Welcome to GMR

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

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Irish music or perhaps a tasty jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,  puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novelsfantasy inspired by folklorebeloved filmsegg nog recipes,  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 Pub 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 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 our 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.

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What’s New for the 19th of February: music from Nick Burbridge, a Fairport Convention review from twenty years ago, live music from McDermott’s 2 Hours, essays on children’s lit, chocolate bars, A Cold War thriller and other matters

 Some stories are literally true; some of them are figuratively true; some of them are wrong. That’s the nature of stories, isn’t it? They show us all the highlights of the world, but they never leave us certain we can trust the things we know. We listen because they delight us, and mind them as much as they illuminate our hearts; but no one with a lick of sense ever trusts a tale he can’t verify himself. — Alan Rodgers in his Bone Music novel.

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There is nothing quite like a freshly brewed pot of tea to get you going in the morning. I should know as I need at least two large mugs of something like a Gunpowder Tea before I’m fully awake. Not black though as I’ve a generous splash of cream in my cup which we get from Riverrun Farms.

(I once knew a well-regarded Canadian musician who started each morning with much more than a dram of Kilbeggan Irish whiskey. Seemed to suit him well for the coming day as far as anyone could tell. and always carried a flask to offer up to selected persons. It was damn good whiskey!)

It’s the deep of Winter here and that means a lot of outdoor activity — skating and curling on the Mill Pond, skiing out to the Standing Stones and back, the lads and lassies that work for Gus are cutting firewood and trimming up hazards such as partially downed trees as the horses which are just got do little damage to the ground now, paths get fresh river stones under their slates and so forth.

However I’m inside in the Kitchen sitting nook, my iPad in hand to finish off this edition on a a winter’s afternoon. The music playing right now is ‘Newmarket Polkas’ as played by Patrick Street which my Infinite Jukebox app tells me was recorded at Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny on the 30th of April a dozen years back.

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Jane Yolen, Shulamith Oppenheim and Stefan Czernecki’s The Sea King is appreciated by Grey: ‘This lovely folk tale has many old friends in it: Vasilisa the Wise, a beautiful princess who is also a bird; Baba Yaga the witch in her house that runs by itself on chicken legs; the King of the Sea in his underwater palace of crystal; and the innocently wise boy who finds his way because he’s generous and observant. And it has one of the most poignant story lines of all: the father who promises to sacrifice the first thing he sees when he returns home — only to find out that he’s just been borne a son.’

For a bit of popcorn reading, let’s turn to Richard’s review of Adam Hall’s The Striker Portfolio: ‘Adam Hall’s espionage agent Quiller is the sort of man who makes Jason Bourne look like a strip-mall rent-a-cop. He makes James Bond look like a school crossing guard. He makes, well, you get the idea. Quiller is hard, and he’s grim, and the world he moves through (unarmed) is as hard and as grim as he is.’

Robert has a look at an intriguing collection of critical essays on children’s literature: ‘I am more than a little pleased to learn that I am not the only person who would think of comparing a children’s picture book with Les Tres Rich Heures du Duc de Berry, which is exactly what Joseph Stanton does in his essay on The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney. This is only one of the thoughtful and illuminating studies in The Important Books.’

Vonnie says a novel she reviews by Patricia McKillip ‘is nearly a prose-poem. The writing is lyrical, the events mysterious, the metaphors shadowy and aquatic. The plot suffers from it, as it does from turning the ocean into a character. This is a diffuse mystery, and the reader has to trust the writer that a point will eventually emerge from the pages. McKillip is both good enough and well-known enough to entitle her to our trust, but at its best, this novel is not a page-turner. Even more so than most of her books, the best way to enjoy Something Rich and Strange might be to read it aloud, enjoying the leisurely trip rather than racing to the destination.’

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Rachel reviews for us the first two titles in the graphic novel series Lone Wolf and Cub, The Assassins’ Road and The Gateless Barrier. ‘Lone Wolf and Cub is an ultra-violent samurai manga series,’ says Rachel. ‘It’s also a remarkable work of art… The elegant black and white illustrations sometimes portray the delicate beauty of the Japanese countryside, and sometimes the blurred and furious action of a sword moving faster than the eye can track. The characters are archetypal but realistic…’

Robert brings us a different take on graphic literature: two children’s books by Stephen J. Brooks, Alexander Asenby’s Great Adventure  and Creatures of the Night: ‘Stephen J. Brooks, a former federal agent, is a writer of children’s books, and two of his newest happened to cross my desk. I think it’s probably an open secret at this point that I enjoy children’s literature, with a special fondness for illustrated books, and I was very pleased to have a chance to look at these.’

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Chocolate in any form is coveted here, be it hot chocolate, dark chocolate bread pudding, Tollhouse cookies and so forth. And of course eating chocolate which Leona has a superb recommendation for us: ‘I suspected these chocolates would be good when my dog tried to grab them before I could sample them. Even through a manila envelope and padding, apparently, Baylee’s Best Chocolates are powerfully attractive to a sensitive nose.’

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Barb has a story to tell us in her review of Trio: ‘Väsen is Olov Johansson on 3-row chromatic nyckelharpa and kontrabasharpa, Mikael Marin on viola, 5-string viola, and pomposa, and Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar and bosoki. Having had the opportunity over the last few years to immerse myself in many of Väsen’s recordings, see them perform live, and interview Olov Johansson, these musicians (unbeknownst to them) have become old friends.’

Gary note that ‘I daresay that many, if not most, readers of Green Man Review know all there is to know about Fairport Convention. If you’re not among them, there’s no dearth of information about this most venerated of English folk rock bands elsewhere in GMR, including a recent omnibus review. So I’ll skip any long historical introduction and say that Who Knows Where the Time Goes is a solid addition to the band’s discography.’

Peter who’s not a dancer looks at Cribber: ‘Dalla are a 4 piece dance band specialising in Cornish ‘Celtic’ dance music. They are based in Redruth, Cornwall. If you are dancer who enjoys the odd schottishe, furry, kabm pymp, etc, you’ll know what you are doing more than me! To be fair the album is recorded very well and I could not fault the musicianship.’

Symphonic is from, according to Robert, an artist we all should be aware of: Antonio Carlos Jobim, known widely as ‘Tom,’ was one of the key figures in the popularity of the bossa nova, a style he and his fellows — particularly Joao Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, and Vinícius de Moraes — created from the musical traditions of Brazil, the urgent and sensuous Afro-Brazilian sambas and the Portuguese ballads with their tinge of Moorish melancholy, as well as modern jazz and the spare harmonies of the Impressionist composers. Jobim was the composer of ‘Desafinado,’ which, in a recording by Stan Getz, put him on the international map. ‘Girl from Ipanema’ then took the world by storm. Jobim was also a composer of more ‘serious’ music, which the two-CD release Symphmonic surveys.’

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Our What Not is a longstanding question we ask folks, to wit what’s your favorite work by Tolkien. Peter Crowther, writer and editor of PS Publishing, picks The Lord of the Rings. Now here’s why: ‘As for ‘why’, well . . . because, for me, it’s the best and most enjoyable thing he wrote but also because it proved to be the most important thing he wrote. The Lord of the Rings caused a ‘resurgence in the interest in’ and a ‘taking more seriously of’ Faerie and myth. It resulted in both new and existing writers entering the field to try their hand at so-called ‘high fantasy’ And it directly caused the re-publication of and renewed interest in many great fantasy works from before Tolkien’s time (E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, Hope Mirlees’ Lud-In-The-Mist, Lord Dunsany’s Beyond the Fields We Know, David Lindsay’s A Voyage To Arcturus, Hannes Bok’s Beyond the Golden Stair, much of Clark Ashton Smith’s work and maybe even Lovecraft’s dark tales and Howard’s Conan books — there are hundreds more). It’s almost impossible to exaggerate the book’s and Tolkien’s importance.’

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Our Coda today is courtesy of Brighton, England, based singer/songwriter, novelist, poet, and playwright Nick Burbridge and his musical vehicle named McDermott’s 2 Hours (when he’s not collaborating with the Levellers). Nick can slip easily from Irish folk to really great folk rock, so it won’t surprise you ‘tall that Nick’s a favorite of many of us here including myself and we even interviewed him once upon an afternoon.

So he most generously said we could use anything on the McDermott’s 2 Hours Live at Fernhame Hall recording, so let’s part company with ‘Playing The Silgo Maid’, a most unromantic look at one Irish musician and his fate.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Several Annies, Part Two

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For the first part of this tale, head this way.

As we all know, time flows differently on the other side of the Border, and it was three weeks before Liath was back to Kinrowan Hall. She returned on a Saturday, so it was a full four weeks before she graced Chix with Stix again. All the usuals were there early, plus a few who don’t know one end of a knitting needle from the other. As so often happens, someone suddenly noticed that Liath was on.

We turned toward her as one. Liath looked up. ‘Was there something? You know I can’t talk about my missions for the Queen.’ The sight of our disappointed faces must have been too much for her, and we were graced with one of her rare smiles.

‘Ah yes, I remember. Now where was I?’ We all settled back comfortably and she began to tell the tale of a departed Fey Librarian and why it happened.

‘The next day, we set the plan into action. The girls were models of obedience. No matter what Rónán wanted, he got it. Only, they suddenly seemed to need a lot of supervision. “Rónán, is this right?” “Rónán, could you explain what you want again, please?” “Rónán, where do you want the papyri?” Rónán indeed! For about a day and a half he was in fine fettle. Felt vindicated — obviously these little chits couldn’t do anything without him. Then it started to wear on him. He’d gotten used to having intelligent help, you see, though darn the fear of him ever admitting it. By the time the moon was almost full he was in a frenzy of impatience.

‘A storm blew in on the day of the full moon, and by evening there were neither stars nor moon to be seen. Every cat in the Building, and not a few two-legged creatures, stalked around with hair on end. This room had been assigned as the Annies’ workroom from their arrival. I knew the trap was being sprung, and I was in here alone, pacing much like you were, Young Annie. Then I heard a blast, the kind that only comes from a great and angry Magic.

‘I hurried into the main Library. It was empty of living creatures, but most of the volumes that should have been on the shelves were in heaps on the floor. The air was thick with smoke, but fortunately I couldn’t find any flames. This had gone further than any of us had expected. What had that mad cousin of mine done with the Annies? A few of my colleagues crowded, terrified, at the door. I held up a hand to still their chatter. Then I closed my eyes and Saw where they had gone.

‘Rónán has taken the Annies to Alexandria,’ I said. ‘I must go after them.’

‘But how did he take them?’ asked another of the Annies, the one with the beauty spot on her left cheekbone.

‘The same way I brought them here, and the same way I followed them. By the time I got there, the Annies were dodging from pillar to pillar, trying to get away from the gouts of fire shooting from Rónán’s hair. The place was on fire. ‘Rónán!’ I cried. No response from him. Then I whispered his name, and he turned toward me. ‘Liath! It’s all your doing! Bringing these little fools into my Library. I’ll destroy them, and this bad joke of a human Library with them. What right have these mortals to dare to pretend to any knowledge?’ Flames shot out toward me, and I moved to put wards around myself. Rónán was foaming at the mouth, cursing the four of us. ‘By the Queen’s milk, I’ll kill you all,’ he gibbered. That was his last mistake.

‘The Queen doesn’t like her name being used to curse, of course, and the King is none too fond of any insult to his Liege Lady. Once Rónán uttered his nonsensical curse, there were both of Their Majesties in an instant. One look from the Queen froze Rónán where he stood. One gesture from the King put out the fires.’

‘Did they kill him?’ breathed the third Annie.

‘No, of course not. We of the Fey seldom resort to such punishment. Let’s just say that he has had some time to contemplate his crimes in tranquility, and that I hope someday, for my aunt’s sake, to hear that he has been rehabilitated. I brought the Annies back here and set them to cleaning up the Library. Soon enough, I was called to Court, and every other creature of the Fey associated with the Building along with me.

‘Never again shall one of you take the position of Librarian for Kinrowan Estate,’ said His Majesty gravely. ‘You have too much power. Rónán could have destroyed the greatest of the mortals’ stores of knowledge, as well as one that may someday rival it. Liath, you can remain as Archivist. Be the Building’s memory, and help in finding a succession of mortals to run its Library.’

Liath bit off the silken yarn with those sharp little teeth of hers and held up another of her lovely amulet bags. The crystals refracted the firelight, sending multicoloured flames dancing around the room.

‘And so it has been ever since. I persuaded one of the under-librarians from the Great Library to come and work here for a while. ‘Tis thanks to him that we have the collections in the room with the pillars. Annie, Ana and Hannah served out their time and a day and then moved on. When new apprentices came, we kept calling them all Annie, but in remembrance, not scorn. All three of the original Annies came back for a time as Librarian, too.’

Liath gave us her second smile of the evening. ‘I never could get Hannah to tell me what was the last thing she said to Rónán that set him off.’

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What’s New for the 12th of February: Denise’s favourite reading space, a science-fiction classic, the real Dracula, music from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, more gamelan, Patrick’s breakfast and other matters

In the bleak midwinter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, Long ago. — Christina Rossetti

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Ahhh there you are. Have some tea, it’s quite excellent as it always is here at Kinrowan Hall.

That lovely piece being played right now is the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s ‘Numbers 1 – 4’ from their performance at the Glastonbury Festival on the 26th of June, 1994. Good music along with a cup of freshly brewed tea, lapsang souchong to be precise, as it’s my favourite right now, with a splash of cream but no sugar, is the proper way for me to get started in the morning.

Lest I forget, I want to tell you about a skulk, a group of foxes, I saw yesterday down by the copse where Gus, our much more than just Estate Head Gardener, feeds the Estate foxes. I see that Blaze, the one that lost his eye in a fight and has a vivid white scar on his side where an owl clawed him, is consuming a rabbit Gus left. Must be at least his tenth Winter, a good run for a fox even with the care that Gus gives them.

Now why don’t you get a cup of that tea while I go back to finishing this Edition? I’m sure you’ll find much of interest in it.

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Cat leads off a review in this way: ‘If you started listening to audiobooks over the past ten or so years, considered yourself to be extremely lucky as you’re living in a true Golden Age where narration, production, and ease of useless is extremely good. But long ago, none of that was something you could take as a given as it most decidedly wasn’t.’ Now read his review of Roger Zelazny’s Isle of Dead to see if this older audiobook transcended these limitations.

Though Denise and Blodeuwedd continue to rage The War Of Best Seat (see our What Not below for the details on this), Denise still managed to take a look at the newest book from Ann Brashares, The Whole Thing Together.  Brashares may be known as the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but there is plenty to love about this new book as well.  While Denise couldn’t walk away without a minor quibble (she is a quibbler after all), “it socked me right in the heart and I couldn’t put it down. I’m betting you won’t be able to either.”

The manor house and the woods that surround that A.A. Milne lived in as that inspired the tales of Pooh and friends is for sale for a staggering number of pounds, but for considerably less you can read  The Red House Mystery, a classic English manor house novel by him that gets a look-see by Lory: ‘The story is not really a “whodunit” — the “who” is pretty clear from the outset — the question is “how” and, even more, “why” he did it, and Milne keeps us guessing until the end. The plausibility of the solution is not one that would hold up to heavy scrutiny, but the pleasure lies not in the verisimilitude of the puzzle but in the ingenuity of its construction and unravelling, and the witty repartee among the characters.’

Robert brings us two books by Edgar Pangborn, one of science-fiction’s little-known greats. First, a look at Davy, which Robert sums up simply: ‘It’s a brilliant book, racy, pungent, tremendously affecting, and totally captivating, a masterpiece by one of science fiction’s most original and singular voices.’`

Next, somewhat less rollicking but equally substantial, is A Mirror For Observers: ‘Edgar Pangborn was one of a small handful of science-fiction writers of the 1950s and early 60s who tackled the big questions at a time when the genre was still largely pulp. Like so many of his colleagues, he was a satirist — the genre seems to lend itself particularly well to social commentary — who approached his subject, the human condition, from many angles.’

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Robert takes a look at a graphic novel that purports to be history, Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula: ‘The graphic novel Vlad the Impaler, by Sid Jacobson with art by Ernie Colón, is an attempt to relate the story of Vlad’s amazingly short career as ruler of Wallachia — he only occupied the throne at intervals between 1456 and 1462.’

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Cat has for us a film perfectly suited for Winter viewing: ‘I don’t do movie theatres for various reasons including audiences that chatter too much and the smell of that weird stuff that’s not really butter. And it is that I’m watching an animated film released several Christmas seasons past called Rise of The Guardians which features a Russian Father Christmas, an Australia Easter Bunny (complete with boomerang), The Sandman, and a really cut in a fey female Tooth Fairy. All Guardians of the hopes, wishes and dreams of children everywhere.’

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One of the questions we’ve asked frequently to staff and visitors alike is what they like for breakfast. Here’s Patrick O’Donnell answer in which he says varies his breakfast very little ’round the year: ‘Same as my summertime one: a few thick slices of bacon, a few nice sausage links, one or two eggs sunny-side up with the yellow runny but the white firm, some baked beans, some stewed tomatoes, some mushrooms, perhaps some hashbrowns, and a few thick slices of buttered toast. Finish it all off with some black coffee strong enough to make your toes curl and perhaps, if there’s room, something sweet. And of course, there’s always second breakfast, so leave room for that. . . .’

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Gary admits that he’s ‘a little embarrassed to say that Michael Chapman’s new album 50 is my first exposure to this nonpariel British guitarist, singer and songwriter. After all, he gets name-checked alongside such greats as Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, and the title of this album commemorates his 50 years as a touring musician whose work has crossed, or rather eschewed, genres.’ Now read his review for all the details on this artist and his album.

Up for a tasty bit of roots music? If so, this recording should suit you just fine: ‘If you like American roots music, you’ll love Rayna Gellert’s Workin’s Too Hard. Listen to this album, and watch for her at a festival near you.’

We promised you music by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra — which we’ve provided, not only above but as our coda for today — but we also thought you might like a bit more information. First, Robert has a look at what we’ll take as the definitive history of the group — since it’s the only history of the group: ‘The Penguin Café Orchestra: A History is just that (although arguably it is as much a history of Simon Jeffes, but Jeffes and the Orchestra are so inextricably intertwined that I’m not prepared to argue the matter).’

He follows up with the orchestra’s Concert Program: ‘I really, really hate it when my arsenal of comparisons, parallels, antecedents and influences doesn’t work. It is one of my chief means, as a reviewer, of giving my audience a handle, an entrée, so to speak, into something that may be new and more or less foreign to their experience. . . . Imagine my discomfiture when faced with Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Concert Program.’

And, while it may seem quite a departure, Robert has another installment — or two — in the series Gamelan of Central Java, these titled “Pangkur I” and “Pangkur II”: ‘“Pangkur” denotes a kind of music in the Javanese classical canon that can take many forms — sung poetry, court dances, and many other idioms — and can be performed in either slendro or pelog scales. It is perhaps the most versatile and unpredictable form to come out of the Javanese classical tradition.’

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Let’s have a look at a favourite reading space for our What Not this time as Denise has a small charmer of a spot as she alluded to her book review note above: ‘My favorite spot to read is a tiny rounded nook that’s just off the passage between the kitchen and the library. I sit on a large, overstuffed cushion on the floor, where I battle for supremacy with Blodeuwedd, who has decided that since I found her, I’m responsible for her . . . and her comfort.

We usually find a happy compromise. Blod usually sits in the middle of the cushion, and all the mathematical formulas in the world couldn’t find the dead center of that cushion with more accuracy. After she gets comfy, I pack myself tightly underneath the little stained-glass window and lean myself back on the cool stone wall, which is a nice counterpoint to the heat of the kitchen.

Cracking the window a bit gives a nice breeze and plenty of light for daytime reading. Being near the kitchen has its pluses and minuses; the kitchen staff often peek in and ask me to taste new recipes if they know I’m about. I keep hoping they’ll ask for my opinion of the wild mushroom and barley stew again, but the haggis omelet flambe was something even Blod was glad to see the back of.’

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Let’s finish off with another piece from their performance on that day at Glastonbury. ‘Organum’ like the ‘Numbers 1 – 4’ can be found on Concert Program, their 1995 album, which is reviewed above.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Cat Myth

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Gather around, kittens. I, Maeve, shall tell you of Oweynagat, the Cave of Cats, on the isle of Eire, so far away in the land of men. Pay attention — all cats must know these things!

The humans call Oweynagat the Mouth of Hell, but it is simply one of those places where the Beautiful People and their creatures emerge into the realm of Man. Though it is but a cave to the eyes of the humans, to the eyes of us cats and of the Sidhe, it is the pathway to a great and beautiful palace standing near the borders of The Underworld.

The entrance to the cave is small — five large cats walking abreast with their tails held high might brush the sides and top! Humans, even small ones, must crawl to enter. But it opens to a high and long cave that descends into the earth.

This cave is in the land of my namesake, Queen Medb, who was born to the maidservant Crochan, who waited upon Queen Étain of the Sidhe. Medb ruled over the kingdom of Connacht, and made her palace near to Oweynagat.

Listen carefully, kittens! This is important. If you need to walk between worlds quickly, Oweynagat is a good place to do so.

The Mórrigan, that Crow, she and her creatures often make their way into the human world through Oweynagat to sow war and destruction, and most often on Samhain, which the humans and Sidhe celebrate today. For this reason, humans who are clever do not tarry long near Oweynagat at Samhain.

The legends of and around Oweynagat are largely stories of human and godly foolishness, of little consequence to us cats. Our tempers flare and die, we spit and growl and fight, but it is rare for the temper of a cat to change the course of the history of Felinity. We are not like humans or gods, who allow their temper tantrums and foolishness to change their own destinies! Irusan, King of the Cats, found out why paying attention to Man is a terrible thing, and paid with his life. Men talk of little else but money, and so stories of Oweynagat often feature cattle, which were how men in those old days measured riches.

The humans have collapsed the middle of the cave now, but those of us who can walk-through-walls know that you can still reach the Underworld here. And today, on Samhain, the veil between the worlds is especially easy to cross.

The humans don’t remember why they call the cave Oweynagat. They wonder now at the name, and try to link it to the wildcats of the old stories who came to fight human heroes. But I will tell you, kittens, that if the humans go into the cave with no lights, they will remember very quickly! You have but to look up to see the cats of the cave looking back at you, eyes glowing in the dark.

Remember, kittens! Mrwowr – so be it!

Now. Shall we go find some milk for our dinner?

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What’s New for the 5th of February: Catherynne Valente’s Winter Pleasures, an essay on Breton music, Terri Windling on hearth and home, spies, behind-the-scenes movers and shakers, some other classical traditions, and other matters

Recently I packed up and sold the house where I’d lived for many years: a 16th century, thatch–roof cottage in a small English village on Dartmoor. The cottage was hugely significant to me, for I’d lived there much of my adult life, but in the house’s own story, spanning four centuries, my two decades were a drop in the bucket. The cottage felt strange on my last evening there, emptied of furniture and books; only the goblin murals on the kitchen walls remained of the life I’d known there. — ‘The Folklore of Hearth and Home’  by Terri Windling as published on her exemplary site, The Journal of Mythic Arts.

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There aren’t many open fireplaces in Kinrowan Hall as they’re quite horrid at keeping the heat from escaping a room but those that are very important to the well-being of both the inhabitants here and guests that visit us — the public ones to be found in the Green Man Pub near the oversized chair we call the Falstaff Chair, in the Kitchen where it’s big enough to haunch of meat and finally in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room. Particularly at this time of year, I find open fire and the good things I associated with it are crucial to me not being grumpy.

So I spend a lot of time near those fireplaces, particularly the glass fronted one in our quarters on the fourth floor here. (Being senior staff definitely has its privs.) On a cold blustery winter night, nothing is as good as Catherine and I reading in our own space wth a warm, dancing fire that has our feline companions,  Kail and Fianna, spread out before it. Bliss! Even more blissful is the dram of the peated Svensk Rök which I’ve decided is my favourite whiskey right now is  it’s as good as any Islay malt I’ve had recently. It’s from the Mackmyra distillery which is in Gävle where the straw goat gets burned well before its time every year.

Tonight however, I’ve been working on the next edition. I found a look by one of my favourite writers on her winter pleasures, two revotdings devoted to Winter music, an article from elsewhere on some Breton musicians and that’s just a few of what’s here this time…

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In looking at The Time Quartet, Naomi has a confession to make: ‘As far as I am concerned, Madeleine L’Engle’s books should be required reading in all schools, as they open doors — not only in the imagination, but also in the academics, math and science especially. These wonderful tales could inspire the next Einstein to take the proper courses and feed his mind. I enjoyed the journeys that Mrs. L’Engle’s works took me on, and yet, I am saddened by the fact that I never read them as a child. I will rectify this mistake by introducing my own children to them posthaste!’

For a bit of popcorn reading, let’s turn to Richard’s review of Adam Hall’s The Striker Portfolio: ‘Adam Hall’s espionage agent Quiller is the sort of man who makes Jason Bourne look like a strip-mall rent-a-cop. He makes James Bond look like a school crossing guard. He makes, well, you get the idea. Quiller is hard, and he’s grim, and the world he moves through (unarmed) is as hard and as grim as he is.’

Robert has a new book for us, The Skill of Our Hands, from Steven Brust and Skyler White, but suggests that you may want to read up on its predecessor, The Incrementalists for some background. Of the present volume, he says: ‘Call it “slipstream”: it’s not exactly science fiction, although it could be; nor is it fantasy, although it has elements of that, in the gritty, contemporary, urban vein; and anything it takes from mainstream fiction is more from the realm of Pynchon than Hemingway.’

Speaking of Pynchon, Robert has some thoughts on Against the Day: ‘Let’s get the basics out of the way right off the bat: this is a huge book, it is superbly written, it wanders, it sprawls, the cast of characters seems to keep growing and growing, bizarre things happen, and the explanations for them, when there are any, are as bizarre as the events themselves. That’s pretty much a capsule description of any novel by Thomas Pynchon.’

At the other end of the stylistic spectrum, we have Ernest Hemingway. Robert reviews one of his posthumous books, Under Kilimanjaro: ‘The name “Kilimanjaro” calls up our most vivid images of Africa, the great mountain rising above the teeming savannas as Gregory Peck struggles up its flanks. That is, indeed, an image that comes to us from Ernest Hemingway, by way of Hollywood. Under Kilimanjaro, one of Hemingway’s posthumously published works, gives a somewhat different picture of Africa, the mountain, and Hemingway himself.’

Vonnie says Patricia McKillip’s Something Rich and Strange ‘is nearly a prose-poem. The writing is lyrical, the events mysterious, the metaphors shadowy and aquatic. The plot suffers from it, as it does from turning the ocean into a character. This is a diffuse mystery, and the reader has to trust the writer that a point will eventually emerge from the pages. McKillip is both good enough and well-known enough to entitle her to our trust, but at its best, this novel is not a page-turner. Even more so than most of her books, the best way to enjoy Something Rich and Strange might be to read it aloud, enjoying the leisurely trip rather than racing to the destination.’

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With all stories circulating lately about espionage and counter-espionage, we thought it might be fun to take a look at a classic in the genre, Antonio Prohias’ Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook: ‘Those of us who remember Mad magazine in the 1960s and ’70s also remember “Spy vs. Spy,” Antonio Prohias’ ongoing series about the Black Spy and the White Spy (and sometimes the Gray Spy, a female counterpart, as well) who spent their time thinking up outlandish, Rube Goldberg-style ways to do each other in. (The Gray Spy, when she appeared, invariably won these contests — Prohias was chivalrous as well as funny.)’

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Catherynne Valente’s Winter Pleasures is a very loving story on why she loves Winter: ‘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.’

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Chuck has a choice bit of Celtic music for us: ‘On Midwinter Night’s Dream, Boys of the Lough include Aly Bain (fiddle), Cathal McConnell (flute, whistles, song), Dave Richardson (concertina, mandolin, cittern, accordion), and Christy O’Leary (uilleann pipes, whistles, song). They call on Christmas and winter traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, and Sweden to put together a fine CD.’

Midwinter: A Celebration of the Folk Music and Traditions of Christmas and the Turning of the Year is the longish title of a Free Reed offering that Mike finds to his liking: ‘I approached this collection with equal amounts of caution and intrigue. However, from the first few tracks I immediately warmed to Midwinter and any caution was quickly abandoned as I became increasingly captivated.’

Robert brings another nod to the season with a review of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Cantus Arctcus  and other works: ‘Like many contemporary European composers, Rautavaara has followed his own way in his compositions, and consequently is impossible to classify, although one can hear whispers of antecedents in many of his works.’

Robert also takes a look at music from the classical tradition — actually, a couple of classical traditions, and not Western ones. First, Volume XI of John Noise Manis’ massive series on the Gamelan of Central Java: Music of Remembrance: ‘This volume of the series Gamelan of Central Java presents an interesting conundrum: in a cultural tradition that has ideas of death, dying, and commemoration that differ radically from those we in the West hold, what is music suitable for remembrance?’

Next, he looks at what we may take as an example of the Indian avant-garde: ‘ Narayan was the first to perform the sarangi as a solo instrument; initially meeting with a less than enthusiastic reception, he persevered, adapting the sarangi and bow to meet his own demands as a soloist. After several years of experimentation and public performance, he became an overnight sensation in 1957, and an acknowledged master of Indian art music. This recording of the Raga Puria-Kalyan presents him in top form.’

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Our What Not comes courtesy of Kithfolk which has a great article on some choice Breton music: ‘The first time I heard Breton music, I almost murdered someone. I literally lurched out of a deep sleep ready to hack off a head, thanks to the blaring bombarde and binou pouring out of my husband’s speakers. But then—THEN—I heard this singing. It was raw, abrasive, cutting, and absolutely stunning. That singer was Breton legend Érik Marchand, and it is because of that moment of hearing his voice that I fell in love with Breton traditional music (despite the bombarde and binou, which—little-known fact—were the principle reasons why Rome tried to destroy Gaul).’

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Our coda this week is about how silence shapes sound, with a nod to the season, specifically in the form of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus. Robert notes that Rautavaara’s use of silence differs from, say, that of Morton Feldman: in Cantus Arcticus, silence becomes subject matter, evoked by sound, an experience in its own right. And then, as its subtitle promises, it becomes a “concerto for birds and orchestra” — but there is still that silence, under all. See how all that silence works out in a performance.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Brandy (A Letter to Tessa)

PA 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 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. She was Head Gardener for sixty years and died while overseeing the blessing of the first planting of the growing season from what we think was a cerebral hemorrhage from the way it was described by Those who saw it.

This letter which you can read here concerns the addition to the Estate of producing apple brandy.

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 use 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  complained 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 fireplace in the rooms of The Steward near a roaring fireplace on a bitterly cold winter night.

We were also celebrating the occasion of Angela who is being promoted to Lead Publican in the Green Man Pub now that her baby is past nursing, the first woman to hold that post. She’s been studying for several years now with the retiring Lead Publican whose moving back to Glasgow so he and his wife can be near their grandchildren.

As always, I’m looking to your return as I’m missing you very much.

Love Alex
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What’s New for the 29th of January: fantastic fiction set in London, music from Nightnoise, an audio songbook for Utah Phillips, Deborah Grabien’s comfort food and other cool things

It’s hardly a wonder that they call London the most elusive city in the world. Its character changes from one street to the next. There’s no rhyme or reason, no pattern to the place. You could take six people at random from the centre of town, ask them to write down all the places they visit regularly and find that their circles of movement don’t overlap at more than one or two points. Each of them would see a different city. ― Christopher Fowler’s Roofworld

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It’s been snowing steadily for the past several days, resulting (as it’s also blistering cold) in even the grounds staff being unable to clear the paths for any length of time. The livestock’s being tended by a crew staying in a yurt we built next to the main barn. That yurt has, like all the yurts, a fireplace and power as well for lights and such.

I’ve got the Several Annies doing a full inventory of the main Library which is keeping them occupied quite nicely. Despite a geis on the more valuable items, things do wander away that shouldn’t and this task should give me a list of what needs finding. No, this time no Librarians have gone missing as happened one time, but books, usually fiction but sometimes the more odd non-fiction gets borrowed but not signed out, especially by, ahem, my fellow musicians, say the chapbook ‘Some tunes considered as exemplars of the merging of Appalachian music with Elven music, particularly the evolved Elizabethan Court tradition’.

Meanwhile I’m putting together this edition, so why don’t you have a pint of our Celebration Ale down in our Pub while I do this so you can read it? Good, I’ll see you shortly with the new edition.

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Our book reviews  this time are mostly  about the fantastic side of London, a theme in fiction going back a very long time, one that even Charles Dickens and JK Rowling indulged in.

Un Lun Dun, a fantastic look at a London that is just out of sight, gets a very detailed review by Kathleen: ‘China Mieville (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, The Iron Council) is renowned for the world he has created around the great, multi-species, many-storied city of New Crobuzon. Those are adult works, beyond a doubt: ferocious and frightening, full of the incandescent mysteries and fatal sins of maturity. At the same time, one of the conundrums of Mieville’s style has been the sense of a small boy peeking through his writing; the kind of little boy who delights in snot and crawly bugs, who chases his sister with a frog and forgets to take that interesting dead bird out of his lunch box. Sometimes this gleeful grossness amuses the reader in turn. Sometimes it seems unnecessarily provoking. But it has always reminded me of how young Mieville is.”

Another fantastic look at London is reviewed by Kestrall: ‘Don’t let the tentacles fool you — yes, China Miéville’s Kraken takes as its starting point a tentacular god of the deep reminiscent of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, but then Miéville adds to it the baroque psychogeographies of Moore and Moorcock, the whimsy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and American Gods, the surreal imagery of a Tim Powers novel, and a dizzying barrage of geeky pop culture references, not to mention what is probably the best use of a James T. Kirk action figure ever.’

Richard looks at the Neil Gaiman novel that largely created urban fantasy as a genre: ‘Neverwhere is the story of a not-quite-nebbish named Richard, who is a perfectly archetypal young executive. He’s got a suitably generic job, a suitably socially climbing fiancee and a suitably mundane existence being harried along by the demands of each. Richard’s is exactly the sort of life that could do with a swift kick of magic, and that’s exactly what he gets. On the way to dinner with his fiancee (who, honestly, doesn’t become a fully fleshed-out character until much later in the book, but manages to do so with the aid of the Monkees) and her conglomerate-creating boss, Richard stumbles across a young woman, bleeding on the sidewalk. Forced to chose between carrying on with the demands of his life and tending to the injured girl (whose name, oddly enough, is Door), Richard turns his back on society as he knows it, and takes the girl home to tend to her. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s turning his back on reality as he knows it as well. By letting Door into his life, Richard has entered her world: a world of Ratspeakers, foppish immortal assassins, angels who get wistful over Atlantis and other, more surreal entities.’

Richard finds another excellent book in that genre: ‘Hidden, magical London is all the rage these days. First there was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, then China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun. And now there’s Mind the Gap, a collaborative effort between American novelist and comics writer Christopher Golden and British horror novelist Tim Lebbon. To be sure, that’s fast company for any book to be in, but Mind the Gap manages it more than respectably, and is an enjoyable, engrossing read that delivers plenty of thrills while deftly avoiding the numerous clichés lurking in wait for it.’

Speaking of Lebbon, this reviewer looks at his recently released Relics novel: ‘Vince and Angela are just your average happy couple living in London. She’s a grad student, he works for a real estate company, and they have a cozy apartment and a great sex life. Except, of course, for the fact that Vince is living a double life as a collector of magical artifacts for one of the local crime bosses, and by “magical artifacts” I mean “pieces of magical creatures”. Angela is blissfully unaware of this state of affairs until Vince suddenly goes missing, leaving behind only a couple of cryptic messages and the faintest of trails, one which Angela is determined to pursue no matter what.’

Robert came across several books that take place in or around a London that might have been. First, he says of Elizabeth Bear’s The Stratford Man: ‘Where others are writing mythic fiction, Bear has written mythic history: it may not be history as it happened (as much as we can know what happened), but it is history that rings true in a much deeper way than a mere relation of events could ever accomplish.’

And then he finishes out these reviews with a look at several works by the inestimable Connie Willis, starting with Blackout: ‘Connie Willis has written some brilliant satires. She has a real gift for taking the routines and the personalities we encounter in daily life and, with just a tweak here and there, holding them up to sometimes merciless and often hysterically funny scrutiny.’

He goes on with a look at some of Willis’ short fiction: ‘What can I say about Connie Willis, except that she is one of the most consistently engaging writers I’ve ever run across? The Winds of Marble Arch and D.A. reinforce that opinion: they are, in a word, terrific.’

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We asked a number of folk we know 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 Green Man Review in your story! And here is Deborah Grabien‘s reply:

Well, it’s an odd thing: as a cook, I think all food is comfort food.

No, I’m not being difficult. It’s just that I love to cook, and I don’t cook anything I don’t also love to eat, unless I’m cooking for a large crowd. The whole thing about food is that — like air and water — it’s one of the great imperatives. Sex is brilliant, but you can go without it your entire life with no ill effects, and in fact, many do. Try going without food, air or water, though, and you’re in serious trouble.

We seem to be in an age when everything is based on competition. I used to watch the Food Network for a chance at recipes I didn’t have, ideas, fusion for things I hadn’t come across. Now it’s all about pitting cooks against each other. And that, for me, is 180 degrees from what cookery is supposed to be for. I can’t watch it anymore. “Challenge” this, “Worst” that, “Best” whatever. What are these people talking about? It’s food.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big pot of bolognese bubbling away on the 150 BTU simmer burner, or a bowl of warm peas straight from the garden drizzled with butter and sea salt, or a slab of cinnamon savarin, or fresh pineapple carved off the heart and chilled in its own juice. A bowl of cereal, a cup of cocoa, an apple, a burrito: it’s all comfort food. Why would I cook it, or eat it, if it did anything other than please me?

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Neverwhere started out as a BBC television series, and has had an interesting existence then. It quickly became a novel but the text of that novel was changed by Gaiman until it has become the Author’s Preferred Text. Then it became an audiobook, which I know there are at least three version of — a straightforward reading, a not-so-straightforward affair by Gaiman and, not ‘tall surprisingly, a full cast adaptation by the Beeb. (Rumours of a Jim Henson film were sadly just that– rumours.) And it became a play done in Chicago. And that bring brings us to the Graphic Novel which Vertigo, home of Gaiman’s Sandman and many other works of a similar nature by him, did over the years.

Our resident Summer Queen, April, has a look at this incarnation: ‘Over a decade after the original televised mini-series and the novel it spawned, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has found new life in comic form — but not scripted by Gaiman himself. That honor has gone to Mike Carey, writer for the Vertigo series Lucifer and Crossing Midnight, with Glenn Fabry (PreacherHellblazer) providing the artwork. Gaiman did serve as consultant for the project. In his introduction, Carey remarks on the difficulty of adapting a novel to comic format, noting that some scenes have been moved around, some cut, dialogue changed to accommodate both, and the omission of a character. His hope is that fans of the original will appreciate the decisions that were made and the final result.’ Read her full review to see what she thought of this version.

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The Carthy Chronicles garners this from David:  ‘Martin Carthy is a legend in English folk music. As a solo performer, in duets with Swarbrick and others, as part of various groups, or as a session player he has left an indelible mark on the history of his nation’s music. Last year the Queen recognized him for his services to the culture of the nation by placing him on her birthday list. The elfin guitar player I met in Brantford Ontario [after a gig with Waterson-Carthy] gave no impression that this recognition had gone to his head. He engaged me in a conversation about Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, and happily signed autographs for his fans. How do you celebrate a career which has lasted for 40 years? Free Reed Music, has compiled a collection of his recordings which is at once representative and in depth, and at the same time makes the listener yearn to hear more!’

Gary found the Colin Vallon Trio’s Danse a joy to listen to. Most of the Swiss piano trio’s music on this album, he says, consists of ‘intricate miniature gems of composition and improvisation.’

Rayna Gellert’s short album Workin’s Too Hard showcases the playing and singing of this American roots musician who formerly played with the band Uncle Earl. Gary found a lot to like in this CD: ‘This is a short album of just seven songs, but they’re all songs of some moment and they beg to be listened to closely.’

Patrick likes Changeling’s The Hidden World: ‘This married duo’s music is nothing short of — sorry, Batman and Robin — dynamic. It’s an old approach, if you will, to old and new music. But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s what sets this album apart from the countless other Celtic CDs released this year. Changeling has found a way to dig down into the roots of folk and unearth some old treasures that likely haven’t been heard in generations.’

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Our What Not this time’s a look at an iconic American folksinger…  ‘Growing Up with Utah Phillips: Nevada City, Erica Haskell, and Utah’s West Coast Legacy’ is a certainly intriguing title for the interview which Devon Leger, publisher of  Kithfolk, has with Erica Haskell, Professor of Ethnomusicology at University of New Haven in West Haven, CT, who put together this project with John Smith. They talked about a four-CD set Starlight on the Rails which was conceived of by renowned folk singer U. Utah Phillips as a kind of audio songbook.

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So let’s finish off with some seasonally apt music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘White Snow’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April ’91. 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 included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

 

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Walking: Sunny Days

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On sunny days in the winter, as long as the wind is not too strong, a walk outside can be just what the doctor ordered, especially after days of snow and gloom. It’s wise to take a pair of sunglasses, just in case — the sun reflecting off the snow can be blinding, although as the sun begins to sink after too short a day, the light softens.

The land seems sculpted, all the busy details covered in a drift of white that goes on and on, up to the Wood. Here and there, a clump of pines or spruce, their branches still covered in snow, play host to clouds of sparrows, chattering back and forth about how lucky they are to find such a cozy place to roost.

The other trees, elm and maple and oak and linden, stand naked, the intricacies of branch and twig laid bare — although the oaks are reluctant to part with their leaves, and are still clothed, at least partially, in cloaks of russet and dun. (And if you look carefully toward the ends of the branches, you’ll see untidy clumps of leaves and twigs, home to squirrels. They prefer oaks, but it seems any tree will do in a pinch.)

And there are tracks, of course — around the bases of the trees, squirrel tracks, where they’ve gone leaping over the snow (as much as they could — no one likes a wet, cold belly), stopping from time to time to dig down to see if, perhaps, this is where they buried some choice bit of dinner. Rabbit tracks are closer to the edge of the Wood, where the snow cover is not quite so deep and dried grasses and herbs are easier to find. And there are bird tracks — not many, since most everyone is sticking to the trees, or foraging deeper in the Wood, but crows are about, as always, although even they, who will eat almost anything, are finding life easier away from the meadow.

And now the sun seems very serious about retiring for the night, so it’s time to return home to a nice warm fireplace and good food and company. But it was nice to be out.

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What’s New for the 22nd of January: music from De Danann, Nordic new age, Jazz music, cleaning the Kinrowan Hall under-eaves, a super-antihero, and other matters…

All things are known, but most things are forgotten. It takes a special magic to remember them. — Grandfather of Tallis in his Journal, from Robert Holdstock’s Lavondyss

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We’re really in the harshest part of Winter on this Scottish Estate, so the residents of Kinrowan Hall, save the staff of Gus, our Head Gardener, who have livestock and buildings to tend, are quite content to stay inside. There’s always something to stave off boredom, be it reading or needed Estate chores, at which everyone on this communitarian Estate lends a hand.

So it comes to pass that we’ve been cleaning out the under the eaves spaces and no, unlike Evenmere Hall, we didn’t precisely find a dragon there — though we did find the plans for a stonking big stone one. There was a lot of stuff to be moved or discarded as, The Steward has an intent to create more staff housing in part of it. The spaces are heated now to keep ice from building up on the slate roof, so extending plumbing and power will be no big deal.

What kind of stuff? A crate of botantical books that Gus claimed for his workshop; a model of Kinrowan Hall wonderfully detailed with real glass windows and tiny roof slates that will be displayed in the Library for everyone to see; maps of the Estate dating back centuries which went to our Steward; dark green glass pickling jars more than big enough for whole cabbages and which had something odd in them; hand written copies of The Sleeping Hedgehog from the mid-eighteenth century; a crate of whisky laid down centuries ago for later consumption and didn’t Reynard, our Pub Manager, claim that fast; and some seelie impression balls of Elven performances of Elizabethan music which the Winter Court left here very long ago; and so forth.

Now let’s see what I found for you this time…

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A novel gets a nod of approval from one of our Deborahs: ‘Fitcher’s Brides, by Gregory Frost, is one of the most recent additions to Terri Windling’s excellent brainchild, The Fairy Tale Series. As such, it shares shelf space with other such remarkable works as Briar Rose by Jane Yolen and Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. Fitcher’s Brides is, at its core, a retelling of Bluebeard, a cautionary fairy tale that warned against curiosity and temptation, for dark and potentially fatal secrets are hidden behind the locked doors of unknown husbands. While the original fairy tale seems to remove power from women in this regard, the version Frost here purports has a much more satisfying feminist slant to it.’

According to Denise, ‘Peter Dickinson takes the salamander of myth and gives it a new spin in The Tears of the Salamander. In 18th century Italy, young Alfredo is a promising singer in the church choir, and sings with the true love of one born to it. Soon though, he reaches the age where he must make a decision: to become a castrati and continue with the choir for his whole life, or to take his chances and hope his singing voice after puberty is as good as it had been before. As he weighs his decision, tragedy strikes. He is soon introduced to his Uncle Giorgio, a man whom he has never known and whom his father hated. Alfredo is whisked away to Sicily, where his uncle is the Master of the Mountain, a powerful man with the fire and fury of the mountain at his control.’

Eric looks at another book in Windling’s Fairy Tale Series: ‘In Briar Rose, Jane Yolen’s reinterpretation of the story of Sleeping Beauty, the reader is entertained in just this manner. Framed around Rebecca Berlin’s childhood memories of her grandmother’s repeated recital of Sleeping Beauty is a somber retelling of the myth with the Holocaust and the death camp of Chelmno as the setting. The book blends together two story lines in alternating chapters. In the odd-numbered chapters Rebecca’s grandmother tells her version of Sleeping Beauty repeatedly throughout the childhood of Rebecca and her two older sisters. The even-numbered chapters describe the adult Rebecca’s journey to discover the truth behind her grandmother’s claims that the story was real and that she was the princess in it. The two tracks run in parallel, with each segment told by Rebecca’s grandmother keeping pace with the discoveries Rebecca makes about the truth behind the tale.’

Richard and our Publisher were having a grumbling  session in the Pub recently over the rather shitty content of the seemingly infinite number of  collections by writers known and writers deservedly unknown, and anthologies that are likewise. Now read this review to see how this collection fared with him: ‘You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes you can get a pretty good hint as to where things are headed. So it is with Justin Gustainis’ collection The Devil Will Come: A Modern Collection of Devilish Fiction, the cover of which features a red-filtered Photoshop image of a business suited denizen of the Pit holding up what is presumably a contract. The image is striking, but not necessarily for the intended reasons.’

Robert brings us a look at a couple of shorter works by Elizabeth Bear. Of Bone and Jewel Creatures he says: ‘Elizabeth Bear’s novella Bone and Jewel Creatures takes us to a bizarre fantasy world that Bear doesn’t describe so much as imply.’ That tendency is even more apparent in the sequel, Book of Iron: ‘Bear is one of those rare writers of fantasy for whom magic is not so much a device as an integral part of the story — part of its bones. It’s in the ambience, the milieu, and also part of the telling.’

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Robert ran across a rather unusual superhero, in Keith Giffen’s Lobo: 100 Page Spectacular: ‘Intended as a parody of Wolverine, this version was itself parodied. Lobo, “the last Czarnian,” is the embodiment of id — there seem to be no restraints on his behavior, particularly when it comes to violence (he credits himself with having wiped out the rest of his species as his “high school science project”), although he does live up to the letter of his agreements — but only the letter.’

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And, from super-antihero to regular old superheroes — a whole bunch of them, known collectively as The Avengers. Robert says ‘Take it as given that this one is fun, although it’s substantial enough that it can’t be passed off as mere escapism. (Although considering the state of the world, escapism certainly has its uses.)’

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Another Deborah looks at the latest release from Steven Graves: ‘With his seventh release, Captain Soul, Graves has taken a quantum leap forward into the world of orchestration. It’s a very good idea, and it solidifies some of the areas in his earlier presentation that needed just a little more production than he was giving them. His songs have grown with each album, and with this release, he’s given them a commensurate gloss and heft.’

Gary is enjoying the Stefan Aeby Trio’s latest release, To the Light. The Swiss pianist and his mates, he says, make music that ‘is atmospheric and yet focused, often weighty in theme but light in execution.’

Gary also reviews a new release from jazz guitarist John Abercrombie’s Quartet. The music on Up and Coming, he says, ’emphasizes subtle melodic elements and the breath-for-breath interplay between Abercrombie and pianist Marc Copland.’

Gary also has a look at, of all things, a vinyl seven-inch single from Anna & Elizabeth. This duo, who specialize in Appalachian ballads and old-time shadow theater, have also collaborated with Indonesian performers. On this record they sing two old-time songs, ‘Hop High’ and ‘Here In The Vineyard,’ in arrangements that include electronica, woodwinds and a harmonium, in addition to their fiddle, banjo and vocal harmonies.

Lars ends his review of Caught in the Convent this way: ‘I cannot praise the Dylan Project enough. They call themselves the tribute band Dylan deserves. And what can go wrong, five brilliant musicians picking their favourite songs from one of the best songwriters in the world, a man who has continously put on out new product for 55 years. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Dylan or British folk rock.’ Now read his entire review for an excellent look at the band and this recording.

Robert has some thoughts on three recordings by Faroese artist Kristian Blak: ‘To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t expected to like the music of Kristian Blak. It does fall, to a large extent, under the rubric “new age,” although much more in the progressive jazz camp than my most favored artists from that area. Blak is obviously open to other influences, and is, by all reports, a major force in the Faroese music scene.’

And, moving into another part of the Scandinavian world, Robert takes a look at Of Air from Anders Hagberg and Johannes Landgren: ‘Of Air is in many ways a refreshing album. Although it falls largely within the new age/world music rubric, it is a tighter, more thoughtful performance than is often the case in that genre.”

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Our What Not this time  is the question of what is your favourte Tolkien. Elizabeth Bear says it’s The Lord of the Rings. ‘Because I am predictable. No, seriously. If I were aiming for arty, I would say ‘Leaf By Niggle,’ but I think LotR is a stunning and massive accomplishment, beautifully written, and honestly it gets me right where I live. I’m not unaware of having some problems with it from a political standpoint, but the character arcs, the study of how war and evil change the world and everyone who comes in contact with them, even the defenders–that rings very true for me, as a story that needed to be told.’

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De Danann (originally Dé Danann and later, following a nasty legal fight,  two bands with slightly different spellings) has been one of my favourite bands as long as they’ve been around, so let’s  finish off this edition with them performing ‘Jenny Rocking The Cradle’. It’s from their performance at the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio sometime in 1982. It’s an exceptionally great recording, so it’s most likely a recording off the soundboard, either by the engineer or someone allowed to tap into it.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Blizzard (A Letter to Tessa)

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A letter from Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, 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,

It’s been two weeks since one of the worst blizzards this century cut us off completely from the outside world. Now that doesn’t mean a lot as we get very few travellers here this time of the year and little business with the outside world gets done other than letters and newspapers coming in and letters coming on. (You got this letter because one of the Nordic skiing enthusiasts traveled twenty miles to the nearest railway station to post letters and get any post that came in the last fortnight.) So the Estate is even more of a world unto itself right now that it is even at the best of traveling conditions.

Of course, the heavy snow means little work can be down outside other than what’s absolutely necessary. So lots of reading, gossiping with friends, and so forth. I’ve also been working on plans for a new herb garden that Head Cook wants which means Isabella has the Several Annies researching Elizabethan herb gardens to see what they looked like. One of the problems of an Estate like this is every Head Gardener, every cook, for centuries has had ideas with what to with the fardens so what he exist now has little resemblance to what existed a few centuries ago. Not a complaint by me, just stating what is.

The Steward has had the newly fixed Mill Pond (the repairs turned out to be trivial) cleaned of snow and has arranged for our first curling tournament to be held. I think it’s a silly game but is outdoors which gets us out for some hours each day. It’s easy to learn, difficult to master. And Cook served tea (or hot chocolate) and biscuits after we gathered by the fireplace in the kitchen to warm up after coming in.

The winning team was coached by Isbella and comprised naturally of her Several Annies. I think they won in part because the males got distracted by their swirling skirts!

I’ve been learning Welsh as there’s been a Welsh literature reading group here for longer than anyone here can recall. I think the real purpose there is less to read medieval Welsh manuscripts like the Red Book of Hergest, the White Book of Rhydderch, the Book of Aneirin, and the Book of Taliesin than to drink metheglin!

It’s an interesting undertaking, and Isabella, like all Librarians, thinks everyone should know as many languages as possible! She’s invited Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest to lecture here this Spring on her translation of The Mabinogion.

The Steward has approved your funding to purchase more carpets, and he added a generous amount to purchase more books for the Library. Our banking agent in Constantinople has been wired the monies.

Lastly I should mention all of the kittens have been adopted though I’ve kept one of them that I named Ysbaddaden in honour of his size. Though all of them being males are truly big kittens!

Love Alex

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