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”


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?

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.’


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.’


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.’


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.’


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.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I’m the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library.

I’m a violinist too, so you’ll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

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