17th of July, 2005

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Fat Charlie was only ever fat for a handful of years, from shortly before the age of nine, when his mother announced to the world that if there was one thing she was over and done with and if he had any argument with it he could just stick it you know where it was her marriage to that elderly goat that she had made the unfortunate mistake of marrying and she would be leaving in the morning for somewhere a long way away and he had better not try to follow, to the age of fourteen, when Fat Charlie grew a little and exercised a little more. He was not fat. Truth to tell, he was not really even chubby, simply a little soft-looking around the edges. But the name Fat Charlie clung to him, like chewing gum to the sole of a tennis shoe. He would introduce himself as Charles, or, in his early twenties, Chaz, or, in writing, as C. Nancy, but it was no use: the name would creep in, infiltrating the new part of his life just as cockroaches invade the cracks and the world behind the fridge in a brand new kitchen, and like it or not -- and he didn't -- he would be Fat Charlie again.

-- From Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

 

Iain MacKenzie, GMR Librarian at your service.

Welcome to the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room which is situated on the first floor of the Green Man Library. It is well stocked with major works of reference and the latest numbers of periodicals including many of the finest newspapers including The London Times and On the Border. A separate area of the Reading Room is made available for the use of wireless laptops so our more traditional patrons won't be annoyed. So why is our Editor ignoring all of the lovely accoutrements in the room? What could possibly be so interesting that he's barely noticed that tea with crumpets, Devonshire clotted cream, and ever so tart blackberries is being served? Why has he been ensconced in his favorite overstuffed chair by the casement windows for hours on end? Hell, all the members of the Goblin Mercantile Exchange could hold a meeting here and he'd no doubt ignore it!

It's Neil Gaiman's fault. Cat started reading Gaiman a long time ago, not long after Gaiman was first published. With the exception of Good Omens which he considers a Terry Pratchett novel that has little to do with Neil, he has enjoyed immensely everything Gaiman's done since that novel. Don't ask what Cat what his favorite work is, as his answer is ever changing. Certainly he's made no secret of Neverwhere being a novel he re-reads quite often, which is why he looking forward to the definitive edition from Hill House next year. But for him, the best of reading pleasures is a new Gaiman. So he was delighted when the galley of Anansi Boys arrived a few days ago. Now proofs are odd creatures, as he noted over a mug of Pumpkin Ale, 'as they lack the attractiveness of an actual novel, and you sure as hell aren't likely to comfortably hold the galley of Anansi Boys as it's a rather bulky affair!' But, as Cat said, 'there's a thrill in reading something long before it gets published.' So he's been sitting in that bloody chair for hours on end softly chuckling to himself, making notes for his review, and generally being quite pleased with what he's reading. He says it's as good as anything Gaiman has ever written -- high praise indeed for one of the pickiest readers I've ever known!

So let's leave him to his reading and join the rest of the staff at High Tea . . .

Jack Merry has a look at a DVD featuring the Oysterband which is one of GMR's favorite musical groups. 'When possible, I prefer live music which is why I find the Neverending Session so appealing -- live music 24/7 in a Pub that serves Guinness properly is fair craic indeed! But often the only way to see a band perform unless you want to travel to see them is in the form of a concert recording. Such is the case here with the Oysterband, perhaps Britain's best folk rock band.' Read his review of Oysterband -- The 25th anniversary concert to see if they were able to give him the full concert experience!

Meanwhile Gary Whitehouse has a bold claim to make of a recording he really, really liked: 'What's indisputable is that Son Volt has made one of the best records of the year.' He goes to say 'Okemah and the Melody of Riot is a masterpiece that reflects -- somberly, angrily and joyfully -- on the current state of the United States and its people, five years into the new millennium.' Read the rest of his Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary to see why he believes this is so!

Another historical novel gets reviewed by Donna Bird : 'Like London and Paris and Venice, New York City has provided a setting for numerous novels. Elizabeth Gaffney's Metropolis is one of the more recent offerings in this genre. It's a historical novel that takes place in the 1870s. During these years just after the Civil War, the Tammany Hall Democratic machine ran the City in a somewhat uneasy alliance with leaders of the gangs that frequented the slums around the Five Points. Although the Civil War essentially ended slavery, even educated blacks still encountered significant discrimination in housing and employment. And women who practiced medicine were not considered to be entirely respectable.'

Donna looks at four novels (Emma Donoghue's Life Mask, Ross King's Domino, Christopher Whyte's The Cloud Machinery, and Wesley Stace's Misfortune which have something in common, so let's have her tell us what it is: 'Over the last several months, I read these books without any grand plan. I certainly wasn't thinking about reviewing them while I read them. Then, as I began to reflect about them, I realized they had a lot in common. So I decided to review them as a group in this omnibus. That they are all historical novels comes as no surprise to me. I usually read historical fiction. While I have a tendency to prefer fiction written in the historical period that it's about, that's no hard and fast rule. Each of these books was written in the contemporary period about characters living in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They all address themes related to gender identity and expression of sexuality that probably would not have occurred to writers living in that period.' Read the rest of her Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary to see which of these novels worked for her.

Real history also gets reviewed by Donna this edition: 'A friend of ours, who primarily makes his living as an artisan baker, is under contract to write a book about bread-making throughout the ages. His publisher assigned him a co-author, a professional copywriter whose style our friend finds unnecessarily dry. He gave us a sample of her work to show us why he is so frustrated with her. We looked it over and commented to him, 'Well, it reads like most history . . .' That sounds a bit lame, but it's a good summary of the problem of writing non-fiction history. It's very hard to avoid sounding dry when you are committed to staying within the realm of facts. I offer this anecdote as a way of softening any blows I might inadvertently level at Maureen Waller for her work on London 1945.'

Craig Clarke got to look at a trio of Cemetery Dance Novellas: 'Two years after the last installment, Rick Hautala's Cold River, the Cemetery Dance Novella Series finally continues with a trio of entries from some lesser known names than usual. In fact, I had only read one book and one story from one author, and nothing from the others. That said, it was a mixed bag this time around, and it's a good thing there are three to choose from, because not all of them will please.'

Faith J. Cormier finds herself being amazed by the Superman Lives! audiobook; 'I've always loved Superman and most of the rest of DC Comics' characters, but I haven't read an actual comic book for 30 years or more (about the time I left home and had to start paying for them myself, I suppose). I've definitely got some catching up to do. Supergirl isn't Superman's cousin any more? Green Lantern is disgraced? What is the world coming to?'

Faith also looked at Sam Weller's The Bradbury Chronicles which she says 'is a remarkably intimate portrait, even for an authorized biography. Weller had full cooperation from Mr. Bradbury and his family. He also did meticulous research, coming up with details about the Bradbury family that Ray Bradbury himself did not know. He even found instances where Mr. Bradbury's recollections do not match other authoritative sources, such as the date of his uncle's death.'

The fifth Nightside novel by Simon Green, Paths Not Taken, reminds Cat Eldridge of Warren Zevon, the late and much missed rock and roller: 'Warren Zevon's 'Disorder in the house' song off his last album, The Wind, is playing very loud as I write this review. On repeated play. Zevon would have loved Nightside, the secret and ever so corrupt heart of London where the series is set. Werewolves as in his 'The Werewolves of London' song? Damn right! Zombies? Too many to count! A headless mercenary stalking the Nightside streets on a mission of vengeance? Why not -- weirder things have happened here. Like John Ostrander's Cynosure as depicted in the Grimjack series, there is little that can't happen in Nightside. And much, if not most, of what happens here is not going to give us pleasant dreams!' If you don't mind spoilers, read his review to see if Paths Not Taken was to his satisfaction.

John Dickinson's The Cup of the World and its sequel, The Widow and the King, are fantasies that get a cautionary note from Robert M. Tilendis: 'I don't mean to condemn these books out of hand -- in formal terms, they're pretty good, except for the pacing problems, and that can be a fairly subjective reaction. (Even the characters are well drawn, if not very appealing.) I'm just not sure what the point is -- one expects a novel, even the pulpiest, to have a theme of some sort, and I just can't figure out what Dickinson's is, unless it's simply that 'Life is hard, then you die.' I hardly needed two volumes to figure that out, and it's not something that I needed to hear about anyway.'

Diana Wynne Jones newest novel, Conrad's Fate, made Robert a convert to her writing: 'I was captivated by this book, being, I guess, as much child as anything else. It's intriguing, hysterically funny, and Conrad is a gem. It's definitely on my re-read list, and I am eager for more of Jones' work.'

Seen the new War of the Worlds film yet? Well, the Martians in this telling of strangers in a very strange land finds favour in Robert: '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. A Mirror for Observers is a thoughtful book, quite different from the rollicking odyssey that is Davy, but still absorbing and giving the reader much cause for reflection.'

GMR writers love series. And the omnibus review is often the favoured way of dealing with such creatures. Unfortunately, not all series are good -- some indeed are quite dreadful as discover in review three by Judith Tarr: 'While Judith Tarr's novels, Devil's Bargain, House of War, and Pride of Kings, are supposedly historical fantasies dealing with the Crusades, one of the most bloody, savage, and violent episodes of our history, in truth, these books are disappointingly tame, boring, naïve, and biased.' Ouch.

Ray Bradbury's biography , Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars, gave Leona Wisoker a bit of, er, call it stage fright: 'I actually prefer to review relatively unknown authors. I get a very bad case of stage fright when a book with a name as big as Ray Bradbury on the cover is sitting on my desk.' How do I say anything good about his work that hasn't been said? How do I say anything bad about his work, when he's one of the Great Masters? Paralysis. Complete paralysis.' Read her review to see if Bradbury dishes out the dirt on himself. Just kidding!

Denise Dutton here. I thought I'd head out to the theaters this week and catch a few screenings. As luck would have it, both movies were worth mentioning in this issue.

First, there's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 'I went into the theater hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. What I got was a new spin on the tale, a wicked little treat packaged for today's audiences with a screenplay that is closer to Dahl's book. Let's just say I breathed a sigh of relief.' I'll be a little more specific as the review plays out, letting you know if I really enjoyed the film, or was just grateful to be in an air-conditioned theater.

Then, there's The Island: 'With cries of a summer slump, movie-types are getting nervous, hoping that the next batch of films will serve up something that will attract audiences scared off by high ticket prices and skyrocketing fuel costs. The Island is the latest hope for an end to the 2005 blues, and with its mix of action, science fiction and ethics, it has the feel of a thinking person's popcorn flick. It may not single-handedly cure Hollywood's ills, but itís definitely a movie that deserves an audience.'

Now if you'll excuse me, I've a good book to get back to. Yes, a book -- I've been known to read a time or two. Then I'm off to see about a boy . . . Harry Potter, that is. Yes, I know it's not a film or a DVD, but I'll be taking a short break 'til the final page of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has been turned by my eager little hands.

Letters editor Craig here. It's complaint week here on the Letters page of Green Man Review. If our readers ain't happy, we ain't happy. Well, that's not actually true; I'm happy, because I get to print interesting letters containing high levels of loss, frustration, and self-righteous indignation. I love the drama. Let's get right to it.

Jasmine Johnston, in her review of The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens, writes, 'I look forward to the Second Annual Collection in 2006'. Alas, co-editor Jane Yolen writes that it may not happen. Are book publishers going the way of the TV networks -- cancelling a series before it even gets off the ground?

Has the DVD review above whetted your appetite for an Oysterband entree? Andrea Pasqualotta has all of their albums, but cannot find a copy of Alive and Shouting. Unfortunately, it looks like she may never get one. What's a fan to do?

Does David Kidney know which Byrd on the cover of John Einarson's Mr. Tambourine Man is the book's subject, Gene Clark? Bill Malkin seems to think he doesn't. (Personally, my money's on David.)

And, on a similar note, Robert Ferguson doesn't think that Little Feat played Southern Rock, which he says was 'mostly image and sloppy hype'. Jack Merry comes to the genre's defense and adds some ideas of his own.

Got some complaints of your own? See something we got wrong? How about something you felt we got particularly right? Send email on these subjects, or about anything else connected to Green Man Review, to the Letters editor. (The nastier, the better.)

David Kidney has been putting lots of miles on the family car lately. He's driving through the vast expanse of Canada in search of genuine American Country Music. This week he's reporting back on some very special finds.

First there was a concert by the Lyle Lovett Acoustic Trio in Edmonton, Alberta which was nothing less than a revelation. David writes, 'The sound was extraordinary. Clean, balanced, and crisp. The guitar, cello, and percussion mix was fabulous. Sweet, intimate, and warm. And Lovett's vocals were strong and melodic. Whenever there was need of a guitar solo it was handled impeccably by Hargen on the cello. He is a master on his instrument, applying classical, jazz, blues and abstract motifs to the essentially American folk (country?) music Lovett plays.'

After the concert, David zipped across Canada to Guelph, Ontario to hear a concert by Guy Clark which also proved to be a standout. Dave says, 'The interplay of the two guitars, and the genuine camaraderie between the two musicians was magical, and Clark's songwriting skills are second to none.'

The double bill of Oysterband and The Men They Couldn't Hang concert films that have been showing in our theatre have cut dramatically into productivity around here, but a number of staffer did tear themselves away long enough to review some recordings . . .

Wendy Donahue found a Canadian Celtic rock band to be to her liking: 'Readers outside of Canada might not be familiar with Quagmyre, but may have seen the talent of several of the band's members. In recent years, fiddler Jon Pilatzke has been seen playing with well-known Celtic-rock bands 7 Nations and The Prodigals, while brothers Jon and Nathan Pilatzke have toured with the The Chieftains as on-stage fiddler and step dancers alongside band mate Cara Butler, a 14 year member of the Chieftains touring company. Jon also continues to tour with Bowfire, a high energy Celtic ensemble; Jef and Ryan McLarnon tour with the Celtic dance troupe Pulse. Jon McCann has played in bands ranging from Caution Jam and Radio Nomad to Jack B. Nimble. Despite these schedules, this group of talented musicians has come together to form Quagmyre. The band first started playing local gigs in Toronto back in the fall of 2000, and released a debut EP in 2001 titled A Mouthful of Potatoes. Of Cabbages and Kings, the band's latest effort, is everything a sophomore release should be: more polished than a debut, yet still fresh and full of surprises.'

(Wendy's a new staffer so she drinks free in the Green Man Pub tonight. You, on the other hand, will be charged our usual rates.)

Denise Dutton took a few minutes away from her reading of the galley of the forthcoming edition of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror to give a look at the latest from a folk rock legend: ' On Al Stewart's newest CD he does what many musicians dream of doing; he takes the feel of past successes and places that feeling firmly into new songs that have the same sense of wonder and intrigue as some of his best work. There may not be a breakout success like 'Year of the Cat' or 'Time Passages' on this album, but overall it could easily stand by his earlier work. One of the reasons this CD is such a pleasure to listen to is the man himself. Al Stewart's voice sounds exactly the same as it did on the album Year of the Cat, which took me by surprise. Most 70's and 80's pop singers have had the ravages of time show on their vocal cords, but you'll find nothing like that here. It's almost like this is a continuation of an earlier album, released long after the tracks had been laid down. After the initial shock (I have to admit I was steeling myself for a pale shadow of his former sound,) I've got to say that I'm impressed.' Read her review of A Beach Full of Shells for more reasons you should hear this!

SPike Winch is , according to David, having a good time with this recording: ''Wot! Another ^#$%in' ukulele record!?!' That's what SPike said when I placed James Hill's new CD A Flying Leap in the player. It begins with a quiet bit of strumming, which sounds like the introduction to a beginner's uke lesson. And then James gets into the tune and plays it like he can. The song is called 'Uke Talk' and it makes a fine introduction to James' third self-released CD. It's one of three tunes on the album that James didn't compose.'

Next up is Home is Where the Hatred Is: The Kudu Years 1971-1977: 'Kudu was a label formed by Creed Taylor, who had been responsible for some of the most popular jazz recordings ever made on his CTI label. Taylor's approach to jazz was to frame original songs, pop and jazz standards, and even contemporary pop and rock hits in orchestral arrangements. Then he would call on his stable of fine soloists -- including Freddie Hubbard, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Milt Jackson, and Hubert Laws -- to complete the works. With Kudu, Taylor hoped to create 'a black awareness label, more commercial oriented than CTI and indigenous to the black popular music of the United States.' Grover Washington, Hank Crawford and Lonnie Smith were featured on Kudu, but it is Esther Phillips whose amazing voice had perhaps the biggest influence.'

David found this 'difficult' recording, Sandy Posey's Born To Be Hurt: the Anthology 1966-1982,(to review as he notes by quoting these lyrics: 'Okay, NOW do you understand why I put off writing this review? Am I qualified to review any record which starts with those damning opinions? And if, as a man, I am so qualified . . . shouldn't I be hiding out somewhere, instead of adding insult to injury? 'Born a Woman' was Sandy Posey's first big hit, in 1966. Standing back and listening to it, as a record (ignoring for a moment the topic of the victimization of women) it sounds fabulous. The music offers strong support to Ms. Posey's sweet yet powerful voice, made more potent by the use of double-tracking. And the songs that follow it replicate the pattern and the potency. This is some successful radio-friendly music here. Often the backing tracks follow the standard '60s country mold: piano, organ, some well-placed strings, and at least a quartet of backup singers (maybe a whole choir), over the top of that fundamental bass and drum beat -- no guitar solos or anything extraneous. With such a stellar bunch of producers -- Chips Moman, Billy Sherrill, Joe South and Richard Perry, among others -- the sound is extraordinary (and Raven's regular remastering gives you the best sound).'

Another ukulele recording, Dragon, rounds out his reviews: 'The ukulele, as we've explained many times here at GMR, is a 'little flea,' cousin to the Portuguese braguinha and for years used as a sort of toy reminder of a trip your grandmother took to Hawaii. In the hands of Jake Shimabukuro . . . it is something else. Wow! This guy is amazing. Remember the first time you heard Jimi Hendrix? How he gave new meaning to the electric guitar? Well, it's not going too far to say that Jake (we'll call him Jake -- you know who we mean by 'Jimi' right?) . . . it's not going too far to say that Jake is the Jimi of the ukulele! Put on his new CD, and from the first note of 'Shake It Up!' you'll be blown away! Rhythm section! Drums! Bent notes! Doesn't he know he's playing a ukulele for goodness sake?'

Symphonic is from, according to Robert M. Tilendis, 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 Bonf‡, and Vin’cius 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 Symphonic surveys.'

I do hope Robert had some really good Indian take-away delivered to him from the shop near the GMR offices while he listened to this recording: 'Pandit Ram Narayan was born in 1927 in Rajasthan, the fifth generation of a family of musicians. At the age of seven he began formal training on the sarangi, a bowed string instrument traditionally played to accompany singers. 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.'(Their lamb curry is both spiced right and quite tasty.)

Robert loves a spot of great Nordic music too so it's no surprise that Oslo Kammerkor's Kyst, Kust, Coast and Voces Nordicae's Nordic Voices were both to his liking: 'Together, these two discs offer a good glimpse of the range of choral music in the Nordic countries, from traditional folk songs to thoroughly contemporary choral works. I found them particularly hard to review, simply because I was too absorbed in listening to write anything down.'

Gary Whitehouse says that Pete Anderson's Daredevil forced him to something he dislikes doing: 'I hate to resort too often to the 'x meets y' type of comparisons in reviews, but a lot of this music begs for that treatment: there's the Quicksilver Messenger Service meets Richard Farina of 'Ballad of Los Barilles,' with its hammered dulcimer, bongos and banjo. And there's the Tommy James meets San Francisco psychedelia of 'Big Canyon/Little Bird,' featuring a Laurel Canyon vibe and some Southwestern trumpet and fiddle. Santana meets Calexico in the cinematic but mellow 'My Little Angel' with its baritone guitar and B-3.'

The Dropkick Murphys are a kick-ass band live as I can testify -- just drink lots of Guinness when watching them as you'll sweat it out dancing! So how are they recorded? Just as kick-ass says Gary: 'The Dropkick Murphys for nearly a decade now have been making an energetic blend of hardcore punk and Irish folk music, with a vigorous dose of Boston pride thrown in. It's something like The Pogues with more rock and lyrics you can understand, done at breakneck speed like, say, Stiff Little Fingers, and with the vocal fury of Social Distortion or Rancid. Their latest, The Warrior's Code, is a raucous and uplifting slab of harder-faster-louder Celt-rock by a mature band. It's making a strong bid to become my feel-good disc of the summer of '05.'

Last Train Home's Bound Away and the Green Cards' Weather and Water are yet two more fine recordings from Dualtone. As Gary says, 'Americana music knows no boundaries. Witness these two solid releases, one from the U.S. Capital, the other from England and Australia.' Read his review to see why both of these are must-have recordings!

This was just found slipped under the office door of our Editor:

Dear Cat,

Thank you so much for letting me review The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror! Anthologies have always been a weakness of mine. The temptation to take this book and run into the woods, emerging only when I've finished reading, is strong. With authors like Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg and Tanith Lee, this is a particularly toothsome year indeed! This volume even has two stories with 'zombie' in the title. I'm absolutely beside myself. I'll sit back and enjoy them first, then I'll knuckle down and do a proper review. Off to have a pint or two of Dead Guy Ale; strictly to set a suitable tone, of course. I promise I'll have the review to you for the next issue!

-- Denise

 

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Entire Contents Copyright 2005, The Green Man Review except where specifically noted. All Rights Reserved. Summer Queen Speech is copyrighted by Jennifer Stevenson with online rights reserved for Green Man Review.

Archived 31 July 2005, 10:23 PST (LLS)