill in details even when they aren’t offered up by the author.

But the genius of Fonstad’s work is that it is as if it was an actual atlas of a place as real as the Republic of Scotland is. The maps are discussed as if they were real landscapes, drawn according to the restraints a map maker would have in drawing the bonnie banks of Scotland. For each area of Middle-earth, the history of the land is taken into account, as well as geography as it related to the whole of Middle-earth. David Langford said in a review that ‘he fills in gaps and details in the familiar Third Age maps from The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, goes back in time to map Middle-Earth’s First and Second Ages, and reconstructs the route and timescale of every important journey in the stories.’ I wouldn’t suggest that reading this book is a must before reading The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings but I will be having all of you read it next month as part of the Tolkien seminar we’re doing.

Now don’t groan — learning’s good for you. And there’s more to becoming a Librarian than the technical aspects of the job. A good reference work like Fonstad’s will add immeasurably to the appreciation of a reader for the sheer breadth and depth of the ‘mythology for England’ that the good Professor created in all of his Middle-earth material. just pair it with the aforementioned Maps of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and you have the core texts of a fine course on the geography of Middle-earth which is why I use them in your seminar. As soon as we get through reading The Hobbit and looking at Bilbo’s journey with attention to the geography described, we’ll turning to these texts.

Now I know a cup of tea and a tatty scone or two; there’s no finer room in the place for a bite and a gossip over High Tea than in the Library staff room that overlooks Oberon’s Wood. But I hope the real attraction is the books here. It had better be, so let’s get back to our seminar. Now which of you wants to describe Bilbo Baggins and his journey to the Lonely Mountain?

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What’s New for the 1st of December: Tattoos, The Tempest, Dr. Who (Again), Peanuts, Reggae, Beethoven, and more

Restless in life and seeking no end in death
For breath of the ages in the face of the air
Still ghosts to the vitality

Robin Williamson

We just got our first serious snow of the year here at this Scottish Estate, three weeks before the Winter season officially starts. Not that unusual really, but a foot was a lot of snow nonetheless.

Despite the snow, it’s still late Autumn here, which means we’re in a lull between our Summer visitors and the Winter visitors we’ll get for the Holidays. It makes for a pleasant quietude that I like — it’s allowed me the time earlier today to listen to the promotional packet we got from Puppets of An Autumnal Nature, a West Coast US band that’s interested in coming here. Rather good they are, I’d say. They’re quite new, perhaps not even actually a touring band yet in any meaningful sense, so it’d be interesting to hear them play live.

Now follow me to the Kitchen, as Mrs. Ware decided that she’s making a special treat for everyone of legal age — Guinness stout ice cream.

Carter looks at a classic found on many an SF book shelf: ‘The Illustrated Man was first published in 1951, so this is Bradbury the Grand Master of Science Fiction. The science in these stories is, of course, badly outdated, but then Ray Bradbury never emphasized the science. His stories are about people. People in search of truth. People in dire predicaments. The science has always been mere window decoration in Bradbury’s stories. We read him for the power of his insight and the beauty of his language. You will find both in The Illustrated Man.’

Cat was delighted with a new audiobook, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire: ‘It’s a wonderful novel that’s a great start of a hopefully long series. The setting, the characters and even the story feel fresh, quite unlike the usual riff on interstellar empires. It certainly doesn’t hurt that many of the characters are women and they are quite capable at what they do.’

Warner looks at a not-quite critical study of an American icon in Andrew Blauner’s The Peanuts Papers: ‘Peanuts was and arguably still is a key piece of the history of sequential art. Charles Schulz’ work of more than fifty years proved exceptional and is remembered to this day. The Peanuts Papers is editor Andrew Blauner’s attempt to coordinate as many thoughtful and interesting perspectives on the strip as possible into one volume, and it succeeds well. Over 30 contributors to this collection, varying from academics to comic artists, get a chance to say their piece, and prove most entertaining and informative in doing so.’

Warner also brings us a review of a collection of the more-or-less outre: ‘Themed anthologies are an excellent way for a reader to discover unexpected takes on an old idea. Editor John Miller’s Tales of the Tattooed is an excellent example of this, with stories and authors that are anywhere from household names to utterly forgotten.’

So Starbucks makes a reasonably good cup of coffee, don’t they? Well Leona says their chocolate isn’t nearly as great: ‘Final verdict: the milk chocolate is good. The dark is all right. But the dark with VIA was disappointing, to say the least. For the price, I expected much better across the board. Sorry, Starbucks fans; I’m not getting behind this set.’

Michelle has a tasty bit of Shakespeare for us: ‘The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s stranger plays; though it’s classified as a comedy or romance, it starts out very much like a revenger’s tragedy, and the happy ending depends on unexpected grace.’  Her review is frankly an amazing piece of writing by even the highest standards, so go read it here.

And Warner brings us something that’s not really television, but is focused on a very popular TV series: ‘A Doctor Who anthology typically involves multiple incarnations of the doctor, and multiple authors telling stories. In the case of The Target Storybook the reader is given a collection of 15 stories, each relating to one Doctor or another era, usually as a follow-up, side story, or prequel to an existing story. As with any anthology, the results are mixed. In this case one of the things that makes them so mixed is a subversion of expectations.’

Gary found lots of interesting music in Down in Jamaica, a sprawling new box set of reggae music covering 40 years of records from the VP label. ‘If you’re already a big reggae fan and follower, I bet you’ll still find a lot of sweet surprises here.’

Joselle offers us a retrospective look at the first decade of a well-regarded Celtic artist: ‘From her beginnings in the mid 1980s selling self-produced tapes from her car and by mail order, to international stardom — Loreena McKennitt has come a long way in her twenty-year career. For those just discovering her music with the release of An Ancient Muse, here follows a tour through this incredible singer’s previous recordings, all released on her independent recording label, Quinlan Road.’

Kim notes ‘This is the album that got the Hedningarna phenomenon going, a richly textured, darkly fascinating instrumental album by the “core” trio of Björn Tollin (frame drum, string drum, hurdy-gurdy, moraharpa), Anders Norudde (fiddle, hardanger fiddle, moraharpa, swedish bagpipe, bowed harp, jews harp, wooden and pvc bass flutes) and Hållbus Totte Mattsson (lute, baroque guitar, hurdy gurdy). On more recent albums, the group has expanded to include other players and some dynamite vocalists, most recently exploring the roots of Swedish folk traditions in Russia on Karelia Visa.’

Robert takes a look back at one of his favorite bands (yes, another favorite band): ‘Sometimes it takes a while to catch on, for me at least. On a whim, I purchased Foreigner’s all-time best album, The Very Best and Beyond. (It wasn’t really a whim – I had this song in my head and couldn’t get it out of there. How long had it been? It took me two or three days to remember who had done the song.) Listening to the album, I wonder that I could ever have forgotten Foreigner when thinking of my favorite things.’

And Robert goes even farther back, to another one of his favorites — not a band, but Beethoven, in a recording of four sonatas for piano, performed by the legendary Arthur Rubenstein: ‘The history of Western music is a history of exploration of forms. This statement is the end result of a chain of thought sparked by John Briggs’ comment, in his notes on Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23, the “Appassionata,” that Beethoven, at this point in his career, was self-confident enough to ignore “Haydnesque” traditions of form, noting that “he experimented tirelessly in all directions, as Haydn had done before him.”‘

Our What Not this week is another gem from Folkmanis, this one the Barn Swallow Finger Puppet. Says Robert: ‘Swallows seem to be everywhere in the summer, at least in this city. I see them on summer evenings soaring through the air over our parks hunting insects. (There’s a story here: there’s a bridge that divides the South Pond Nature Boardwalk in two. It arches over a narrow part of the pond, and the Zoo administration very thoughtfully left the banks without plantings — it’s a very solid bridge, supported by I-beams, and the Zoo thought it would be a perfect place for swallows to nest, with nice ledges and mud right there on the bank; they even slapped mud on the I-beams to get the birds started. The swallows, of course, decided that they like the pilings under the observation platforms better. I have, however, seen sparrows nesting under the bridge.)’

Our coda is Williamson performing ‘Five Denials on Merlins Grave’ which was recorded by him at The Brillig Arts Centre In Bath on a December night nearly forty years ago.  If you are interested in knowing more about this storyteller who’s also a musician and poet, Charles talks with him here about his days in the Incredible String Band to his interest in Scottish folktales as storytelling material. Tim  later also conversed with him and that interview has an interesting follow-up question to something said in the de Lint conversation.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Assembling A Contradance Band

Yeah we do this quite often as there’s more than enough musos here that have played at contradances that putting together a band at really short notice is not difficult. Remember that we have the apparently Neverending Session playing somewhere on the Estate at all times.

First person I asked was Bela, our Hungarian violinist who fortunately speaks French as do Gus and I. He of course agreed. And you’ve not experienced a contradance ’til you’ve heard Gus calling in two languages, sometimes three when a player who doesn’t speak English or French takes part.

We’ve experimented with hand drums as part of such a band so I knew a Scots player who didn’t want to be named here as he wasn’t supposed to be playing after injuring his wrist several months back but couldn’t resist the challenge. Janey, a smallpiper from the south of England, was the third player. She suggest Wicker, an Elvin wire  harpist, also be added and she did agree to play when I asked her.

With the band in hand, Gus met with them, planned out the tunes to be played, and even played through several of the less familiar tunes. Our contradances are a bit unusual as they usually are four to six hours long with a sort of potluck part way through and other breaks as need be. That gives the band an occasional respite before they get back to playing.

So join us later this evening in the Courtyard for a contradance quite unlike any you’ve been part of!

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What’s New for the 24th of November: Magic Realism, How Trolls See It, Chocolate, Hardanger Fiddles, Mammals, and More

She took everything I thought I’d learned about kindness from women, and she — she laid it on me like a curse. — Jennifer Stevenson’s Trash Sex Music

So Jen was telling me just now about her wonderful magic realism novel Trash Sex Magic and the weird distinction writers try to make which drive her nuts: Science fiction writers like to say that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishible from magic.’ I say, ‘Any internally-consistent magic is indistinguishible from technology.’  You can read her essay on this here. She’s way more coherent than Norman Spinrad was on the subject earlier this week when he was babbling that fantasy had shoved SF aside in bookstores.

Neuromancer is SF, right? Sure. The Loa are just AI.  And chocolate is just chocolate. My ass. It’s all in the assumptions which are never the same in us. Everything has magic in it if you know where to look for it. Keep that in mind as you read her essay and the rest of this edition. Now shall I pour you a drink? Though it’s pricey, I do recommend the ten-year-old Kinrowan Limited Reserve Cider. 

Cat has a look at Charles de Lint’s Forests of The Heart, which Reynard’s reading now. It says that we should ‘Have another drink and just listen to the music’. The novel  has some astounding descriptions of Irish music sessions it, so do check it.

Kestrell has a very cool collection for us to read: ‘Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s Troll’s Eye View also includes stories by such writers as Jane Yolen, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Ellen Kushner, and Joseph Stanton. The variety of the characters and the quality of the writing in these fifteen fairy tales should make this book appealing reading for everyone and, although an inner leaf of the book lists its intended audience as grades four and up or ages nine and up, fairy tale lovers of all ages should pick up a copy.’

Donal Hickey’s Stone Mad for Music gets reviewed by John: ‘Subtitled “The Sliabh Luachra story,” this book attempts to demythologize the heartland of Sliabh Luachra, a legendary area where Irish traditional music is concerned. To fans of Irish music, Sliabh Luachra will need no introduction. Something of a mini republic in Irish music terms, Sliabh Luachra, translated from the Gaelic as ‘the mountain of the rushes,’ is an area that has written its own rule book within the Irish traditional lexicon and produced its share of masterful exponents. The music is characterized by a wild reckless energy, which somehow symbolizes the rugged nature of the area.’

Robert happily says ‘The late Kage Baker was one of those admirably unpredictable writers whose stories never seemed to fit into any sort of mold, whether they were part of a series or stood alone. There is, though, a kind of magic in her storytelling that ties them all together, fully in evidence in The Bird of the River, a new novel set in the universe of The Anvil of the World.’

Robert has a cautionary note: ‘You probably already know this, but reviewers do try to research the items offered for review, particularly if they’re from a source new to the reviewer. Sadly, researching confectioners Lolli & Pops was very difficult, possibly because they recently filed for bankruptcy. The company’s website is not terribly informative — for example, a search on the site for their Madagascar Sambirano chocolate bar turned up no results. I did find, on another site, that this is No. 1 in a series of single-origin chocolates, this one from the Sambirano Valley in Madagascar.’

Richard brings us Bend It Like Beckham,  a film about ‘…Indian cooking, cultural absurdity, family love, and an abiding desire to play what the English call ‘the beautiful game’…’ That game, of course, would be football; what we in the States call soccer. What happens when a young Indian girl dreams of playing football like English football star David Beckham? Culture clash, among other things — but Nathan says that ‘[t]he underlying theme of culture clash is better because it is underlying, rather than politicised and angry. Instead of favouring either the Indian or the English culture, the writer shows how the two manage their uneasy coexistence.’


Gary is quite pleased with a bit of Norwegian hardanger fiddle music of a very contemporary kind. It’s the second release by the fiddle-guitar-drums trio Lumen Drones: Umbra is an album that can be played on background for atmosphere, but it also rewards repeated close listening.’

‘Anyone who enjoys international folk and dance music, and definitely everyone who loves Bulgarian and other Balkan music, should hop on the Blato Zlato bandwagon,’ Gary says. Read his review of In The Wake to find out why.

Gary found something to like on this new album of holiday tunes from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, titled Big Band Holidays II. ‘For the most part this is a very enjoyable program of holiday music, even for a Scrooge like me.’

Lars has a choice piece of Scottish trad for us: ‘I never really took to the last album, May You Never Lack a Scone, but after hearing this I think it is time to go back and check again. Cause Rare is really something special. Maybe not quite another “The Lasses Fashion,” but almost. Had Jock Tamson’s Bairns been 25 years younger we would have hailed them as the new Messiahs of Scottish folk, now we just get proof that these lads know their craft and that they still can deliver the goods.’

Paul with a head possibly clear of real ale says of Fairport’s Cropredy Capers: 1979 – 2003: ‘Okay, musically, it’s all here. From stalwarts like ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ and ‘Matty Groves’ to an epic version of ‘Sloth’ running at an astounding 19 minutes, and of course the tune sets where Swarbs or Ric Sanders (or both, oh and let’s not forget Chris Leslie) run riot. But it’s the odds and sods that make this album.’

Our What Not this week has Robert on another trip to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, and a survey of mammals: ‘When I was a small boy, my father would periodically take me up to the Field Museum. I was always eager to see the “stuffed animals”, which formed a large part of the Museum’s public displays. Well, they’re still there, in a somewhat different arrangement than I remember, but still interesting.’ Go here to get the full tour.


Though it be a month before Winter is officially upon us, it feels and looks like it’s already here. So let’s have the quiet beauty of ’White Snow’ by Nightnoise to see us out. This was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April twenty-six years ago. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and it included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Man Who Wasn’t There

We indeed get some very queer customers in the Pub, particularly as the weather gets grimmer, but he was one of the oddest I’d ever seen for more years tending bar than I care to think of. Not that at first I could quite say what was odd about him, just that something wasn’t quite right.

Then I noticed that no one but me was seeing him, despite the fact that he had a choice table, and no one was even going near that table. Even those who had The Sight seemed not to be noticing him, which was very, very odd. So why was I seeing him?

I tried to put the question to him gently, next time he caught my eye for another Rowanheart. “First time I’ve seen you here, I believe. And . . . ”

He interrupted me. “But not the first time I’ve been here.” He chuckled. “Just the first time I’ve had the wherewithal to pay.” He slid a seven-sided coin across the table, a mate to three others already in my till.

Ah, that was the explanation! I’d wondered where the Rowanheart had been going, and suspected a very new Annie from the other side of the Border. No need to bother Iain now.

He took a long pull on the Rowanheart. I turned back toward my bar, feeling myself dismissed. When I turned to look again, he was gone.

Three nights later he was back. The same bushy red beard, the same sheepskin lined coat, the same tweed cap pulled low over his eyes. This time he stopped at the bar for his first Rowanheart. It was odd how the three fiddlers drinking Picaroons Red between sets all moved to their left when he arrived, even though they didn’t greet him or acknowledge his presence. Ever hear of a personal bubble? His was about two handbreadths deep all around him. When one of the fiddlers spilled his Red, the runnels stopped just short of the stranger’s drink.

He knew I was puzzled, he knew I was watching him. As I mopped up the bar and got the fiddler another Picaroons, he slipped away to his old table. The couple who had looked to be headed in that direction veered slightly and sat on one of the blonde oak benches against the wall on the far side of the east fireplace.

He came in a few times after that, not on any regular schedule. Grinned, drank several Rowanhearts, always paid with those seven-sided gold coins. A pleasant enough customer, though no one else but me ever seemed to know it.

The last time I saw him was Old Christmas night. The festivities had been mostly the previous evening, and many were still recovering. The Neverending Session was playing something melancholy, though how they made a Shanklin Road cover sound melancholy I don’t know. Apart from the musicians, and the couple who had made the blonde oak bench their favourite sparking spot ever since they discovered to it, there was no one else in the bar except us. He signaled me for another Rowanheart.

“I’m heading out at first light,” he said. “Time to go back North again. See if the other lads have made it.” He took a pull on the Rowanheart.

“Will you be back?” I ventured to ask.

“Eventually. I usually end up here every couple of centuries.” That big grin split the bushy beard. It was warm enough despite the lack of a crowd that he had undone his coat. I could see a purple shirt. It looked like heavy silk. “Yes, it will be good to see the lads again. Maybe time for another roadtrip, even. Those are the good times, you know. Just you and the road and the stars. I remember the first trip we took together. Hiding from the sun’s heat all day. Picking a star to follow at night. Good times.”

He drained the Rowanheart and stood up. “Maybe I shouldn’t wait for dawn. No stars left then.” He fastened his coat up tight around his neck and gave a drag on his cap. Out of his pockets he fished a little leather pouch and a pair of fairisle mittens.

“Here’s part payment on some of those Rowanhearts I took on credit.” He handed me another couple of those seven-sided coins. “Oh, and as for why you can see me and others can’t, it’s because you believe and they don’t.” Another big grin. “Or maybe that’s malarkey, and it’s because I need something from you and not from them. When the lads come looking for me, and one day they’ll come, tell them Cass has gone after the brightest star.”

Then he left.

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What’s New for the 17th of November: Charles de Lint, Robert’s Potato Soup, Folkmanis’ Chipmunk in Watermelon puppet, Rosanne Cash and Other Matters as Well

Once upon a time there was what there was, and if nothing had happened there would be nothing to tell. — Charles de Lint’s ‘The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep’


I’m  listening to The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep’ while doing paperwork in the Library. It is superbly narrated by Kate Reading, who has narrated a number of de Lint’s works, including the Memory & Dream, Widdershins and The Onion Girl novels. I rather like this because it’s a short story and therefore easily listened to in a short span.  Not that I don’t mind getting lost in one of his novels such as Memory & Dream  which Jayme reviewed for us.

It’s our usual grey late Autumn here in the Scottish Highlands: rainy, cold and blustery winds to boot. Even the most hardy of Estate staff aren’t outside unless their duties require to them to be. I myself are spending some of my time off duty in the Kitchen quite content to nosh on whatever the staff there feels we should be eating, such as blackberry cobbler or the very last of the fresh fruits (save the ubiquitous apples).

Now let’s see what I’ve for you in this Edition…

Kate has a look-see at Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’

Kestrell looks at The Grin of The Dark: ‘Ramsey Campbell demonstrates the power and eloquence of horror as a mode of highlighting the uncanniness of modern technology and the dark side of human monstrosity. Campbell is a master at developing strange menacing images, whether it is the creepiness of the silent laughter of actors in an old film or the eeriness of the flickering glow of a television screen transforming the faces of those we love into white-faced staring zombies.’

Robert brings us a look back at early — well, fairly early — Charles de Lint, with a review of one of his novels set in and around Tamson House. This one is Moonheart: ‘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.’

Warner ran across a slightly spooky collection of short stories for those long chilly evenings: ‘Algernon Blackwood is a  formative influence in the weird fiction genre, with his works “The Wendigo” and “The Willows” being staples. Editor Xavier Aldana Reyes collects not only those stories but two less well-known novellas by the author in Roarings From Further Out: Four Weird Novellas by Algernon Blackwood

It’s that time of year when nights are falling earlier and there’s a definite chill in the air — at least for those of us north of the Equator. Robert has a recipe for something guaranteed to be warm and filling on those nippy evenings — how does a nice bowl of hot potato soup sound? And for those of you heading into longer days and higher temperatures, it can make a nice summer dish. Get your kitchen in order and be ready to get creative.

Mia says of Frazetta: Painting With Fire that ‘Documentaries are like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: when they are good, they are very, very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. You might think that a production company formed initially by fans to create a documentary about their favorite artist would create something that would fall into the latter category. And, when the film is Frazetta: Painting With Fire, you’d be really, really wrong.’

Ahhh, Steeleye Span. Chris notes that ‘This is one of those situations that throw into sharp relief the difficulties of writing live reviews. Lahri, one of our US reviewers, went to one of the American dates on the current tour and found it a significantly less than satisfying experience. Just a few days later I went to one of the UK dates at the Daneside Theatre, Congleton and was knocked out by the gig.’

David looks at the output of Johnny Cash’s daughter between 1979 and 1996: ‘Rosanne branched out, writing books, taking a long time between albums. Her work is thoughtful and moving. You can see from the pictures included in the insert booklet, from the informative liner notes, and from the development of the music through the 21 tracks Raven has selected that she was searching for her voice. By the time this collection ends, she had found it. But it’s there throughout this collection. Sure Rosanne Cash has a new CD out this month, but if you aren’t familiar with where she’s been, Blue Moons and Broken Hearts is a good place to start.’

Meredith saw not one but but two great groups at the Town Crier: ‘After a delectable meal of impeccably prepared Southwestern fare, the main event begins: usually a contemporary folk or traditional music act, such as you’ll see at the Bottom Line in New York City or the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA. It’s one of the best places to experience live music in the Northeast. And on Sunday, June 27 an intriguing double bill was on the menu: Susan McKeown and the Chanting House, and the up-and-coming “Irish-tribal” group Kíla.’

Robert once upon a time commented that ‘Well, as it happened, while checking out my mail cubby at the GMR offices, I ran across Oysterband’s Granite Years: Best of. . . 1986-97 with a scribbled note from the Chief that I eventually translated as “Check this out. Let us know what you think.” I took that to be a request for a review.’ Now read his review to see what he though of this compilation.

Well, looks like it’s the season to think about holiday gift giving. And Denise has an option for you; Folkmanis’ Chipmunk in Watermelon puppet. While she’s as entranced as ever by this company’s creations, there’s one quibble. ‘Mine looks as if he’s suffering from agoraphobia. Exo-karpoúzi-phobia, maybe?’ Read her review to find out what’s going on…

So we’re well past the time of year when there’s even the chance of the day holding a bit of warmth which means music becomes a needed matter of comfort for most of us here. And I for one turn to Celtic music.  So what shall we hear this time as we take our leave? Hmmm… So how about ‘Old Hag You Have Killed Me’ by the legendary Bothy Band as recorded rather well at the Lisdoonvarna Folk Festival some forty four  years ago.

Variants on Old Hag tunes are so common that they actually figure into the narrative of at least one Charles de Lint story,  ‘The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep’, which is collected in his Dreams Underfoot anthology and you can purchase the digital edition of your choice here.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Pumpkin Ale and Cheese

Dear Anna,

Did you know the Swedes make pumpkin ale? I’ve been researching the history of it and thought that it existed not ‘tall outside of Britain, Ireland, and North America where various small breweries such as ours are doing it every Fall. So I was delighted that Scandinavian brewers make it as well. We visited you too late to sample these ales this time but Katrina and I are planning to visit Stockholm next Fall for a week. I’ve got it planned into my work schedule as Katrina’s got a concert with her Leaf & Tree group at the same time.

My excuse for coming over (other than to drink pumpkin ales as ‘research’) is that our Steward is interested in getting a true cheesery going here, as the number of dairy cows would support one. Right now, we ship the milk over to Riverrun Farm for their use but Jean-Paul thinks it’d make a nice addition to the Estate revenues. So I’ll be looking at small cheese operations in the countryside.

Katrina’s also talking with a Swedish luthier who’s expressed keen interest in moving his operation to the Estate, as he’s got more English and Scottish clients these days than Scandinavian ones. And there’s a crofters cottage suitable for his shop and living space. Not surprisingly, he loves the idea of the Neverending Session!

Until next time, Gus

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What’s New for the 10th of November: Fairy Tale Feasts, Aaron Copland’s ‘A Fanfare for The Common Man’ , Charles de Lint’s The Wild Wood. The Dubliners Live, A Worm in An Apple puppet and Other Tempting Things

She can sniff it as she can sniff the pungency of the earth where it hides little treasures for the table; or the remains of the long-dead. ― Tallis as described in Robert Holdstock’s Avilion

Yes, there’s hot cider, blissfully free of spicing, and still-warm apple cinnamon doughnuts on the top of the Bar for our Pub patrons to enjoy on this quite, quite nasty Autumnal day. The Pub has become rather busy and Finch, my associate manager, has called in extra help hours earlier than she usually has to this time of year.

I note with some delight that Charles de Lint just put out a digital edition of The Wild Wood novel. Our review is here, complete with a link to where you can purchase the digital edition of your preference. It’s a wonderful read, which I’ve been doing on this Autumn afternoon in quiet moments. Did I note that MaryAnn Harris, his ever so talented wife, did the cover art for it? When the Pub is much quieter, I’ll go back to reading it on my iPad.  Right now, help yourself  to those cider and apple doughnuts while I finish this edition off…Ahhh, the egos of authors! Craig has a study of one here: ‘Nowhere on her Web site does novelist Sharyn McCrumb mention her Edgar Allan Poe Award, the most coveted award in the mystery genre and something that most winners would be shouting from the rooftops. One can only assume that this is because the novel for which she won goes by the title Bimbos of the Death Sun. Perhaps she would simply prefer that we forgot all about it. But the fact is that she not only wrote Bimbos of the Death Sun, but also its sequel, Zombies of the Gene Pool, both starring electrical-engineer/science-fiction-author Jay Omega. Both novels are terrific reads and, as a bonus, showcase something missing from McCrumb’s more literate Ballad novels is McCrumb’s quirky sense of humor.’ Read his somewhat silly review here.

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

A certain culinary guide has Warner noting that ‘In guide books there are typically the introductory and the exhaustive. Brett Cohen and Mark Luber’s Stuff Every Sushi Lover Should Know falls in the former category. It does so, however, by pressing an impressive amount of information into a small space. While part of QuickBooks series of “Stuff Every…Should Know” is serious, the nature of that series and its individual subject matters means that serves mission quite well on its own.’

Eric Saward’s Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks gets this wrap-up by Warner: ‘Overall this was an enjoyable, short, read. Having a third person point of view help did a great deal, as the internal logic many characters used allowed for strange behavior to make significantly more sense. The action is direct, the characters are consistent, and the book does not feel padded as one often worries they will find in novelizations. This is an enjoyable story featuring the Fifth Doctor, and easily recomendable to someone who enjoys Doctor Who, particularly of slightly older shade of it.’

Liz has a tasty offering for us: ‘Fairy Tale Feasts presents 20 classic fairy tales from around the world masterfully told by ace word slinger Jane Yolen. The tales are accompanied by recipes written by her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrations by Philippe Béha. The book includes fairytales from European, African-American, Ashkenazi Jewish, Arabic, Turkish and Chinese cultures. Sidebars give quick facts regarding the stories and the foods mentioned in them.’

The Return of The King, the very last of those Peter Jackson films ,says Grey, was emotional for her: ‘I’ve never laughed and cried so much in one movie. The thing is, I’m not a big movie crier. Those of you who read my Seabiscuit review are thinking, “Yeah, right!” It’s true, I swear. But I think I went into this one with the pump already primed. As I’ve said before, I love The Lord of the Rings, and I’ve spent my life since the first time I heard the story read aloud (by my dad, when I was seven) wishing for it to be made into a movie.’


Christopher has a sweet sounding album for us: ‘New Yorker Susan McKeown has been gradually establishing a reputation as a classy and innovative interpreter of Irish traditional song for some time, without ever gaining the breakthrough she deserves. On first appearances, Blackthorn appears to be a rather low key release in her oeuvre, the to-the-point subtitle Irish Love Songs suggesting a straight-up approach.’

David exclaims ‘Eliza Carthy is a fiddler, singer and folk babe extraordinaire. Rough Music is her latest album. Released in 2005, it’s taken a while for us to review it because…well…I guess I would rather listen to it than write about it! From the striking cover photo, to every note that is played, this is a gorgeous record of English folk music.’

Gary reviews a new compilation of “insurgent country” music from the Chicago label Bloodshot Records, released on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. He says, ‘I’ve reviewed countless compilation discs over the years, and Too Late to Pray is hands down one of the best.’

Gary also liked a disc called Psychedelic Disco Cumbia from the New York band Locobeach. ‘This is such a fun record! Based solidly in cumbia, it has elements of dub, chicha, disco, funk and more, including house, courtesy of those divine analog synthesizers.’

Gary has an album for us that he liked a lot: ‘Ever since they first sang together on the 2002 Vanguard album Evangeline Made, I’ve been waiting for Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy to put out another record. Here it is, and it was worth the wait. Adieu False Heart is one of the most touching, graceful and beautiful albums of 2006.’

Mike sees a legendary group: ‘The Dubliners are true legends of folk music, having now performed together as a group for 44 years. Many of the stories they tell of Dublin, are of a city that has all but disappeared in this day and age, and they are now as much a part of folklore as the songs and tunes that they perform.’

Our What Not this time is about a Folkmanis Puppet of an Autumnal Nature, or at least that’s how Cat defined them. They were the ones Cat asked Folkmanis specifically to send and then he handed off to various staff members for review. So here’s the review of one of these puppets.

The Worm in Apple Puppet gets reviewed by Robert: ‘One of the more unusual items to cross my desk from Folkmanis is their Worm in Apple Puppet. It’s a nice, big apple — not shiny, since it’s made of plush, but it is very appealing — unless you count the small green worm peeping out of a hole in the side.’


Our coda is Aaron Copland’s ‘A Fanfare for The Common Man’ which I think as Autumnal music is here performed by the Rolling Stones. Yes the Rolling Stones!  So here’s their decidedly offbeat version.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Korean Breakfast

Now that was tasty!

I was grumbling yesterday morning to Mrs. Ware, our Head Cook here at the Estate that houses us, that porridge is often boring even if many here like it as Winter breakfast fare. (OR Melling actuall found a way to make eating porridge sound cool.) She smiled and said to stop by the Kitchen ‘morrow morning as she had an idea.

So I came to the Kitchen the next morning early before it got too busy and discovered that I was being served thick soup made from rice and minced pork with interesting spicing, served along with green tea and a deep fried cruller. She said it was called Canjii in Korean and a visitor showed her how to prepare this hearty meal years ago.

Now I knew that Korea has a millennia old cuisine with food traditions from a number of sources but I hadn’t actually had this traditional breakfast staple from there, as I spent my time overseas in India and Sri Lanka, which have a decidedly different cuisine.

Indeed the staple food for Koreans is rice, and specifically a particular type of Korean short grain rice called sticky rice, because its grains stick together rather than falling apart. Mrs. Ware decided to use well-cooked brown rice as she likes the flavour better than the white rice used in Asia. It was a wonderfully tasty and quite filling breakfast.

Now I’m off to find her a copy of The Pooh Cook Book as she’s catering an all-day event for younger children from the School of The Imagination and she wants to do their meals as Pooh and company did them. I will of course review the book as well so you, our dear readers, can see how good the recipes are!

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What’s New for the 3rd of November: The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s ‘Homefires’, Mice, Josepha Sherman’s Winter Queen Speech, Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes and Other Matters

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta 

As Christopher Fowler has bitterly complained, Guy Fawkes Day has fallen out of favour in Britain being called now Bonfire Night more often than not, and Halloween, that holiday started long ago by the Irish, has become way more popular than Guy Fawkes.  Of course The Kirk has more or less mostly fallen across all of Britain so it’s hardly surprising that an anti-Catholic holiday is fast waning in popularity.

Now we don’t do fireworks here on Guys Fawkes Day or any day as it spooks the companion animals, the livestock, and the wildlife all too much. The loudest ‘fireworks’ you’ll see here is a roaring bonfire. Now I know it’s quite nasty out there, so let’s get you a cider and you can hunker down by the Pub fireplace while I get this Edition ready for you…

Jack leads off our book reviews with a look at a novel he really didn’t like: ‘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.’

Robert brings us a book for curling up with the little ones on a chilly night, Helen Ward’s The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse: ‘You’ve undoubtedly heard this story, or at the very least heard of it, probably under some variation of “The Country Mouse and the City Mouse,” or the reverse. It’s a well-loved children’s story that has received innumerable treatments throughout the years. Author/illustrator Helen Ward has brought us the latest version.’

Warner really liked this book: ‘A tribute to Golden Age mystery fiction is always welcomed, and a specific tribute to Peter Wimsey is a welcome surprise. What Would Wimsey Do? is Guy Fraser-Samson’s tribute to that great detectives, in the form of a more contemporary murder mystery. It is worth noting that the book had been previously published as Death in Profile in the United Kingdom, and that this new publication by Felony & Mayhem represents its first American publication.’

He also loved this novel: ‘Overall Always Coming Home is at an impressive achievement in storytelling, and World building. It is a staple of future history, and the work of obvious influence. And this is possibly the most thorough and dedicated interpretation of the texts assembled, included many related pieces throughout. I can highly recommend this volume, particularly it to those with any interest in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.’

‘…Buckle up and I’ll tell you about pumpkin cupcakes so delicious my friend told me to never buy them again, because they were way too dangerously good. Yes, supermarket brand cupcakes so good my friends threaten my life.’ With an opening like that, Denise’s look at Aldi’s Village Bakery’s Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes is definitely worth a look. Because Fall is just getting good, and you want to enjoy the best, don’t you?

Grey turns her attention to The Two Towers: ‘Yes, I had a press ticket. Yes, I went to the earliest possible showing yesterday, opening day (December 18), and refused to eat any popcorn or drink any soda, lest I be distracted even minutely from the film. Yes, I am an obsessed fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. Actually, I prefer “devoted.” (There are different sorts of obsessed, err, devoted fans. Cat, our Editor in Chief, collects all sorts of special editions of Tolkien’s work, and has reviewed the extended-release DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring for this issue. I, on the other hand, have among my most prized possessions the tattered paperback of The Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham that I first read as a child, and a copy of “The Red Book” in which some of my dearest friends have written their favorite passages or quotations on the fly leaves and end papers. I think of Tolkien as one of my grandfathers.) The point being that if you want an unbiased opinion from a viewer who came to the movie yesterday without any preconceived notions as to what it ought to be… well, I’m sure they’re out there.’

Gary says Historia Natural is the third release by the Colombian trio Los Pirañas, “which deftly and excitingly mixes South American rhythms of cumbia, tropicalia, salsa and more, with psychedelic rock, surf guitar, dub, and computer effects for a sound and style that’s all their own.”

Lars says of Western Wall and The Tucson Sessions: ‘For me, this is very much a case of old heroes returning. Who could help but be infatuated by the lovely Ms Ronstadt in the middle of the Seventies? She had it all: looks, voice and a clever choice of songs. Ronstadt was one of a wave of American female singers on the borders between rock, country and folk. Emmylou Harris was another of those singers. But she was definitely more country, carrying on Gram Parson’s vision of a marriage between rock and country.’

No’am has a review of Maddy Prior’s Arthur The King: ‘The practice of writing quasi traditional songs may horrify some, but it’s been my experience that such songs are much richer to our ears than the “finger in the ear” standard diet. Whilst I imagine that this fine disk will be labeled as “contemporary folk,” it’s difficult to picture any of these songs being played in a folk club by one person with an acoustic guitar. Modern technology is necessary in order to present these songs in their full majesty, and we are all the richer for Maddy and her merry men having done so.’

The concert season, for those who follow such things, is in full swing, and Robert has a look at an album of chamber works by Henryk Wieniawski: ‘Henryk Wieniawski, like his countryman Frédéric Chopin, was in great demand as a soloist — so much so that his performance schedule seems to have seriously impacted his work as a composer. Another prodigy, he entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of eight, in spite of being underage and not French. By age thirteen, he had completed his course of study on the violin (with gold medal), written his first compositions, and met Chopin at his mother’s Paris salon.’

Vonnie looks at a darkly tinged album: ‘An Echo of Hooves has June Tabor returning to what, in my mind, she does best, delivering ballads or songs that tell a tale. For this she has chosen eleven Medieval ballads. Some of them are very well-known, like “The Cruel Mother,” “Hughie Graeme,” “Sir Patrick Spens” and “Bonnie James Campbell”. Others are new to me.’

Winter is not far out,  so a Winter Queen of ours from some years back,  Josepha Sherman, talks of it and its folktales in her Winter Queen Speech: ‘What is Winter? A time to fear? A time for darkness and death? No. Winter is merely part of the endless cycle of sleep and awakening, dying and rebirth. The trees know it: they don’t die each year. They merely sleep through the coldness and put out new leaves in the spring. The birds know it: they come and go by the seasons. The snow is merely a blanket that protects the earth, insulating it against the cold and providing it with moisture in the spring. The darkness doesn’t last throughout. It ends in the middle of the winter, with the solstice in December, and the light returns even in the deepest cold of winter. No, Winter is nothing to fear.’

Our music for you as our Coda is quite naturally is The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s ‘Homefires’, their look at Guy Fawkes Day and what it means to British culture. Where and when they recorded it seems to have been lost right now though I’ll add in if I find out that information. There’s a trove of live recordings they sent us, so expect more music from them.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Chasing Ghosts

His accent was thick, understandable if you listened carefully, English though it be, it sounded more Welsh in cadence than English. And he was a burly man, well over six feet tall and stocky to boot with grey eyes and a bread and hair as white as new fallen show. His name, he said, was Dyffd ap Owen.

I found a mug made of beaten silver, centuries old most likely, with sigils and other things best not discussed on it, and it held damn near a litre of liquid. I asked what his favour in drink was and he said metheglin, a mead his people made from time immemorial. Fortunately we had just tapped a cask of it made with honey from the High Meadow where clover, wild strawberries, and other plants make for a very good honey.

He sipped, nodded his head in appreciation, and sat back in the Falstaff Chair near the roaring fire on that cold winter night. And no, I’ve never figured out how travellers get here on foot in weather so bad that only those tending the Estate livestock venture outside, but they do. Some have an instrument with them be it pipes, fiddle or just their voice; some come like him to tell stories late into the night; and a few, a very few thank whatever Deities you believe in, seem to be lost and simply need shelter. Those usually stay here but a few weeks, but some Bela, our apparently Hungarian violinist, have stayed  for decades.

I asked as casually as I could given my curiosity, what was reason for being here was. He drank deeply of his mead and said he’d come to find a ghost. Now those of us who have The Sight, be that a blessing or a curse it is a matter of personal belief, know this Scottish Estate is lousy with ghosts ranging from wives strangled by their abusive husbands to an entire encampment of ancient soldiers long dad waiting for their commander who ran screaming away from the battle they were all slaughtered in. But this was the first time I knew of that I knew anyone had come here looking for a ghost.

He said that he be both Welsh and Highland Scots, and a Scots ancestor of his had fought and won a duel here against a mortal enemy of his clan, the MacAllisters. Or more properly both had died on a leyline, so they were now locked in battle, evermore hacking away at each other, mortally wounding each other, dying, and starting the duel over again ’til the end of time.

He was hoping to find a way to put his ancestor to rest after a thousand years of endless battle. I remember a story being told here by Iain who also has The Sight of Seeing those kings in a remote part of the Estate. It’s an unfortunate truism that violent deaths create ghosts tied to here they died. And these two are definitely too such ghosts.

Now I admit I’m torn if it was safe to tell him that we know where the cursed ghosts are as I admit I’m not sure that tampering with them is a good or a bad thing. It might be possible to end their endless circle of violence but equally possible it could unleashed them from their temporal prison and that would be a disaster! So I’ll need to think on this. For a long time. Over many drams of a good single malt.

So for now I’ll tell him that we’ll research the subject to see what we can find and get back to him. I hope that, for now, that will placate him.

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What’s New for the 27th of October: Our Halloween Edition

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Traditional Scottish prayer

I’ve also seen that prayer credited to Cornish, Welsh, and “Celtic” sources — nothing specific, but you get the idea.

Robert here, with some thoughts on the traditions of the holiday. Yes, as you might guess from our opening quote, Halloween is approaching, when all the neighborhood ghoulies and ghosties (and hobos and witches and Darth Vaders) are going door to door demanding treats as a sort of ransom. It wasn’t always like that: Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is what happened to the old Samhain holy day of the Celtic Pagan year, one of the two days in the year when the veils between our world and the Otherworld are thinnest and the spirits wander the earth — some say looking for the way home.

And that’s the origin of the Jack O’Lantern, from the old Irish custom of putting a candle in a hollowed-out turnip (they didn’t have pumpkins before Europeans discovered the New World) and ensconcing it in the window to guide the spirits on their way.

As for the rest of it — well, the early Church, as was its wont, appropriated that holiday as All Saints Day (actually the day after the Pagan holiday, which, like most Pagan holidays, was celebrated at night) and tried very hard to make it a Christian holiday, with varying degrees of success. (In Mexico, it became Dias de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, in which the Christian holiday got a strong infusion of traditional Indian customs.)

As for the “trick or treat” part, that also goes way back to Pagan times, when villagers would dress in scary costumes to drive the spirits away and would be rewarded for their efforts with a banquet. It may have also been conflated with the Wren Boys, an ancient Irish observation around Christmas, when children would dress in costume and go door to door collecting money. Its present incarnation is recent, as late as the mid-twentieth century — some even credit Walt Disney with popularizing it, but I’m not going to go there.

Oh, and speaking of appropriation — well. candy manufacturers have a vested interest in pushing the whole trick or treat thing, driving a final nail into the coffin of what was once one of the holiest days in the Pagan year.

Now, it’s almost upon us, and I’m going to hand this back over to Reynard, with a nod for the excellent job he’s done on putting together our Halloween edition. Enjoy.


Cat starts off our book reviews with Ernest Hogan’s Smoking Mirror Blues. Cat says of it that ‘In the very near future, the citizens of Los Angeles are preparing to celebrate Dead Daze, a bacchanalian rave of a holiday that’s an over-the-top merging of All Hallows Eve, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and Mardi Gras. The reawakened Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, riding the body of a human, is feeling quite well, thank you! And let’s not forget that the Day of the Dead, which forms part of Dead Daze, is at its heart a time when the barriers between the dead and the still-living are all but completely erased. So maybe the gods do walk again … And this holiday, not dissimilar to the one in the Strange Days movie, needs National Guard troops to prevent rioting!’

So how about a Day of The Dead set story that involves a small town mechanic called Grace who discovers the man she loves is dead? And that she can cross over when the veils are thin to see him? Such is the premise of Charles de Lint’s The Mystery of Grace which Cat notes that ‘It is a perfect introduction to de Lint, as it doesn’t requite you to have read anything else by him at all, but gives you a good feel for what he is like as a writer, as it has well-crafted characters, believable settings, and a story that will hold your interest. And it is a novel that you will read again to get some of the nuances that get missed in the first reading.’

Craig has a review of a horror novel set on a closely related holiday: ‘Brian A. Hopkins is an acclaimed writer and editor (he has won Bram Stoker Awards under both guises) who also operates an innovative publishing company (Lone Wolf Publications, which produced the multimedia anthology Tooth and Claw, Volume One and another Stoker winner, The Imagination Box), yet who still has time to crank out terrific work for other smaller houses like Earthling Publications. El Dia de los Muertos (“the Day of the Dead”) is his most recent Stoker recipient, winning the 2002 award for best novella.’

Halloween is the time for vampires, and so Denise takes a look at Gross and Altman’s Slayers & Vampires: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Buffy and Angel. She found an detailed “oral history” that is sure to please fans of both shows.  ‘I can feel the authors’ love for their subject, and their excitement is contagious.  … [A] fun read that’ll keep you in party anecdotes for this coming holiday season, and into the next one.’

One of our Garys has a look at Christopher Golden and James A. Moore’s Bloodstained  Oz: ‘If you like lots of violence and gore, and you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz, then you’ll like this book. The evil manifestations of Baum’s characters are one of the highlights of the book. If you like a book with an ending, prepare yourself to write your own, as the authors apparently intended.’

Neil Gaiman’s Day of the Dead: An Annotated Babylon 5 Script gets the lead-off note in Grey’s review: ‘Whenever two Babylon 5 fans meet, whether it’s at a used book store, a sci-fi speakeasy, or somewhere else that’s safe for our species, it doesn’t take long for conversation to turn to the required topics: “Who’s your favorite character?” “What’s your favorite season?” “What’s your favorite episode?” and so on. And whether your favorite character is Commander Sinclair (the real Commander) or G’Kar, whether your favorite season is the first or the third, it’s almost universally agreed that Season Five, Episode Eight, “Day of the Dead,” is one of the show’s top ten episodes.’

Jack looks at a Diane Wynne Jones novel that befits this holiday: ‘It’s a good solid book with memorable characters and an engrossing plot which got read in one rather long sitting on a cold, rainy afternoon late in October. Several pots of Earl Grey tea and a number of the the Kitchen’s excellent scones were devoured in the reading of Fire & Hemlock.’

Love, hate, or baffled by The Wicker Man, there’s no denying it’s a horror classic.  No, not the horrendous 2006 remake, but the original 1973 film starring Christopher Lee.  The original film has caught the eye of many, including many academics. Kestrell takes a look at Benjamin Franks’ The Quest for The Wicker Man: History, Folklore, and Pagan Perspectives, a collection of articles from a conference that focused on the film.  ‘The Quest for The Wicker Man is highly recommended for any dedicated Wicker Man fan and especially for academics writing about this classic cult film.’  Read more about this collection in her review!

Nellie looks at The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: ‘Through Jean Markale’s book we can find the real legitimacy for Halloween as a holiday. It is not simply about children traipsing from door to door looking for candy (or else! Trick or Treat!). It is not simply about a reverence for ancestors, or a time to let go of all inhibition. There is a reality to it that gives it a deeper presence, and which beckons us to seek its true meaning, in addition to its true history.’

A fine version of the Tam Lin story is reviewed by Richard as he looks at a Pamela Dean novel: ‘An early part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, Tam Lin is by far the most ambitious project on the line. The story of Tam Lin is one of the better known ones to escape folklore for the fringes of the mainstream; you’ll find references scuttling about everywhere from old Fairport Convention discs to Christopher Stasheff novels. There’s danger inherent in mucking about with a story that a great many people know and love in its original form; a single misstep and the hard-core devotees of the classic start howling for blood. Moreover, Dean is not content simply to take the ballad of Tam Lin and transplant it bodily into another setting.’

We next look at Ray Bradbury’s quintessential Autumn novel and film which gets an appreciative review by the previous reviewer: ‘By right and nature, all October babies should love Something Wicked This Way Comes. It is a love letter to autumn, and to the Halloween season in particular, a gorgeous take on maturity and self-acceptance and all the dark temptations that come crawling ‘round when the calendar creeps close to October 31st.’

Just in time for the festivities a couple of nights from now, Robert has a look at Alex Irvine’s The “Supernatural” Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls: ‘I seem to be faced with another one of those television spin-offs, this time from the series Supernatural, about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt demons and other nasty customers not entirely of this world …. Alex Irvine has taken this basis, and the various creatures the brothers encounter, drawn from myths, urban legends, and folklore, and turned it into a “bestiary of the unnatural”.’

Thomas has a guide to this holiday for us: ‘Halloween, an unofficial holiday, is nonetheless celebrated by millions of people in North America and the British Isles, rivaling only Christmas in popularity. In the heavily illustrated Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, York University professor of history Nicholas Rogers traces the history of this holiday from its alleged beginnings as a Celtic festival, Samhain, marking the end of summer, to its many and various manifestations today. ’

And Warner wraps up our book reviews with a look at a collection from Steve Rasic Tem, The Night Doctor and Other Stories: ‘Centipede Press is known for putting out quality volumes, and The Night Doctor and Other Stories by Steve Rasnic Tem is no exception. A long-running, highly celebrated author, Rasnic here offers a collection of his more recent short stories, including two new tales previously unpublished. These run the gamut of dark subject matter, ranging from dark fantasy to horror and back again.’

Horror films have been part of the Halloween experience in the States for a very long time now. And we’ve had our share of wonderful seasonal treats, as well as time-wasting tricks.

Denise takes a look at a ‘trick’ of a tale with her review of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. She doesn’t hold back on her distaste: ‘If the folks responsible for this garbage really wanted to depart from the first two films and create something authentic, this basic story could have been an interesting movie …. Happy Halloween? Not with this clunker.’  Read her review for exactly why she’s nonplussed.

Another trick-y tale is The Haunted Mansion, a film based on a ride at the Disney resorts. Denise thinks that all the beautiful set design can’t make up for a film that can’t quite figure itself out.  ‘This is a lovely film to look at, but there’s not a lot of substance. Just double-check to make sure any young children you take are up for a pretty good scare.’

A choice bit of British horror is next.  Jekyll is ably reviewed for us by Kestrell who says that ‘this version is not so much a remake as a retelling of the Jekyll/Hyde story. The story is relocated from Victorian Edinburgh to contemporary London and follows one of Jekyll’s descendents, a research scientist named Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt).’ Kestrell concludes that ‘While I found this re-telling of a traditional story exciting and exceptionally well done, I would suggest that this series is not for everyone. Viewers looking for a remake of the original story will not find it here; those viewers who prefer American Hollywood effects may also be disappointed.’

Festive Samhain, everyone! Denise here, and I’ve stolen away the food and drink section this issue. Why? Because ghoulish delights abound! I’ve stuffed my face with all sorts of seasonal delights … though not everything was particularly delightful. Come along and see, won’t you?

First off, in a nod to the spirit of the season, Dunkin’ Donuts released a slew of themed donuts. I tried their Spider Donut, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. “It’s a mess. Somewhere, Mary Berry is sobbing.” Read on to learn more!

Still got a touch of a sweet tooth? Well, why not try a Cadbury Screme Egg? “…I prefer the protoplasm look of that gooey sugar goodness. I’ve always been a weird kid.” Check out this treat to see if it’s something you’d fancy!

Want something savory instead?  How about Transylvanian cheese?  Happy Farms Preferred Transylvanian-Romanian Cave Cheese, to be exact. Let’s just say that if you’re able to get your hands on some, you should. There’s more to be had in the review, but for now let’s just leave it at this; ‘Thank you, Transylvania.’

And what better way to wash things down this spooky season with a Harry Potter themed drink? Flying Cauldron’s Butterscotch Beer is just the thing. ‘A nice quaff when you’re feeling Potterish. And this time of year, especially with #HarryPotter20, who isn’t?’

Cheetos’ Bag of Bones is a suitably spooky entry into the holiday snack aisle, and a perfect go-to for the season. And I’m pleased: ‘When you queue up a spooky movie this season, grab some of these to really get into the spirit.’

Robert looks at the Justice League Dark film: ‘Once I got started on the Justice League Dark comic, I had to go back and check out the 2017 animated film. If anyone is expecting a film version of the new comic series, guess again: the film was released before the new series was even announced, and while there are similarities, they are very different sorts of critters.’

Robert has a look at a suitably scary graphic novel from a story originally penned by Robert E. Howard: ‘Pigeons from Hell is an adaptation by Joe R. Lansdale of a story by Robert E. Howard, with art by Nathan Fox and color by Dave Stewart. Lansdale is at pains to point out, in his “Notes from the Writer,” that it is really an “adaptation” — updated, exploring some new facets of Howard’s story, and not to be confused with the original, all of which leads me to treat it as its own creature.’

And what would Halloween be without demons and ghosties and that sort of thing? Well, that’s what we get with the latest incarnation of John Constantine, in Hellblazer, Vol. 1: The Poison Truth. Says Robert: ‘I’ll be honest: John Constantine is not a comic book hero who has ever really grabbed me. I can’t think of any particular reason for that, unless it’s his rapid-fire delivery and glib personality. Maybe it’s because he’s a sociopath, and I’ve learned to be wary of those — even comics. (It’s a wonder how many of the characters in this collection really don’t like Constantine very much, but they go along with him.)’


Robert has a look at a fairly tale full of goblins, ghosts, and witches — it’s Philip Glass’ The Witches of Venice, based on the book by Beni Montresor: ‘The King and Queen of Venice are bemoaning the lack of an heir. Sure enough, two fairies appear from the Lagoon with a plant: if the King plants it in his garden, a child will be born. The King is not impressed and throws the plant out the window.’ You can guess what happens after that, but read the review anyway.

Gary tells us about an album of what’s called ‘dark polar ambient’ music by a Russian musician who performs under the name Ugansie: ‘If you like drone or ambient or dark experimental music, Border of Worlds is for you. If you just want something spooky to play in your haunted house at Halloween, ditto.’

Iain says ‘Philip Glass, one of my favourite composers, and his fellow composer Robert Moran, whom I had not encountered before, collaborated magnificently in equal measure on the composition of The Juniper Tree Opera. Each Glass scene is followed by a Moran scene, with transitions composed by each. The result works a lot better than I expected, though the styles of each composer are quite different and neither surrenders anything of his own identity. If you like Glass, you’ll want to hear this opera.‘

Robert has a What Not for us in keeping with the holiday — after all, what would Halloween be without bats flying around? In this case, another cutie from Folkmanis. You can read about it here.

Very long after the band recorded Leige and Leif, which Deborah plays proper homage to in, “Trad Boys, Trad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do….?” Liege & Lief remembered, Fairport Convention played the entire album live at their own summer bash, the ‘07 Cropredy Festival. Everyone who was on the 1969 recording save Sandy Denny who had passed on was on stage so with Chris While doing the vocals for this epic experience. The soundboard recording is stellar, so here’s ‘Tam Lin’ as performed on a warm summer night.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Apple Brandy

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

Dear Tessa,

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

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

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

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

Love Alex

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What’s New for the 20th of October: Norwegian singer and songwriter Jens Carelius , Ciarán Carson Passes On, Brownies! Music from Steeleye Span, Books of An Autumnal Nature and Other Such Matters

Never trust the storyteller. Only trust the story.
Neil Gaiman’s Fables & Reflections

Québécois style pork pies, spiced with nutmeg, are the main entree for the eventide meal somewhat later on this Autumn day, along with roasted carrots, beets and onions, as the weather turned decidedly nippy over the past week, with even some nasty periods of freezing rain and sleet. Ironic, as I was putting together the invitations to Sixtieth Annual Estate Croquet Invitational which will be held here next Summer.

Before heading into the Pub for my evening shift, I was assisting Gus, our Estate Head Gardener and all around groundskeeper, with the gathering of the squashes, which had to be harvested before a hard frost harmed them beyond them being usable. And I do so look forward to the squash and smoked pork with pickled ginger soup that’ll be served for some cold Winter eventide meal!

Now shall I pour you a Conor McGregor’s Proper Irish Whiskey to enjoy while I put the finishing touches on this edition? And if you’re feel at all peckish, I recommend one of the apple and cheddar tarts that are still warm in the basket on the Pub bar. They’re quite excellent.

I’ve picked some fiction for you that I feel is perfectly Autumnal in nature. Even the Babylon 5 script is, though I’ll let you figure out how.

Triskell Press has released a digital edition of Charles de Lint’s Yarrow: An Autumn Tale, which Grey delightfully notes is ‘set in de Lint’s Ottawa, the one he first envisioned for his novel Moonheart, and expanded in its sequel, Spiritwalk. Those readers who have fallen in love with the wonderful Tamson House of these two novels will be delighted to note its brief appearance in Yarrow as well. However, the characters in Yarrow are part of different story than the residents of Tamson House and their associates, and Yarrow is a stand-alone novel.’

Neil Gaiman’s Day of the Dead: An Annotated Babylon 5 Script gets the lead-off note in Grey’s review: ‘Whenever two Babylon 5 fans meet, whether it’s at a used book store, a sci-fi speakeasy, or somewhere else that’s safe for our species, it doesn’t take long for conversation to turn to the required topics: “Who’s your favorite character?” “What’s your favorite season?” “What’s your favorite episode?” and so on. And whether your favorite character is Commander Sinclair (the real Commander) or G’Kar, whether your favorite season is the first or the third, it’s almost universally agreed that Season Five, Episode Eight, “Day of the Dead,” is one of the show’s top ten episodes.’

A fine version of the Tam Lin story is reviewed by Richard as he looks at a Pamela Dean novel: ‘An early part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, Tam Lin is by far the most ambitious project on the line. The story of Tam Lin is one of the better known ones to escape folklore for the fringes of the mainstream; you’ll find references scuttling about everywhere from old Fairport Convention discs to Christopher Stasheff novels. There’s danger inherent in mucking about with a story that a great many people know and love in its original form; a single misstep and the hard-core devotees of the classic start howling for blood. Moreover, Dean is not content simply to take the ballad of Tam Lin and transplant it bodily into another setting.’

A review from William finishes off my picks: ‘In his typically enlightening and always entertaining style, Ray Bradbury puts his cold hand in ours and leads us through the darkness of a million wind-swept October nights in The Halloween Tree, a classic novel of dark fantasy. Recognized as a living legend of imaginative fiction, Bradbury is one of those few, precious authors who delivers the thrills he promises. Revered for such novels as Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451, the author breathes such life into his fictions that we can’t help but share the enthusiastic energy exploding from his pen.’

Brownies anyone? Jen makes her whiskey, yes whiskey, soaked cherry brownies in big batches so she give them out as she so desires. Are they good? Oh YES!: ‘Eat them warm for a terminal chocogasm, alone or with ice cream and a glass of red wine.’

Robert got something rather nice from Bissinger’s Chocolates, a company founded in 17th Century France: ‘The example of their products that crossed my desk (well, landed on it) is the Caramelized Blood Orange, covered in dark (60%) chocolate, with hazelnuts. Being somewhat of a chocolate purist, I’m often dubious about additives, but since orange and chocolate are one of the classic combinations, I decided to give it a try.’

April says of a Matt Wagner graphic novel that ‘As far as character re-imaginings go, Madame Xanadu: Disenchanted is a lively, lovely read and more is definitely something to look forward to!’

She goes on to tell us about that second volume, Matt Wagner And Michael Wm. Kaluta’s Madame Xanadu: Exodus Noir: ‘ This second collection in Matt Wagner’s back story of Madame Xanadu has a more intimate focus than the first, which spanned a number of centuries and exotic locales.‘ Read her review for all the details on this story.

A sad note to lead off our Music section. Ciarán Carson, author of Last Night’s Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music, has passed away just recently. Both a keen trad Irish musician and a writer of quite some note about that music and all things Irish in general, he was a native of Belfast who died at seventy of lung cancer. A brilliant poet by trade, which you can see in our review of  his translation of Táin Bó Cúailngne:The Cattle Raid of Cooley).

The Oysterband are certainly a folk rock band but Ed has a review of their very early years when they weren’t: ‘I stumbled onto the Oysterband several years back via a copy of Little Rock to Leipzig, received as a premium during a college radio station’s fund drive. This was blind good luck. The two CDs I had originally wanted were gone, so I picked this one based on its “folk-rock” label. I haven’t stopped listening to this band and now own ten of their CDs. As a devoted and possibly obsessed fan, when the chance came to review some of their earliest and long out-of-print albums, I jumped. I now feel blessed to have acquired this piece of their history. In short, these LPs prove that the Oysters were always good, but have nevertheless gotten much better.

Norwegian singer and songwriter Jens Carelius has turned a legendary figure in his ancestry into a unique album, Gary says. ‘Opsi is a song cycle based on the diaries of Carelius’s great-great-grandfather Fritz Doerries … a German naturalist who spent much of his young life collecting butterflies and other animal specimens in the sub-arctic lands of eastern Siberia.’

Istanbul psychedelic rockers BaBa ZuLa have a new recording out, their first new release in five years but following close on the heels of their 20th anniversary retrospective called XX. Gary says the new CD, Derin Derin has ‘plenty of transcendant sound packed into each song and tune.’

A Parcel of Steeleye Span — Their First Five Chrysalis Albums 1972-1975 contains Below the SaltParcel of RoguesNow We Are SixCommoner’s Crown, and All Around My Hat! which was released as a set. Iain, our Librarian, got to review that impressive set which is taken from some of their early albums. ‘So the bottom line is that this is a near perfect introduction to one of the finest folk rock groups ever to grace Albion. Hell, you even get to hear the original recording of the song which they end nearly every concert with — ‘All Around My Hat’, off (obviously) the album of the same name.’

Our What Not this week is another treat from Folkmanis. Says Robert: ‘I seem to have another Folkmanis puppet lurking around, this one the Rat In a Tin Can. The Folkmanis website describes him as being ready for a playful picnic (note the napkin in one paw). However, it seemed to me that he might just as easily be a waiter in an upscale rat restaurant: his black-and-white pattern might almost be taken for formal wear.’

Steeleye Span is rather appropriately providing our taking leave song for this Edition. Not their ‘Tam Lin’ as that’d be more a Halloween thing, but rather their ‘One Misty Moisty Morning’ which seems so Autumnal in nature. It was recorded at My Father’s Place in Roslyn, NY on the twentieth of April forty six years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Harvesting

Dear Love,

I see from the papers that your tour with Leaf & Tree is getting glowing reviews across Canada. Hopefully this letter will reach in Halifax before your last performance there. (I know I can email you anytime but I like old-fashioned letters as do a fair number of the Kinrowan residents. I think it’s ingrained in the warp and weave of the Estate community.) I’m still surprised that medieval Swedish music is so popular among the older, more affluent Classical music audience.

Gus has been co-opting the Several Annies this past fortnight to help with the immense amount of late summer garden work (and grounds work as well) as the weather forecasts generally, according to his sources, agree with Tamsin, our hedgewitch in residence, that is going to be a brutally cold and rather snowy Winter. That means that everything must be checked and rechecked to make sure there are no nasty surprises, say slates coming loose in high winds or a barn door coming open because a hinge failed.

Tamsin indeed asked if there was a sheltered space that could be made ready for the many owls if need be. Gus said the big barn could be made so with just a bit of work by making entry spaces under the eaves. He noted that he didn’t know if the owls would take advantage off it so he will also add myriad shelter boxes in the woods around her cottage as well.

Mrs. Ware, despite the Estate now having reliable electricity thanks to the small hydro power station The Steward agreed to, still believes in root cellars and canning as much as possible. Pickles, relishes, fruits in honey, various vegetables, and even some meats get preserved for Winter use. And of course, lots of different sauerkrauts from the traditional cabbage ones to a decidedly quirky beet and carrot one.

Lastly there’s the matter of pumpkins and squashes. Either as part of a meal, in dessert forms say as pumpkin tarts, or in pumpkin ale, we use a lot of them and they must be harvested carefully so they’re not damaged. Gus has the Several Annies working with some of his lads on getting them harvested in the next two weeks which would be just after a light frost which helps mature them.

I must leave you now as a shipment of books awaits my attention. I’ll see you here in just over a week and I have a pleasant surprise for you!

With love, Iain

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What’s New for the 13th of October: Music from Aaron Copland, a Superstar, a Horrible Folk Tale, Tolkien (Again), a Cuddly Leopard, and Do Have an Apple and Cheese Tart

She is our moon. Our tidal pull. She is the rich deep beneath the sea, the buried treasure, the expression in the owl’s eye, the perfume in the wild rose. She is what the water says when it moves. ― Patricia A. McKillip’s Solstice Wood

They’re sort of linked, so may I recommend McKillip’s Winter Rose and Solstice Wood for your Autumnal reading pleasure on a rainy, cold afternoon? They’re elegant novels full of  very interesting characters involved in stories both fantastical and believable at the same time. The latter novel even has a lot of stitchers in it!

Needless to say they’re always on heavy circulation here at the Kinrowan Estate Library. The Library has been particularly busy this week as we’ve gotten that wet, wind and frankly cold weather which means outside chores are in abeyance. So I  asked for recommendations on what to read, a task I delight in doing.

The Kitchen staff under the watchful eye of Mrs Ware has been doing all things apple right now. Apple muffins, apple pie, chicken stuffed  with apples and bacon, apple ice cream… you get the idea. And of course we’re pressing cider as well, some of it destined to be what you Yanks call hard cider. If you’re interested in learning more about that process, I recommend Simon McKie’s Making Craft Cider: A Ciderist’s Guide. Now let me finish off this Edition so you can read it…


April has a truly horrific folktale for us: ‘In Deerskin, Robin McKinley delves into a dark tale of royal incest, derived from Frenchman Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin”. At its simplest, this oft-neglected, disturbing tale revolves around a deathbed promise extracted from a King by his Queen, to marry no woman not at least her equal. The Queen may have had good intentions, or may simply have been petty; either way, the result is inevitably the same: the King dutifully promises, remains unmarried for a number of years, then notices the striking resemblance of his daughter to her late mother.’

We usually give you a blurb from the review that we’re linking to but Chuck’s look at Steven Brust & Megan Lindholm’s The Gypsy, Steven Brust’s The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, and Boiled in Lead’s Songs From The Gypsy recording is quite resistent to being blurbed as it is a magnificent, sprawling review that is well worth you reading, so just go read it over a mug of hot cider with an apple and cheddar cheese tart to nibble on.

Robert has a trip back in time, sort of, to the days of Andy Warhol and The Factory, with a book that has more than a few surprises: ‘Imagine, for a moment, that it is the 1960s – the last half of them, actually – and that you are a small-town boy attending a major Midwestern university in a major Midwestern city, where you are majoring in theater and art. One thing that is very big in your circle is Andy Warhol’s movies. Michael Ferguson’s Little Joe Superstar: The Films of Joe Dallesandro is a little bit more than nostalgia, and a little bit more than dèja vu: it is a lot that you never knew at the time, that in a way you wish you had known then but, in a way, you’re glad you didn’t.’

Warner looks at a story about a story about a story — or something like that: ‘Stories about stories can be interesting, whether they fail or succeed in their own right.  Clay McLeod Chapman, in The Remaking, has given us a story about ghost stories which is itself a ghost story in which the tale of Ella Louise and her daughter Jessica is being relived over and over again through different eras of telling. The particular focuses are the classic campfire tale, the 1970s low budget horror film, the self-aware 90s remake, and the modern podcast.’

Robert’s always on the lookout for something easy and filling for dinner, and came across one that fits the bill: ‘I like Mexican food almost as much as I like Indian food. Well, I like food, especially if it’s easy to prepare and filling. It’s even better if it’s something I don’t have all the time — as in, I made a huge batch of it and now I have to eat it. One of the recent additions to my fast dinner repertoire is Jose Ole’s Steak and Cheese Chimichangas.’

Good thing Robert has us covered, because Denise gave Reese’s Wasabi Horseradish a try, and was none too impressed. ‘No. No no no no no. NO. This isn’t wasabi, it’s an abomination.’ Read her review to see exactly why you should give this a wide berth.

Grey starts off her review of The Fellowship of The Ring in this most proper manner: ‘When a reviewer makes specific comments about plot elements in a book or a movie, it is a common internet convention to say, “Spoilers ahead!” I cannot think of a single movie made in recent years for which that warning has been less necessary. J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings is the cornerstone of modern fantasy, the trilogy that most readers of fantasy under sixty either cut their teeth on or discovered as an already well-established and well-weathered feature on the landscape of fantasy fiction.’ Go read her ever so delightful review thisaway.

Ed says this is a weak excuse for a Greatest Hits compilation: ‘If you missed the Horslips the first time around — they disbanded in 1980 after 10 years together — here’s a chance to hear a small piece of their ground-breaking work. Horslips Greatest Hits is probably a good introduction to this Dublin roots-rock band, but at only 40 minutes and with a mere 12 tracks gleaned from just a few albums, it offers an awfully skimpy history. The liner notes are virtually nonexistent, an underwhelming three sentences. There is no indication of which albums these songs originally appeared on. The tunes aren’t laid out in any logical order — certainly not chronological or based on the band’s musical development. Indeed the song order seems random and disjointed, a mindless cut and paste job.’

Peter saw Steeleye Span on their Reunion Tour and he says ‘I know it is hard to put a band together with a lineup that creates that little bit of extra magic, but I have said it before and I will say it again: ‘This is the line up, they are the Steeleye Span that everyone remembers and loves.’ Long may they reign!’

Richard argues strongly that ‘Contrary to what the liner notes in the recent Pearls from the Oysters compilation suggest, the finest period in the Oysterband’s long and illustrious history was the three CD arc that began with Deserters and culminated in The Shouting End of Life. The Shouting End of Life, the last of the three, is the most bitter of the lot. Holy Bandits, its predecessor, is the angriest. And Deserters? It is, for lack of a better word, the bravest of the trio. It’s defiant without being vitriolic, proud without being arrogant and energetic without being enraged.’

Robert ran across something new from a favorite composer — a twofer, in fact: Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air and Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band: ‘A Rainbow in Curved Air is a hard piece of music to describe, in part, perhaps, because although easy to listen to (at this point in history, at least), it’s not really very easy to make sense of.’

After her horrible experience with ‘wasabi’ in this edition, Denise had a chance to snuggle up with her Emotional Support Puppet, Folkmanis’ Snow Leopard Cub. ‘I just stare into his big dark blue eyes and give him a pat. And another. And yet another. ‘I think I’m in love.’ As the days begin to grow darker earlier and earlier, and the weather has a nip i it, why not find comfort in a snuggle? Furred, faux or fleshed, doesn’t matter. Everyone needs a big of cheer as we dip into Fall.’


Where’s that music by Aaron Copland that feels perfectly Autumnal to me? Ahhh there it is! It’s Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’ 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: Bonfires

Nothing warms my heart and body as much as a bonfire does. Other than my wife that is. Oh I know that I could be inside with my wife Catherine enjoying the warmth of one of the many fireplaces in this old building, but I love, particularly as Fall gives way to Winter, being outside when a roaring bonfire’s been built.

We build bonfires often in the courtyard here at the Kinrowan Estate. Sometimes we have contradances deep into the night with bloody big mugs of hot chocolate, spiced cider or tea to aid in keeping everyone warm, and sometimes the Neverending Session treats those who care to come out in the cold to music by fire and moonlight. There’s something rather amazing to hear those musos play long into the night with the stars overhead.

Now building a proper bonfire is not something most folks know how to do. They think just throwing anything wooden into a pile and lighting is all there is to it. And we won’t even dwell on the idiots who use petrol to ignite their bonfires which is a sure way to get someone hurt badly.

A proper bonfire first of all needs a pit, preferably made out of stone. Ours is twelve feet across and three feet deep — need I say that it’s set a safe distance from anything that could catch fire? The wood for the bonfire should be a mix of softwoods like spruce and pine for both its quick burning and its lovely crackling sound; the hardwoods we use are maple and oak as they’ll burn a long time.

Our fire pit has a three foot wide flat lip — perfect for sitting on as the fire dies down. As the courtyard has a nice stone tile surface perfect for dancing (at least ’til it gets really cold), we often use the bonfire as a light source for those dances. And we’ve actually roasted whole pigs in the pit — really good eating that makes!

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What’s New for the 6th of October: A breakfast biscuit, Women in Genre Fiction, Princess Bride Times Two, Trad Plus, Robert Hunter RIP and Autumn has really arrived!

Brown-eyed women and red grenadine,
The bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean.
Sound of the thunder with the rain pourin’ down,
And it looks like the old man’s gettin’ on.

Robert Hunter’s Brown-Eyed Women

Remember I mentioned Ingrid, my wife, who’s the Steward for the Estate,  did an inventory of the woollen blankets that we got last October, as most staffers keep the heat cool enough in their sleeping areas not to be too warm, and woollen blankets are preferred covers by most every soul here? Well, these are really nice ones. Some blankets seem to get lost, some down the decades just wear out. And replacing them is bloody expensive! Well the ones we ordered from the Anatolian mills just came in. I sense much wonderful sleeping is upon us this Winter season!

I’ve had breakfast, well an early afternoon one of a really big biscuit brimming with smoked ham, well done egg as I like it to be, sliced onion and cheese along with lots of cardamon coffee, so I’m ready to finish this Edition off so you can go ahead and have a go of it. There’s music from the late Robert Hunter  and a look at The Princess Bride in both of its forms, along with lots of other neat stuff.

Up for a bloody good alternate steampunk adventure based in a Victorian London that wasn’t? Elizabeth has one for us: ‘Nevertheless, an unconvincing conclusion aside, S.M. Peters’ Whitechapel Gods is a gorgeously written, endlessly inventive steampunk novel and a truly entertaining read.’

Jayme has the Good Parts for us: ‘Some forms of fantasy are pure escapism. Other forms use magic and myth to promote social consciousness. And then there’s The Princess Bride, a book that exists in a class all its own. William Goldman’s tale of True Love, Harsh Revenge and Rodents of Unusual Size exhibits a gleeful audacity seldom seen in literature before or since.’

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

Warner says happily ‘Gauging the influence of women on genre fiction can be rather difficult due to years of gender bias in criticism and historical recording. As a result I was pleased to hear the announcement of Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. I love histories and biographies, and this work combines the two rather effectively. Written in a colloquial, almost casual, style this book nonetheless is informative and clear. As a result it is not only useful, but could easily serve as a textbook in a class for beginners studying the subject matter.’Denise welcomes the new month by…reviewing a St. Patrick’s day brew? Well, it is stout season, so we’ll allow it. Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.’s Cookie O’Puss Limited Edition Stout had her happily draining her glass. ‘…a lovely cycle of mint, chocolate, raw cocoa, and roasted malt that’ll have you emptying your glass before you know it.’

Denise also took a bite of Billinger’s Coffee Toffee 75% Dark Chocolate, Almond Toffee & Rich Roasted Coffee bar. ‘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…’ Read her full review to find out what she thinks of this treat!

L.G. happily says ‘Envision a film with Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Falk, and Peter Cook that is absolutely hilarious, yet none of them appear in the lead roles. “Inconceivable!,” you cry and I reply, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” Yes, indeed, we are talking about The Princess Bride — the wildly successful movie based on the wildly successful book of the same title. Both book and screenplay were written by William Goldman which explains two things; 1) why they match up so well, and 2) why they’re both so very, very good. Fast-paced adventure and laugh-out-loud humor are combined to wonderful effect.’

Brendan looks at Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s Harvest Home: Music For All Seasons: ‘This is an amazing CD that manages not only to pay tribute to the rural style of life but the entire field of American traditional music as well. Ungar and Mason have created a unique blend of orchestral and folk music that manages to preserve the integrity of each style while enhancing each other.’

Jack looks at a band back together after a very long break: ‘Pastures of Plenty, named for one of the more famous Woodie Guthrie song, brings back togather all the original members of the JSD Band for only the second time in the recording studio since their breakup in 1974. The band have been compiling new material over the last couple of years which draws from the same original mix of traditional Irish, Scottish and American traditional music along with a new song penned by fiddler Chuck Fleming. ‘

Meredith has a two-for for us: ‘Irish singer, songwriter, and vocalist Susan McKeown, originally of Dublin but now emigrated to New York City, is widely considered to be one of the fastest rising stars in contemporary music. She has released several critically acclaimed albums, both on her own and with her New York-based Celtic/jazz/rock band The Chanting House. She has proven herself to be a very versatile artist, as two recent collaborations amply illustrate.’

Aly Bain’s Aly Bain & Friends says Pat is ‘Exuberant, rich, steeped in tradition and eclectic, this album is a snapshot of one of the great fiddle players of recent times having a bit of fun. At the end of the day though, despite his forays into other musical genres, Aly Bain remains the quintessential Shetland fiddler and his many fans around the world are glad of it.’

So this What Not is a review of the masked Spider-Gwen figure, out of the many figures in the Rock Candy line of Marvel characters. She was more than a bit difficult to find, as she was a Hot Topic exclusive but she had long since disappeared from those stores by the time I managed to track her down some months later. The non-masked version showing Gwen Stacy with blonde hair was available online just about everywhere — at the original price.

I just learned that Robert Hunter died on the 23rd of September. Fuck. Since I rather like ‘Brown-Eyed Women’ quite a bit but my favorite version isn’t the one with Garcia singing that the Dead did, but rather is one done by Hunter who wrote much of what they played including this song and my favourite version is done by him during a show at Biddy Mulligan’s in Chicago on the tenth of October some thirty years ago. So let’s now listen to him doing that song.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Tatties

Have I shown you our tattie patch yet? I haven’t? Well let’s see it now. It’s a bit of a walk to it, as we’ve needed a lot of space down the centuries for this endeavour, as tatties get used for a lot of purposes, including several not so successful attempts by the more enthusiastic members of our staff to replicate their favorite vodkas! Oh they managed to make a passable vodka but (as the Brewmaster at the time recorded in his journal) they did couldn’t quite get the distillation process right. So after the regrettable accident in the Thirties with their still that went BOOM!, vodka making was banned.

Ahhh, we’re here now. Not much to look at now as most of the tubers have long since been harvested but there’s a few late season varieties in the ground which will get harvested this week before we get a hard frost as they are unfortunately sensitive to such frosts, which damage them in the ground. Even not terribly cold weather makes tatties far more susceptible to bruising and quite possibly later rotting, which can quickly ruin a large stored crop, and that we do not want to happen!

Tatties are a lot fussier than most non-gardeners, and a lot of gardeners as well, realize. This rather steep slope has been used for tatties for centuries now and carefully tended the whole time. It’s now a soil with lots of compost added in and even a bit of sand to facilitate draining . . . Note that it’s fully open to the sun and air flow here is excellent which keeps the damp away.

We’re harvesting tatties for two breads that Mrs. Ware and her kitchen staff want to make in a week or so . . . I’ll show you the recipes she’s using when we get back to the Kitchen, as they’re quite interesting and have been used here ever since they were published in Keesling’s 1890 Book Of Recipes And Household Hints. These are mostly Russets and Red Pontiac varieties, with the former probably better suited for using in bread than the latter. Of course tattie breads run the spectrum from Okrągły chleb kartoflany which is a light and airy Ukrainian tattie bread to the German Kartoffelbrot, which may contain spelt and rye flour.

OK, let’s take our harvest back to my workshop where we’ll gently clean them and set them on wire racks to cure for a week or so…

Mrs. F.M. Harwood’s Potato Ball Bread

Scald a tablespoonful of flour with a pint of water. Take a pint of fresh mashed potatoes, when cool, add a small potato ball (left from last baking), and one teaspoonful salt, two teaspoonfuls sugar, beat thoroughly. Take out half or three fourths of a cup of this mixture and save it to start bread next time. Mix the remainder of the potatoes with the scalded flour, and let rise overnight; next morning add a pint of tepid water to the yeast or sponge and enough flour to knead well: let rise, work down and rise again before putting in pan, when very light mould into a loaf and a pan of biscuit.

Mrs. PJ Studebaker’s Potato Beer Bread

One cup of dried yeast, soak twenty minutes, stir stiff with flour, and let rise; boil four potatoes, scald two spoonfuls of flour with beer from boiled potatoes, mash potatoes and mix with beer and flour. Stir in three quarts of water, then the yeast, let stand overnight; in the morning stir in flour to make thin batter, let rise, then knead stiff with flour, let rise, knead, then rise again, knead out in pans to bake, let rise, then bake in forty-five minutes.

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What’s New for the 29th of September: A Folkmanis Robot, Mug Cakes, Pogues Sans Shane McGowan, McKillip’s “Mystery” Story and Other Autumnal Matters

If the evidence says you’re wrong, you don’t have the right theory. You change the theory, not the evidence. — John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar

Oh those puppets. They’re the extra ones of an Autumnal nature that Folkmanis sent along, so I gave them a home on the shelves behind my desk here in our Estate Library. I particularly like the Mouse in the Pumpkin one, which Denise is reviewing for Autumnal Matters edition. Cute, isn’t she?

Now why don’t you give me a few minutes to finish up this Edition and we’ll head off to the Kitchen, as the season’s upon us when the staff’s making babka, that oh so exquisitely chocolate, rich Eastern European sweet, leavened bread along with the just as tasty rugelach, both a good treat as the weather cools, especially  when served with warm cider in those oversized mugs that some of my Several Annies crafted quite a while back.

Jayme has a book he’s very pleased about for us: ‘What a fascinating book! I’ve long been a fan of the Henson-produced science fiction series Farscape, particularly the effort the program always put in to making the alien species that populated the Farscape universe seem, well, alien. In The Creatures of Farscape: Inside Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, author Joe Nazarro takes readers behind the scenes to show with informative, straightforward prose — along with the aid of lavish photographs, sketches and concept art — just what kind of effort was needed to pull off one of the ambitious creative works ever presented on television.’

Richard has a cautionary note for us: ‘To say that Summer Morning, Summer Night is minor Bradbury is, I think, to miss the point entirely. While it shares the same Green Town, Illinois setting as his legendary Something Wicked This Way Comes, the material collected here works on a smaller, more delicate scale. It’s chamber music, not a brass band or a full orchestra, affectionate and truth-telling and warm in a way that only Bradbury can manage.’

Robert has a novel that’s merely good by the standards of that writer: ‘Patricia A. McKillip seems to write two kinds of novels. On the one hand, she has produced what I can only call thoughtful adventure stories, such as Riddle-Master. On the other are what I call the “mystery” stories — not detective fiction, but those stories that involve a central mystery in the religious sense: a transcendent image that cannot be explained or really even described. The Tower at Stony Wood is one of the latter.’

Sara’s ecstatic about a sequel: ‘Yay sequels! Loved faces and familiar places! Well, okay, maybe not in the Abarat. This gorgeous and meaty second book, in Clive Barker’s four book series about the adventures of Candy Quackenbush through the Abarat’s many things rich and strange is certainly every bit as entertaining and mysterious as the last, but in the Abarat, nothing is familiar, or comfortable, or certain.’ Read her review of Days of Magic, Nights of War to see what got her excited.

West Coast Cat takes a foray into mug cakes. Mug cakes? you ask. Says Cat: ‘Food crazes come and go, and I noticed that a current one is for mug cakes of various sorts. I tried a few and have thoughts. Mug cake, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is cake made in a mug in the microwave. Look in the baking mix section of your supermarket, if you’re American, and you’ll notice a sudden abundance of the “cake for one” concept.’ As for her thoughts on this phenomenon, you can find them here.

Mia happily notes that ‘Ignore the requisite “cute” child actor playing Mike Benedict (oddly, “cute” in 1960’s movies was often portrayed by whining and acting both obnoxious and mentally slow) and concentrate on the amazing performances by Tony Randall and the harsh but satisfying lessons taught by Dr. Lao and his circus performers. Moral but never preachy, sentimental but never maudlin, The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao is not to be missed.’

Craig happily notes that ‘Will Eisner’s The Best of The Spirit culls twenty-two stories from the dozen-year run of The Spirit, with two early selections (including the 1940 origin story). The vast majority, however, come from the postwar period, with 1946, 1948, and 1949 the most heavily represented. The introduction by Neil Gaiman (author of The Sandman series) acknowledges Eisner’s influence on him and otherwise reinforces Eisner’s importance to the medium (the community’s annual awards are named after him).’

Joe says ‘It’s not many bands that can claim to have invented a whole musical genre, but that’s what Horslips are credited with. Without them we wouldn’t have Celtic Rock. Of course Fairport Convention had been rocking up jigs and reels for a few years before the Irish band released their debut single “Johnny’s Wedding” in 1971, but with their first album Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part in ’72, the first real Celtic Rock album came into being.’

Peter wryly notes ‘The second album by the JSD Band was released in 1972 with declamatory sleeve notes by John Peel (the hippest man alive at the time). It included this account of a typical gig by this effervescent young band: “In a dark corner I danced with as much abandon as I ever allow myself and, for the umpteenth time blessed bands like the Faces and Lindisfarne who have brought joy and rowdiness back to our music.” He also went on to mention that “…no-one who goes on to buy this LP is ever going to flog it again…” How right he was.’

Robert has some comments on Linkin Park’s A Thousand Suns: ‘Full disclosure: as much as I am ever a “fan” of anything, I am a Linkin Park junkie. I suspect that’s only partly because they do loud, obnoxious rock and roll; it’s also partly because they are very sophisticated musicians who use the same vocabulary that musicians have been using since at least the sixteenth century. There’s a nice sense of continuity there.’

And Robert has something from the other end of the musical spectrum — or is it? Decide for yourself after reading his review of Leopold Stokowski’s collection of Rhapsodies: ‘No one who ever saw Disney’s Fantasia can forget Leopold Stokowski, who in many ways was the star of the film, even though he shared conducting honors with Mickey Mouse. Stokowski’s reputation as one of classical music’s greats is still largely unassailable, even though our taste as turned towards “purer” renderings, those that are more about the composer than the interpreter. Stokowski was, first and foremost, an interpreter, known as much for his tendency to pull out all the stops as for his musical erudition. This collection of concert favorites is a showcase for his particular brand of conducting.’

West Coast Cat brings us this week’s What Not, a somewhat odd creation from Folkmanis: Are you ready for a robot hand puppet? Well, that’s what we’ve got for you. You can go here to read Cat’s reaction.


So you hear the band name The Pogues and quite naturally think that their vocalist is Shane McGowan. Well for  most of the time the band was around,  you’d be right. But they did have a number of other vocalists down the decades when that wasn’t so and I’ll introduce you to one tonight in the guise of Andrew Ranken who performed the lead vocals on the ‘Star of the County Down’ in Köln Sporthalle, Germany on the seventh of November twenty eight years ago. He was their drummer and harmonica player and he appeared on all their official releases in those capacities.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Fall Equinox Tale

I strongly urge that you do not join the teller of this tale later, nor should you drink too deeply of what he is offering you…

Come in. Yes, the party is here in the Pub tonight. There will be rituals in the hills and the Wood later, but I advise you to avoid them. Join me here, at least for the time being. I can’t stay for the evening — there are things I must do elsewhere tonight, but that will be later on. Oh, forgive me — I’m sure you recognize Reynard, and there’s Reynard’s cousin Kit, and I saw several Jacks around earlier. I am . . . well, I have many names, but you can call me Jake. Yes — Jake will do for tonight.

You’re just in time. People are starting to arrive from the press barn — yes, we do it the old-fashioned way here, and everyone pitches in. Fortunately, it’s still warm enough to use the pumps outside to clean up. That’s what I like to see — people are tired but happy. Look, even McKenzie is smiling, and the Annies are positively glowing. After all, it’s the Wine Harvest, the Merry Moon, when Summer’s work is done and the bloody business of colder days has yet to start. So, no meat for tonight’s feast, but we have fresh bread and a rich vegetable stew and good cheeses to share.

Grab a glass or a tankard — we still have the last of the old vintage, and good ale and beer. Come over to the corner, where the Neverending Session has set up. The music will be a little different tonight, I think. I’ve brought a couple of friends who will be playing — yes, those fellows there. Ah, I see you recognize the piper. Fitting him for boots was a problem, and we had to cut a hole in his pants for his tail. Oh, yes, we had to put him into pants, else the evening would have gotten much too lively much too soon. He lacks restraint, and I thought it best to keep him indoors tonight, and to keep him playing — there will be enough madness in the wild places. At any rate, there will be some fine music tonight — my friends have been playing together for time out of mind. And there will be tales later — I know the storyteller of old, and he’s a rare one.

What? The Equinox? Oh, no — that’s only part of it. Yes, tonight is a night when we observe time in balance, but it’s more than just day and night — it’s one of the days we can look back and forward, like Janus the Two-Faced. It’s nothing so simple as ‘balance,’ at least as your thinking of it — it’s a complex and delicate thing, an equilibrium that is already out of place, that only holds its shape for an instant, part of the long interplay between day and night, dark and light, the eternal dance of the Kings as each in turn takes his place as Lord of the Wheel. It’s the ends of the circle that count, do you understand? Tonight is just a pause to take a breath and rejoice before the serious business starts again.

And it’s the midpoint of the Harvests, which I rule with my brothers. You hold a mug of my brother John’s bounty in your hand, and my brother Kern will come in his turn with the harvest of the woods, that can only be bought with blood. They offer sustenance, as do I — I stand between them and bring joy. Remember, the Harvests mark a time of sacrifice — we offer our lives, and I my beloved as well, and tonight we celebrate my gift. No, don’t regret it. Accept it gladly, as it was given, lest you belittle them and me — no one lives without the sacrifice of others. Acknowledge it, and treasure it, and give us your blessing.

Ah, I see them slipping out. I suspected they would — fox-haired Kit and his cat-eyed companion. Ha! You didn’t even know he’d come in, did you? They’re good at being unnoticed, the both of them — I’ve seen them slipping through the Wood like smoke, and not even the sharp-eyed ravens marked their passing. They’ll be coursing the woodland paths tonight, offering shelter. That Wood belongs to Kit, though I can’t guess how much of it he’s gifted to his friend — and don’t be fooled by that one — they are subtle and devious, both of them — and they understand that sacrifice must be willing. Kit has declared that tonight is not the night for bloodshed in his domain, and I have agreed, out of respect — he is my elder, after all. I daresay any bands of my celebrants who wander into the Wood will find themselves wandering out again in short order.

For the rest, you’d best stay in tonight. Stay close to the fire. See, the storyteller is here, so there will be tales told, strange and wondrous, and, if I know anything about this place, many healths pledged.

No — sadly, I have other tasks ahead of me, other places I must be, and I must say adieu. Tomorrow? No, I can’t promise that, but next year — next year for certain.

For tonight, be merry!

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What’s New for the 22nd of September: Falstaff’s Fireplace, Superb Chocolate, Single Pot Irish Whiskey, Great Fiction and Sweet Music — Small Treats Indeed!

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats, and if some of these can be inexpensive and quickly procured so much the better. — Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea

Would you like a taoscán of Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey? It’s not cheap but it’s considered the Pappy Van Winkle of Irish whiskies, as it’s both that good and that uncommon as well. We paid dearly for our bottle and I don’t expect that it’ll last very long. Good, I’ll get that for you. I’m sure you’ll find it quite amazing.

So Autumnal weather arrived today with a sharp tang in the air and rain as well. You’ll notice that it’s busy here in our Pub as both Estate staff and visitors are enjoying the fact that I’ve got Falstaff’s Fireplace well stoked this afternoon. And the Kitchen sent over several baskets of baked treats such as blackberry scones and their ever so popular dark chocolate chip cookies too.

Everything we review here could, by the measure established by Iris Murdoch, be considered a small pleasure. So read on to which ones you would  like to be your small pleasures.

Kestrell says ‘Rebecca Munford’s Re-visiting Angela Carter should be considered a necessary text for any scholar of Angela Carter’s work. Due to the density of the lit crit language, the this book is probably not for the general reader, although the dedicated Carter fan with a familiarity with literary criticism terms may wish to acquire a copy. It would also be wonderful to find this text being used in classes which focus on feminist approaches to film, radio, and other media.’

Kestrel in her second  review apprehensively says ‘when I sat down to view Lifeline Theatre’s live stage production of Neverwhere, I had my doubts. Works of fantasy offer a particular challenge for live theatre in that the fantastic often translates poorly to the limitations of the flesh and the material world, resulting in bad fur suits and the omission of many favorite passages.’ Now read her review to see why she was amazed by this performance!

Michael has a collection of short stories from a very prolific author: ‘Azazel is a collection of eighteen of his modern fantasy stories, all written during the 1980s. They originated in a story Issac Asimov wrote for a monthly mystery magazine, but, as the editor objected to the recurring fantasy elements, he soon found a home for an altered version of the concept at the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. After two such stories, the editor at Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine objected to the titular head of the magazine selling stories elsewhere, and thus, the next sixteen found a home at IASFM.’

Robert has the first volume of what could be an exceptional fantasy series, if this book is any indication: ‘Despite what the church claimed and the people believed, this was still a Kingdom born of younger sons, the land-hungry and the dispossessed. Thus begins one of the more fascinating books I’ve read in a while, Chaz Brenchley’s The Devil in the Dust.’

Robert has some very special chocolate for us: ‘Willie’s Cacao is the name of a chocolatier owned and operated by William Harcourt-Crooze, an Englishman with a passion for chocolate. Willie maintains that cacao from particular locations is like a fine wine, with its own flavor and character. Not surprisingly, given that approach, each of his chocolates is made from beans from a single estate.

David looks at the The Three Musketeers  and The Four Musketeers, both directed by Richard Lester: ‘The two films stand on their own merits individually but also form a wonderful whole when viewed together. The characters develop from the first to the second film. The relationships grow convincingly, and the action never lets up. There is sex, romance, and true love. There is action, and wit, and slapstick comedy. The scripts are glorious models of the screenwriter’s art, and there is not a bad performance to be seen. The sets are rich and faithful to the time, and the score (by Lalo Schifrin) underpins it all.’

Gary was moved by La misteriosa musica della Regina Loana, a tribute by two Italian jazz masters (Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia) to their late friend, author and philosopher Umberto Eco. ‘It’s a loving tribute to Eco and at the same time a masterful performance of music that evokes an era but lives utterly in the present.’

Jessica notes that ‘Though The Lonesome Crowded West deals with ugly subjects, it does so effectively, with honesty and understanding. Stylistically, it can at times be both coarse and difficult. And Brock’s wavering lisp is not for everyone. However, I consider Modest Mouse to be one of the most talented and original young groups currently making music, and the way in which they graft various roots-music styles into the stuttering alienation of post-punk gives me hope that their appeal is not as limited as the self-referential indie rock scene.’

Green Linnet went out of business quite some decades ago, but Patrick reminds us that they were quite important in the Celtic Music music scene once upon a time: ‘And through it all, we can always count on Green Linnet to assemble some of the finest groups and most wonderful music in the genre, thanks in no small part to founder Wendy Newton’s willingness to stop and marvel at the musicians and revel in their music. As for finding something to rejoice about, take your pick of any of the artists featured on Nua Teorainn, one of the label’s latest releases. Each is extraordinary.’

Tim disclaims ‘I’ll admit, I don’t care for electronics in traditional musical forms, so I didn’t expect to like this CD. I didn’t want to like it. In the end, though, the arrangements were so inventive, and Kerstin Blodig’s voice so compelling, that I found myself listening to Valivann over and over again.’

Our What Not this week is from Cat, who takes a look at a Rock Candy figure of Lady Thor. Rock Candy? That’s what it says.

Good music of course is always a welcome small treat and so I’ve got such a treat for you in the form of ‘Jenny Rocking The Cradle’  by the Irish group De Dannan Lee by Frankie Gavin as recorded at the Canal Street Tavern in  Dayton, Ohio thirty seven years ago. This version of De Dannan seems to have gone defunct as their website has been shuttered. Actually neither version of the group (don’t ask, it’s too long a story to tell now and it’s depressing to boot) appears to exist anymore.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Hard Rain is Falling

If you’ve visited us and been here when it was raining, you know why we put in a modern heating system. Heating with wood was cold, really cold in the winter, and miserably damp when it rained. I mentioned that as we’re in the middle of what is forecast to be a week of heavy rain.

Even I, who love all things outdoors in some pretty miserable weather, have curtailed all outdoor activities as much as possible. I’ve gratefully let my staff, many much younger than me, do the duties needed to keep Estate livestock safe while I and my wife stay in our modernised crafter cottage reading, listening to music, and just enjoying each other’s company.

Mind you, that much rain impacts everything. It’s far worse in its own way than a blizzard as folks know that’s really dangerous, but forget that a torrential rain storm can both cause hypothermia and cause anyone to get lost under the best possible conditions. It’s certainly possible to die within a handful of minutes. And the livestock has to be kept inside (save the ducks and geese who really like getting wet) in order to be safe.

Not to mention that I and my staff will have very long work days as soon as it stops raining, as there’ll be paths to rebuild, gardens to check for damage (good practices help minimise damage), forests to survey for dangerous hanging branches, and such and so forth.

But for now, we’ve got the Penguin Cafe Orchestra playing, I’m writing this post up, my wife is reading some mystery novel, one by Tony Hillerman I think, and we’re nice and toasty. That’s enough to make us as content as our cats are right now.

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Whats New for the 15th of September: Patrick Street, Ethan Iverson Quartet, Ashley Hutchings, Patricia McKillip, The Band, Issac Asimov and Other Matters as We See Fit

Good times don’t last long sometimes. — Levon Helm

We’ve had our first not so light frost last night, which was a few days early but not unusual for us. Gus, our Estate Gardener, protected what needed protecting and ruefully acknowledged that it meant that for many things the growing season was indeed at an end. So now his crew will be harvesting and processing a lot of produce that we’ll be gratefully using this coming off season.

So it’s likely we’ll have a garlic heavy squash soup with smoked pork sausage in it for supper sometime in this coming fortnight. Tonight we’re having a lasagna made with pork, tomatoes and peppers from our gardens with the oh so tasty cheese from Running Hill Estate.

Hmmm… I’ll tell you the fascinating story of Kedgeree before you turn to our reviews  as it’s considered a traditional British breakfast dish but its origins are rooted in Indian cooking having started its life as khichari, a simple dish of rice and lentils. Due to the British Raj and the colonization of the sub-continent the dish was taken, adapted and turned into something more suited to those serving in India, and it came to Britain during the Victorian era.

Cat leads us off with alternative history novel, The Peshawar Lancers, where the British Empire decamps to India: ‘The much more Indian that English culture is a brilliant re-visioning of British history that reads like vintage Poul Anderson, particularly his Dominic Flandry series. It features rugged heroes — male and female — vivid combat scenes, exotic locales, and truly evil villains. Hell, it even has Babbage machines, the great analytical engines that Sir Charles Babbage never built but which also play an important role in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine.’

Grey has one of her favourite books for us: ‘Some of the GMR staff were having a conversation about books that are beautifully written, books whose authors obviously love the English language and use it skillfully, extravagantly, profligately, even orgiastically. Patricia McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe is on my list of such books. It’s a book I return to at least twice a year, to linger once again in the richness of its language.’

Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are two of my fav British folk rock(ish) bands, so it’s apt that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as he helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’

It turns out that we don’t know who did this review as we had the wrong reviewer credited  but it is a splendid one nonetheless: ‘When faced with a work of the stature of I, Robot, one is pretty much at a loss. This is the collection of Isaac Asimov’s stories about robots that originally appeared between 1940 and 1950, collected and provided with a frame: Dr. Susan Calvin, the chief robopsychologist at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., is being interviewed; this collection is her reminiscences of her career and some of the more interesting personalities — human and otherwise — she has known.’

This issue, Denise digs into Specially Selected Mango Chili Flavored Tortilla Strips with Chia Seeds. ‘Aldi is quickly becoming my go-to place for finding new things to try. They have a knack for creating items that make me do a double-take, and then put said things into my cart. Like these chips.’

Fairport Convention has had many a boxset in its over fifty-year existence and David looks at one of them, Fairport unCconventional: ‘Eleven lead singers, eleven lead guitarists, six fiddlers, seven drummers, five keyboard players, two bass players, four CDs, one 172 page book, a Family Tree from Pete Frame, a poster by Koen Hottentot, a history of Cropredy, some interesting loose papers and ads, a postcard for a 5th CD and a program from Martin Carthy’s birthday celebration! Whew! Does Free Reed know how to throw a party? Until further notice this box is the anthology of the year! Don’t miss it!’

Gary was quite pleased with Common Practice, a new jazz album by the Ethan Iverson Quartet with trumpeter Tom Harrell. ‘This is a beautiful recording of standards from the swing and bop eras (and a couple of Iverson compositions in that spirit), played in a modern way but with respect to their history.’

Gary reports on Dori Freeman’s third Americana release: ‘Dori Freeman is amassing an impressive catalog of work as she grows into her professional career as a songwriter, recording artist and performer, as well as a mature adult navigating her way through the world. Every Single Star is yet another solid demonstration of how to turn the particulars of a life into songs with universal appeal.’

Lars has a very fine album for us: ‘Live from Patrick Street was recorded in 1998 during a tour of Great Britain and Ireland. It is an unusual live album due to the fact that more than half of the tracks are previously unreleased. In that respect, it should be treated as a new album, not as a greatest hits-collection performed live. As usual, there is a mixture of songs (five) and instrumental tracks (seven); and, as usual, it is played with all the expertise you would expect from these gentlemen. We are talking the creme de la creme here.’

Patrick says that Lowlands, Susan McKeown’s sixth album, is ‘one of the most fascinating works I have listened to in what seems ages. There isn’t a bad song — not even a mediocre one — on this 12-track CD. Her practice of combining traditional works with non-traditional instrumentation gives each piece a very unearthly feel, while keeping their roots quite grounded in the fertile Celtic soil.’

Did you have a lovely Friday the 13th? Yes, lovely. No one here suffers from Friggatriskaidekaphobia, and neither should you. In fact, we relish the day. Why not? Frigg is a great goddess! Wisdom, prescience, and not to forget she’s the very entity we get Friday from! What’s not to like about that? (In this instance I’ll skip the Frigg/Freja discussion. We can have that at another time.)

So the next time you hear people freaking out about Friday the 13th, just smile. It’s gonna be a good day. A Frigg-in’ great day, in fact.

So let’s have some rock and roll. I’ve been thinking of The Band which is more or less a Canadian group despite doing ‘The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down’ which is one of the great anti-war protest songs ever. But I’m thinking of something a lot less heavy by them, to wit ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ in which lead vocalist Levon Helm recites the story Robbie Robertson wrote of a not so epic but highly entertaining day that an average joe has.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Theatre in the Round (A Letter to Annbjørg)

Greetings Annbjørg,

About that theatre I mentioned — we’ve had a theatre in the round for nearly forty years now, ever since the a particular Steward developed a deep affection for theatre. He noticed that the very old stone livestock auction barn either had to be repaired or torn down before it fell down. And the last auction held there was generations ago, as that activity moved to Riverrun Farm, as it was more convenient for all the farmers.

It’s about forty feet across and two stories high — apparently there was no way to heat it, so all the theatre done there was done in the summer and early fall, though there was one Estate muso who convinced the Neverending Session to do a concert there on Winter Solstice just after it was renovated. It is said by those there that it was an interesting event as Border smallpipes and fiddles sound superb there!

So we cleaned out the space, fixed the slate roof and pointed up the stone exterior, and added a stage. And then it got interesting, as the Steward noticed it was a tall enough interior that we could have three levels of staging and seating. He readily agreed to spending the funds to do so, as Jackie, a musician resident here then, said it’d make a dandy summer and fall concert venue. And so it has been ever since.

The Welsh folk punk band, Ymyl Danheddog (Serrated Edge), always plays there when it’s warm enough to do so, and one of the Several Annies who’s Welsh plans on doing A Child’s Christmas in Wales there this Winter, as we just added a Russian stove system there which was a costly affair indeed.

At any rate, I’m hoping you and your hardingfele fiddle make it here for the tune swap planned for the fortnight around Candlemas.

Warmest regards, Reynard

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What’s New for the 8th of September: Celtic Music, Making Cider, Folkmanis dragons, Sherlock Holmes films, Pub Renovations, Music by the Old Blind Dogs and There’s a Touch of Frost in The Air

Like legend and myth, magic fades when it is unused. — Charles de Lint’s The Little Country

The Pub’s closed for a fortnight for its once a decade cleaning, as it gets a complete overhaul with everything from the slate floor removed and thoroughly cleaned to a complete paint job, which is a pain in the ass, given the size of the Pub. Of course, everything has to removed from it and stored away, which takes time as well. I’ve moved my office into an adjacent space to oversee the renovations. It’s worth it, but oh, the look on patrons when they see the We’re close for cleaning sign is somewhat heartbreaking.

So I’m pretty much free to do what I want as we’ve hired a outside firm to do the work needed. And Iain’s busy this week so I got the Sunday edition. Right now I’m sitting in the Kitchen having a late lunch, which is a plate of smoked turkey, cheese and hard rolls while listening to the kitchen crew talk about what’s going on about the Estate. I learned there’s two new pregnancies, one marriage coming up and we’ve got a Latvian Several Annie arriving next week.

Thinking about the coming colder weather got you down? Well Deborah has a reading recommendation: ‘While I recommend this book whole-heartedly for reading any time of day or night, on a plane, on a train, or simply on the couch at home, here is my specific prescription for Patricia McKillip’s The Bell at Sealey Head: buy it, place it upon your bookshelf, and wait. Wait until a day when you feel blue, or when the world is blue around you, with stormy heavens and endless rain. Make a cup of tea, settle yourself among soft pillows and fabrics, and then enter The Bell at Sealey Head. Savor it. You’ll feel better immediately.’

Kate ponders  Cats Have No Lord: ‘It was not immediately clear when I began to read this book exactly how the title fit with the story. However, the characters brilliantly pull a reader in, until the question is revealed, “Why do Cats Have No Lord?” I believe that is the first comical twist Will Shetterly gives this very busy plot.’

Robert says that ‘A good argument can be made for calling Emma Bull’s Bone Dance an urban fantasy. There is a great deal to do with the spirit world, events that are only explainable in terms of magic of some sort, and there are visitations from supernatural beings. However, the fact that it is set in a post-Apocalyptic dystopia, technology plays a pivotal role (although that is more because of its scarcity than because of its reliability), and the magic comes from “hoodoo” (Voudou is part of modern reality, for some of us at least) make me place it firmly in science fiction (which does, after all, leave room for beings with advanced mental powers).’ After you read his review, go read the first chapter here, courtesy of Emma.

Warner wasn’t too happy with the first volume of a new trilogy: ‘So sometimes, you just cannot connect with a book. Lies of Descent is the first book in a new trilogy by Troy Carrol Bucher. It is also a volume that fails in many ways to connect with the reader. The start is promising, if cliche, of a young man in a hard life discovering he has a very special destiny, and a girl making a similar discovery.’

It being nigh unto Autumn, let’s look at Simon McKie’s Making Craft Cider: A Ciderist’s Guide which comes with a warning from Gereg: ‘Let’s get the down side out of the way first. This is not a book you’ll pick up for light entertainment. It’s not a particularly a lively read, nor is it often witty (though the wit, where it comes out, is as dry as a good cider).’ If however you want to make hard cider as the Yanks call it, you really should read his review!

Craig has his Holmes for us: ‘The Sherlock Feature Film Collection gathers together the five feature-length installments of the Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke series, giving the viewer an opportunity to see these two actors together over a more leisurely period of time. Some are better than others, of course, but all of them allow us to further get to know this Holmes and Watson, without being rushed by the necessity of getting the story told in an hour’s time.’

We’re deep in Celtic this edition covering the Cornish, Manx, Irish, Scottish and Welsh traditions. So let’s get started…

Our lead-in review isn’t precisely Celtic but it is based on the music that Charles de Lint wrote for The Little Country, his novel  featuring Cornish small piper Janey Little, so it has its roots in Cornish music. Thus Cat has some comments on somewhat non-traditional rendering of the music of Charles de Lint, Zahatar’s The Little Country: ‘Zahatar is more akin to a classical music ensemble than it is to a folk group, and their arrangements of de Lint’s The Little Country compositions very much reflect that. It’s a lively but dignified approach to his songs, more closely akin to what you’d hear if you were listening to any classical music ensemble than to, say, a contradance band.’

Debbie has a great Scottish recording for us in Brian McNeill’s The Busker And The Devil’s Only Daughter: ‘As with all other albums I’ve heard by Brian McNeill, there is much to delight the listener. His creativity and eclectic approach to his music, laced with his honest passion for what he’s doing, make this worth seeking out despite some minor unevenness here and there.’

Barrule’s Manannan’s Cloak gets praised by Gary: ‘The Isle of Man is a small island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, with a lot of history and an ancient Celtic culture. Barrule is a trio that is celebrating that culture and bring the island’s jigs, reels and old Manx songs to the world. The group consists of fiddler Tomas Callister, guitarist and bouzouki player Adam Rhodes, both Manx natives and leading lights in the current revival of the music scene, and Welsh accordionist Jamie Smith (who also has a Welsh band called Mabon). This is their second album, and it’s a wonderfully lively collection of tunes and songs.’

Calennig’s A Gower Garland says Lars ‘may not be everyone´s cup of tea, but it should be interesting to anyone with the slightest interest in Welsh music or Welsh culture, even though everything here is sung in English. I know what I will be playing in the car stereo the next time I get the opportunity to visit Rhossili Bay.’

Patrick has an equally superb Irish album for us: ‘The ease with which they deliver these pieces on Street Life is an abject lesson to every young band looking to achieve longevity in a very fickle marketplace. There was a time when each new Patrick Street album defined the session content of every Irish-music-type person in North America. Those days may have passed given the availability of other recordings but their new albums are always welcome and given some of the directions “Celtic music” is taking these days I think I’ll stick with the tried and true.’

Mia has a bonnie brunch of fantastical dragons and one gryphon for us: ‘These four puppets are lovely examples of why Folkmanis is the single premier fantasy puppetmaker. This is just a small sampling of their dragons and other fantastic creatures; they have several other dragons, a sea serpent, a pegasus, a unicorn . . . and boy do I have my eye on the griffin. Folkmanis puppets are great for kids who want to use their imagination in play — but I really think they’re better for adults like me who never really plan to grow up.’

The weather’s already starting to get cooler here, so let’s see if we’ve got some  music to match … so how about ‘Come a’ Ye Kincardine Lads’ by the Old Blind Dogs, a Scottish trad band that’s very, very popular around here? It was recorded at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre located somewhere in Ohio back in March sixteen years ago. The fine sound tells me it was a soundboard recording.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Discographies ( A Letter to Jackson)

G’Day Jackson,

Iain asked me to teach the Several Annies, Iain’s Library Apprentices, the proper way of constructing a discography. It’s trickier than it looks as it requires a lot of research in obscure corners of the internet and an willingness to ignore what the band thinks is the history of the band.

A discography is the study and cataloging of published sound recordings, often by specified artists or within identified musical genres. The exact information varies depending on the manner of the discography, but one for a recording will often list such details as the names of the artists involved, the time and place of the recording, the titles of the pieces performed, release dates, chart positions, and sales figures. What we’re doing is less about that sort of detail than where and when the recording was done, and who’s on the recording.

I started them off an easy project, that of Chasing Fireflies, the very local contradance band that plays here and in the region. They’ve got three recordings out, all on their own label, Falling Down Dancing Recordings. We had all of the recordings in the Music Library so they could go there for the actual recordings. And all of the musos themselves were all here, so they could ask them questions if need be.

(I suggested that for the purposes of this project that constructing a history of the band would also be good. A very nice oral history of Chasing Fireflies was done, good enough that Iain was very impressed.)

We also tackled the delicate question of EPs from bands that fell apart after releasing a one-off EP such as one from Cuillin, a Cape Breton group, that was sent to us as a favour. I insisted upon a cataloging note that the band never actually toured and that this EP was the only recording they did. Same holds true, or perhaps even truer, for a Celtic band by the name of The Windbags who cut an EP but never even existed outside of that one-off in the studio. 

I made it much more complicated for the final project by choosing the Oysterband, a very long-running band. I told them that I want a full discography including any promotional releases and bootlegs of significance. Oh, that was fun.

When the band was the Oyster Band, they released a recording called Freedom And Rain with June Tabor as a guest artist. Officially that was the only recording released to the public. Dig a little deeper and you find a Ryko disc called Freedom and Rain Tour ’91 Sampler which includes splendid covers of ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘All Along the Watchtower’. Both are quite superb but the best recording is a bootleg catching them in full glory in Minneapolis during their American tour!

That exercise led the Annies to learn how a bootleg is cataloged, a tricky task as ofttimes the releasing party takes no credit for their frequently splendid work. Garry Freeman’s The Bootleg Guide (Scarecrow Press, 2005) is the gold standard for what a bootleg is and how to catalog it.

I think they learned a lot about both the difficulty of making a complete discography and the fun of discovering the hidden history of a long-running band. All in all, it was a entertaining week for them.

Cheers, Reynard

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What’s New for The 1st of September: Italian flugelhorn music, a Zelazny collection, Pogues fronted by Strummer, a Miles Morales Spider-Man and Summer is Fading Away

To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due. — Hob Gadling, toasting upon Dream’s journey as told in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Season of Mists

Autumn is yet to arrive here with its promise of bonfires, fresh pressed cider, of blackberries fat and tart on their prickly bushes  and pumpkins still ripening on the vine, but it’s also the time of year that we get fully in gear about getting ourselves ready for the coming Winter.  So if you visit us on the Kinrowan Estate, someone will ask you to pitch in on some task or other that does need doing. So dress appropriately, have a good attitude, sturdy footware and you’ll be appreciated here rather nicely.

It’s rather quiet in the Pub on this warm afternoon, as almost everyone who can be is outside is either doing needed chores or just enjoying the unseasonably warm weather as it’s twenty three out right now, with not a breeze to be felt. I’ve the windows open here airing the place out, which is something I rarely get to do this time of year. I do have a group of German tourists sampling ciders and chatting with me about northern German favourite foods we share in common.

Denise has a fantasy that makes her long for the next book in the series: ‘What do you get when you take an assassin sick of killing, a petulant half-demon and his hubba-hubba aide “Nursie,” a barely pubescent girl who would leave a marathoner in the dust, and a cook so amazing she could make gruel taste like foie gras? The beginnings of Kage Baker’s The Anvil of the World, one of the most enjoyable romps I’ve had between the pages in a very long time.’

Robert looks at The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories: ‘This is one of those instances where I have to stop myself or go on for pages and pages. Let it suffice that, as I was dipping into the stories once more in preparation for this review, I found myself caught again and again by images bizarre, frightening and wonderful, less than willing to put the book down until I had finished whatever tale had caught my eye. As much of Roger Zelazny’s work as I’ve read (and at this point, I think it’s almost everything), I can’t offhand think of any better introduction.

Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett’s Point Of Dreams says Sarah ‘is basically a murder mystery. The city of Astreiant may be in a world where magic works and ghosts walk, but it’s still a mystery. That magic only serves to complicate things for the law enforcers, the Pointsmen, so called because their stations, and perhaps their beats, are known as Points. A point is also what a Pointsman makes where a policeman would say a charge. The people of Astreiant make their words do heavy duty.’

Warner says ‘The stand-alone fantasy novel is something of a rarity in this day and age, and Julie E. Czerneda as produced an excellent example of it. Czerneda is already an experienced hand in the fantasy genre, with 20 novels under her belt including award-winning books like A Turn of Light, but The Gossamer Mage is something truly special.’

Denise pops the top on a box of Dent Duett pastilles. ‘For those days when you can’t seem to make up your mind on what kind of taste you’re craving – which for me is just about every single day of my life – Duet has an equal amount of sweet and sweetly savory.’ But are they any good? Well, read her review!

Aurora looks at two versions of The Lion in Winter, James Goldman’s story of the Christmas Court of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor that wasn’t. One version has the pair played by Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn, the other by Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close. Read her review to see why she was surprised that she liked both versions.

Gary reviews a jazz recording by the Israeli-born duo Avishai Cohen and Yonathan Avishai called Playing The Room. He was quite taken with the album, in particular one piece, South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Kofifi Blue,” of which he says, ‘if this doesn’t have you flaneuring up and down the boulevard with your walking stick as you hum this tune, I don’t know what it’ll take.’

Gary also reviews a live recording called Roma by Italian flugelhornist Enrico Rava and American tenorist Joe Lovano, backed by a lively young rhythm section. ‘The program features only five pieces, all long works with lots of room for the players to stretch their ample improvisatory muscles.’

Gary’s not done with jazz yet. He has one more called Jazz and Art by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with 10 songs dedicated to and inspired by modern American visual artists and their work. ‘Although it’s played by a large ensemble that some may think of as old-fashioned, this music is as richly varied as the artworks that inspired it and the backgrounds of its composers.’

Dorothea, says Richard, is from Lais, who are ‘a unique group that has no equivalent, to my knowledge, anywhere in the world of music. This seven-piece band from the Flemish region of Belgium is fronted by three alluring young women, Jorunn Bauweraerts, Annelies Brosens and Nathalie Delcroix, who sing, move and gesture in a highly dramatic manner while singing beautiful harmonies, occasionally a cappella, but more often to an eclectic accompaniment that ranges from the downright folky to something closer to electropop.’

Scott notes ‘The members of Mozaik all have reputations which precede them, and the musicianship on Live from the Powerhouse lives up to expectations. Long-time fans of any of the individual performers will want to have this CD. Newcomers looking for quality Irish or world music will find much to like about this as well, although they might want to catch up on Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny’s histories while they’re at it. It will be interesting to see if Mozaik becomes a fairly permanent outfit, with multiple albums and tours, or if all the performers return to their regular career.’

Our What Not this week is a Mile Morales Spider-Man figure. Cat says ‘So I went hunting on the internet for a good Miles Morales Spider-Man figure. I liked that particular Spider-Man after seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse while I was in-hospital being treated for a staph infection that required not only that I have bone surgery but that I spend forty two days there having antibiotics three times a day. So I was looking for something entertaining to watch and I heard very good things about this film. It turned out that it is a fantastic film that if a Spider-Man fan you should see now as Miles Morales is an amazing Spider-Man and the rest of the Spider-Beings are equally amazing.’

Joe Strummer, May He Rest In Peace, had a much better voice that Shane MacGowan ever had on his very best day which I swear never happened. So I’ll show you that by letting you hear him when he fronted the Pogues in Köln, Sporthalle, Germany on the seventh of November twenty eight years ago to sing ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’. What an amazing voice!

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