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”.