I thought I knew what cold was, before cold stripped me bare of thought, then blinded me and froze my heart. I could not feel such cold and live; cold forced me into something other, something not quite human, who held a dream with bones of ice, and did not remember names, only what we once had been — a flower on a vine, a fall of light. — Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose
No, it’s not that cold but it’s definitely nasty enough that I passed on my morning ramble around the Estate, as once again there’s a stiff wind along with a freezing drizzle — not quite what I would want to walk or ski in. So I settled in for a quiet day of reading and answering correspondence (my fellow librarians and book lovers still like letters), as Ingrid, our new Steward, took my apprentices for the day for them to learn what an Estate Steward does.
So first breakfast. I always drink tea as I never developed a taste for coffee no matter how good it was. So it was lapsong soochong, a loose leaf first blush smoked black tea from Ceylon. With a splash of cream of course. And a rare surprise too — apple fritters served with thick cut twice smoked bacon, using apple wood only, and yet more apples in the form of cinnamon and nutmeg infused apple sauce. There was even mulled cider for those wanting even more apples in their breakfast fare! Thus fortified, I turned to writing the What’s New for this week…
Robert starts off our book reviews with a look at not one book, but a whole store full: ‘I first ran across Bookworks a number of years ago when I was faced with the choice of either getting rid of some books or moving into my own apartment and coming to visit them. Among the local book dealers, I discovered Bookworks. The owners were friendly, enthusiastic, and offered fair prices based on market value of the book.’
Cat had high hopes for Philip DePoy’s The Devil’s Hearth as he has ‘a special fondness for mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains, even though there aren’t a lot of good ones and a lot of not so great ones. Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballads series had some memorable outings, particularly among the later novels, and one which was outstanding, Ghost Riders.’ Read his review to see if DePoy lived up to his expectations.
Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas’ Haunted Legends, says Gereg, is ‘something of a paradox: As a collection I found this volume kind of weak, but there are a lot of very fine stories in it. So many, in fact, that on going back over the anthology a second time, I wondered why I’d thought it was weak in the first place. As a reader, I’d probably just leave it at that; but as reviewer, I feel I owe it to my adoring public to tell you precisely why I feel the overall effect is weak. So I dove back into the book for a third time. Such travails are how I earn my fabulously high salary here.’
In the mood for a superhero? Robert takes a look at the latest version of the type specimen of the species, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel: ‘It seems to be the Time of the Reboot. Or the retelling. In the case of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, it’s once again the Superman story, from Day One.’
Do samurai count as superheroes? Robert takes a look at a film based on an old story from Japan, Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin, which might serve to answer that question: ‘From the trailers, I figured 47 Ronin was going to be a historical chop-socky adventure story with monsters. It’s a bit more than that.’
We asked a goodly number of folks we encounter here this question: ”Is it a bowl of your mother’s fish chowder Or a warm doughnut dusted with powdered sugar? Comfort food is as individual as each of us. We here at Sleeping Hedgehog (the in-house newsletter of our Estate) are interested in your story!’ Jennifer, a Winter Queen who’s responsible for the best Winter Solstice story ever, gives her answer here.
April says that ‘I can only speak for myself as a chocolate addict, but I loosely categorize chocolate into three general categories: cheap chocolate to be scarfed as needed, mid-grade chocolate that’s to be enjoyed more slowly . . . and then there’s the really good stuff, chocolate to be savored and hoarded and mourned when it is gone. My guilty pleasure, Reese’s, falls into the first category. Ritter Sport, Godiva and Ghirardelli fall into the second. And the third … well, it’s sparsely populated, but now includes, courtesy of Green Man Review, Amano dark chocolate bars.’
Joseph got to review Anthony Boudain’s special edition programme of a visit to Iceland: ‘my favorite bar differs greatly from Iceland. In the winter, it gets more than four hours of day light. It does not serve smoked puffin, roasted sheep’s head, rotten shark, or sheep’s testicle loaf. And there is a distinct shortage of Viking related stories. But in No Reservations: Iceland Special Edition, Iceland fails not for being Iceland. It fails because Bourdain begins under the weather and ends with a hangover.’
Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nathan had a book that was to the liking of Gary: ‘This is, the authors of Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History say, the “second tequila boom” in the United States. The first occurred around the turn of the 20th century, after a mescal produced by Sauza took top prize at the 1893 Chicago Exposition. But Mesoamericans have been pit-roasting agaves for up to 10,000 years, from the north rim of the Grand Canyon south to Guatemala, and cultivating the succulent plant for nearly as long.’
Robert takes a look at a graphic novel, Peter Bagge’s Other Lives, that left him with somewhat mixed feelings. Just to give you a clue, he notes ‘Peter Bagge’s best-known series is the award-winning Hate, which should give you some idea of his approach to comics.’
Next, Robert has some thoughts on Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call: ‘If any comic published in the last couple of decades typifies the intrusion of a “noir” sensibility into the field, it’s 100 Bullets. . . . In this first collected edition, we’re given two episodes in which the mysterious Agent Graves approaches people who have suffered unjustly. He gives them an attache case with a gun and 100 bullets, all untraceable, with the assurance that they can use them however they choose for redress and as soon as those bullets are recognized, any investigation will be called off.’
Catherynne, who was one of our Winter Queens, starts her essay on Winter pleasures this way: ‘I love the winter, so I tend to revel in it: making snowmen with marzipan and blackcurrant faces (which my dog promptly eats off), pumpkin coffee and snug scarves, wrapped up and warm by the wood stove, typing away at the latest book and knitting during down time. Soft yarn and the little click of wooden needles is such a comforting set of feelings.’
Jo had good things to say about peter & wendy by Johnny Cunningham and friends: ‘A rich montage of songs and sounds combine to bring the listener to the world of Neverland to retell the story of Peter Pan and Wendy. This music was used in a theatrical production of Peter Pan, using puppetry, light, and shadow to create the magical world of J.M. Barrie.’
Foxhounds got a rave review by Gary: ‘Bluegrass doesn’t get more solid than the music on this, Kathy Kallick’s 20th album. Kallick herself is an institution in bluegrass, not only through her work with this band but as a founding member of the Good Ol’ Persons, plus her solo work and duets with many of her contemporaries.’
Next, Gary looked at a new jazz release, Wes Montgomery’s One Night in Indy. It was taken from a tape of a performance by guitarist Montgomery and the Eddie Higgins Trio for a private jazz club in Indianapolis in January 1959, he says. ‘This is four working musicians – never mind that one of them would go on to become a household name within a few years – doing what they do for a small crowd of aficionados, whose applause and occasional appreciative vocalizations are sometimes heard on the tape.’
American jazz guitarist John Abercrombie has had a long career of nearly 40 years as a leader. Near the beginning of that career Abercrombie issued three quartet albums that have been reissued as a set, and which Gary found to his liking. “The three albums — Arcade from 1978, Abercrombie Quartet in 1979 and M in 1980 — featured the group in which Abercrombie defined the style that has remained his ever since,” Gary says. He has more to say about the set in his review.
Gary found John Potter’s Amores Pasados to be comfort food for the soul – and the ear! “What might you get if you have modern pop songwriters put music to ancient poetry? Music to be played on the lute and sung by a tenor and a soprano who specialize in art songs? It could have been a train wreck or it could have been just boring. Instead, this disc is a beautiful surprise,” he says.
Now let us hear Iron Horse, the great Scottish trad group, playing ‘“Black Crows and Ravens” at the Gosport Easter Festival, Thorngate Halls, Gosport, Hampshire on the sixth of April 1996. I’m still looking for a recording of them closing out the Festival with the Old Blind Dogs, anther great Scottish group!