She knew this music — knew it down to the very core of her being — but she had never heard it before. Unfamiliar, it had still always been there inside her, waiting to be woken. It grew from the core of mystery that gives a secret its special delight, religion its awe. It demanded to be accepted by simple faith, not dissected or questioned, and at the same time, it begged to be doubted and probed. –– smallpiper Janey Little in Charles de Lint’s The Little Country
So have I mentioned that we get some of our nastiest weather this time of year? Thus it is this weekend with sleet, freezing rain and high winds keeping all save the staff that tend to our livestock inside. Which is why I’m in the Robert Graves Memorial Room sitting next to a roaring fire writing this update up for you. I’ve got a pot of Darjeeling first blush which needs no cream, so I’m as content as Hamish, one of our resident hedgehogs, who’s sleeping in a quilted basket near the fire. So let’s see what we’ve got for you this week…
But before we start, some words from one of our favourite people, Ellen Datlow, on why she likes Spring better than any other season: ‘I love spring in New York–even if it only lasts a few short weeks. I celebrate spring by trying to view the very few magnolia trees in bloom around my neighborhood (they’re in full bloom for only a few days so it’s quite easy to miss them completely).’ The rest of her reasoning for this choice is thisaway.
I just finished reading The Woman Who Died A Lot, the latest novel by Jasper Fforde in his highly entertaining Thursday Next series. It’d make no sense to suggest you start here as it’s the seventh novel thus far, so instead I’m offering you the review by Michael of the first novel, The Eyre Affair. Either read or listened to, they’re darkly humorous!
Gary reviews a telling of the story of a man we know little about, Thomas Cromwell: ‘Wolf Hall is a hefty book with a complex cast of characters. It comes with a family tree of the Tudors and a list of most of the main characters by name and role, which comes in handy because many of the individuals are sometimes called by their name and sometimes their title. I found it to be a compelling page-turner.’ The second novel, Bring Up the Bodies is also out as well, with a third novel to follow.
Gary reviewed all three of the books in William Gibson’s so-called Blue Ant trilogy: Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History. He says, ‘The best-selling series brought Gibson out of the ghetto of genre fiction into the limelight of more mainstream fiction, which is something that some sci-fi fans may hold against him. One of the inventors of cyberpunk is writing books that aren’t even sci-fi, and they’re about … fashion! How dare he?’
Grey looks at Susan Cooper’s award-winning The Dark is Rising series; ‘When I was a teenager I often repeated these lines to myself as a kind of charm. It wasn’t that I expected them to make something happen; the words were a “happening” in and of themselves, and just saying them put me into the middle of it. They were a door into Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising cycle, one of the most compelling stories I had ever read. The story compels me to this day, and I continue to re-read it every few years.’
Lory says of our next England set series: ‘Before there was Lyra Belacqua, there was Sally Lockhart. Prior to creating the unforgettable Lyra of The Golden Compass and its blockbuster sequels, Philip Pullman was perhaps best known for his trio of books featuring another kick-ass female: a pistol-packing, checkbook-balancing, mystery-solving Victorian orphan. I adored these books as a teenager (like Sally herself, I was sixteen when the first volume was published), but hadn’t read them in years when the chance came to review them for GMR. Would they still be as compelling as I remembered, half a lifetime later?’
Let’s finish off with Richard’s look at an award-winning fantasy series which is perhaps the most English of the series here: ‘Trying to write an omnibus review of Robert Holdstock‘s Ryhope Wood cycle is a damnably difficult task. On a strictly practical note, two portions of the cycle (‘The Bone Forest’ and Merlin’s Wood) are fiendishly hard to find. ‘The Bone Forest’, which can be found in The Bone Forest collection describes the original explorations of George Huxley and Edward Wynne-Jones into the nature of Ryhope Wood, at a time when Christian and Stephen Huxley, the protagonists of Mythago Wood and Lavondyss are still children.’
Kage loved video with a fierce devotion to it that showed in her reviews, as we see here with her lead-in to the Bruce Campbell Jack of All Trades series that gleefully screwed historic accuracy royally in favour of a more entertaining kstory: ‘In the soul of every history geek, there is a hidden volume wherein are listed the names of History Geek Guilty Pleasures. Don’t try to deny it, fellow history geeks; you know it’s true.’
A Bear by the name Elizabeth found something sweet very much to her liking in Dean’s Sweets: ‘Portland seems to me one of the quintessential New England seacoast towns. With its long streets of red masonry buildings and its quirky alleyways, coffeeshops, and squares, it’s a fine place to spend a wandering day. It makes sense to me that one of the best local New England chocolates I’ve tried should make its home here.’
Gary has a cautionary review for you: I love good beer, and I love to travel. I also enjoy reading about both. I find beer writing more interesting than wine writing, because beer experts tend to be less stuffy about their craft than wine experts. And a good travel writer can make you feel almost as though you were along for the ride. So I jumped at the chance to review Pint-Sized Ireland: In Search Of The Perfect Guinness. Writing about travel and beer! What could be better? Well, as it turns out, it could be better if someone else wrote it.’ Ouch.
Richard looks at a chapbook that covers a favored treat here at the Kinrowan Estate: ‘Ask anyone waving around a Drumstick cone or Klondike Bar where ice cream comes from, and you’re lucky if you get a smart-aleck response like “the freezer”. Ice cream may be near-universally loved (there’s an ice cream truck going down my block as we speak, and it’s not being shy about it), but it has an oddly shrouded history. Admittedly, most consumers of ice cream wouldn’t care if the first ice cream cone sprang, fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus, but for those who are actually curious about where their double-dip hot fudge sundaes originated – and who don’t want to read a tome the size of a cinderblock – there’s Ivan Day’s slender Ice Cream.’
Robert came across a couple of chocolate candies from Scandinavia that got a mixed reaction: ‘First, a brief word on nomenclature: when I say “chocolate,” I’m talking about something in which the presence of cacao is unmistakable: strong, slightly bitter (depending on how much sugar has been added), dark and rich. When I say “candy,” it means that there might be chocolate in there, but it’s mostly an excuse to get sugar into your body. So, with that in mind, here’s a couple of chocolate candies to think about.’
Robert brings us a comic not-exactly-reboot that deserved better than it got: ‘Mike Costa’s Blackhawks represents not so much a reboot of the Blackhawk Squadron, the international team of fighter pilots that debuted in 1941, as a complete remake — really, from the ground up. The new Blackhawks are a top-secret black ops teams working directly under the auspices of the UN; their forte is technology. And, in the first (and only) collected volume of their adventures, technology is their biggest problem.’
Robert’s second foray into comics for this issue wasn’t quite so happy. ‘Young Justice is, as you might expect, a DC superhero team of young heroes, who originally appeared as a one-off, Young Justice: The Secret. The core group were Superboy, Robin, and Impulse, who are featured in the first part of Young Justice: A League of Their Own, the beginning of their own series.’ Read on to see where it went from there.
Samplers are interesting creatures, most are intended for radio play only and never intended for listeners to actually possess. Not so for the three discs of Nordic Roots and, Kim notes, there’s ‘a pleasing dissonance in Nordic traditions, often a restraint that hints of something without ever going there, that’s found much more in Nordic music than is often the case with music from the Irish and Celtic traditions. Listening to these collections, I couldn’t help but begin thinking about why that might be. After all, I thought, the live acts of many of the artists on these collections are so very similar to some of the best live shows in the Celtic traditions.’
Reynard looks at the radio sampler for the Freedom and Rain album by the Oysterband collaborating with June Tabor: ‘If it can be said that the tour programmes such as the one done for Steeleye Span’s 40th Anniversary Tour souvenir book are ephemera, as they are one-offs that virtually are unobtainable after the tour ends, then the radio world has another sort of ephemera that are also one-offs, such as the CDs done for DJs that are never intended to be sold even on the grey market of the Internet. Such is what we have here. It’s not the best representation of that tour, as that’s without doubt the full soundboard recording of a Minneapolis concert that I’ll be reviewing shortly.’
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.’
Richard Thompson is still attracting new fans as he continues to write, record and perform excellent new material nearly 50 years into his career. But, Gary says, new fans ‘ … might be frustrated or puzzled to find that some of the songs they like best from his concerts are available only on 30- or 40-year-old recordings – sung either by [ex-wife and partner] Linda or a younger and less-proficient Richard.’ Thompson’s Acoustic Classics remedies that, putting 14 new solo acoustic performances on one disc.
Gary said he found Angel Olson’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness ‘equally comforting and disturbing.’ Olson blends alt-country with indie-rock, and Gary says ‘ … every song on this album delves into themes of loneliness, alienation, and frustration toward love that seems to have gone wrong at every turn.’
Gary also reviews Thought Rock Fish Scale, the new album by Nap Eyes, an indie-rock quartet out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The album, he says, “is a tuneful, catchy trip through the kind of angst that might trouble a young biochemist obsessed with guitars, words and rock music.”
Camille has a look at toys made based on the characters in a film that never existed except as a script: Dark Horse Books, a division of Dark Horse Comics, recently released Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins in commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Air Force. In a slightly melodramatic and over-sentimentalized introduction, Leonard Maltin gives a nevertheless fascinating brief history of this Disney-movie-that-wasn’t.’ They even came with an actual Gremlin bitten cookie!
Robert brings us a look at something that’s not a gremlin, although it may share some of a gremlin’s disposition: ‘I have another puppet from Folkmanis — The Alpaca. It strikes me as rather odd to make an alpaca puppet, but this one is not without its charm.’
Now let’s have some music to finish out this edition. It’s Northumbrian piper and fiddler Kathryn Tickell performing ‘The Pipes Lament’, a tune written by her, which was recorded at the Shoreditch Church, London on the 15th of June 2010, should do nicely. Tickell, by the way, connects indirectly to The Little Country novel as smallpiper Janey Little in the novel lists Northumbrian Bill Pigg as one of her inspirations to become a musician, something that Tickell also claims.