Sunday -- the 9th of April, 2006

We will publish again in a fortnight!

Featured Reviews This Edition

 

'Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as
death, andas sweet as love.' (Old Turkish saying)

We've been playing backgammon on these unusually cold, wet, early spring evenings, gathered round small tables at the Green Man Pub, or in the common areas of the building. One of the players, Zina Lee, has been telling me about her liking of a certain beverage that's popular in this building: 'There are certain things that make civilization more . . . civilized. Overall, they tend to be the ones that encourage a sense of luxuriousness in one's existence, and if they support a sense of community and of sharing with other people, so much the better.

'For me, the inky little cups of Turkish coffee are exactly that -- it's not so much the coffee itself that's so wonderful, but what tends to happen over the cups of it, even if I'm drinking it alone. I was in a tiny, tiny village in the pastoral English countryside visiting friends a bit ago, and after dinner we had Turkish coffee, some tunes, and a great deal of talking and laughing, in the lovely, warm, hospitable dining room of that unbelievably old house.

'And I've just come back from a lovely little Turkish restaurant in the East End of London, having had a wonderful dinner with two handsome English gentlemen of my acquaintance. One is quiet, slender and dark, with a sardonic twitch to his mouth; the other is bluff, solidly-built and fair, with his sardonic twitch in the lift of his left eyebrow; but both of them are devastatingly intelligent, both can be dismayingly erudite, and also the both of them are vastly quick and entertaining. Over snifters of Turkish brandy and those tiny white cups of sweet hot coffee, the two had me giggling non-stop with their sharp, witty, and exquisitely detailed descriptions of the worst English towns one might have the misfortune to visit, in a rather loopy reversal on the more normal litany of sights one really must see.

Turkish coffee doesn't cause these experiences, exactly, but they form an ineffable, intrinsic part of the conversations I've had while drinking the stuff.'

I've been sipping cups of Turkish coffee with Béla at a very small food stall that appears to have existed for quite some years near the Library at the Green Man building . . . a small square of achingly sweet baklava, some Turkish coffee, and a friend's company have been a luxury for a late afternoon break for no little time, thanks to the proprietor, a small, neat, clean-shaven gentleman of a certain age with a spotless white apron highlighting his closely-cropped jet-black hair and eyes.

He's very skilled with his mortar and spoon, our host, grinding the beans to a very fine fluff, or gently stirring in the foam of the coffee as it boils in the gleaming ibrik over his little burner; part of the pleasure of the experience is watching him prepare the coffee after you've ordered it.

Something I never noticed until after the conversations with Zina about her digestif of choice is that, as soon as the Turkish coffee makes an appearance on the table, there's an almost imperceptible relaxing of body tension, of the conversation turning towards something just that much more enjoyable, just a gentle click towards 'civilized' on the dial of the day.

The Turks have another old saying about coffee: 'To drink one cup of coffee together guarantees forty years of friendship.' At this point, Béla and I may have to live a few extra centuries to celebrate a friendship blessed with many cups of foamy Turkish coffee. May there be many more.

Harry Potter is a genuine cultural meme so I'm not surprised there's a 'cottage industry' of publications covering very aspect of the Potterverse. A Mercedes Lackey edited anthology of pieces on Potter from BenBella Books got reviewed by Michelle Erica Green and did not fare well in the process: 'If you're like me, your eyebrow went up when you saw the subtitle of Mapping the World of Harry Potter, which consists of the mouth-ful phrase Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Explore the Bestselling Fantasy Series of All Time. The Harry Potter series may, indeed, be the bestselling fantasy series of all time, but it is first and foremost a series for children. This is something seemingly forgotten by many of the contributors, from Lackey herself to the genre writers defending J. K. Rowling from charges of sexism and insisting that naked Snape is the hottest thing since . . . well, naked Alan Rickman. Not, of course, that there is any problem with discussing the Harry Potter novels as literature for adults, just as we do with C. S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll and dozens of other classic children's authors. But when critics lose sight of these books' origins, some rather odd and sometimes unfair generalizations get tossed around, while characterizations that would not be at all problematic in books for adults may seem distinctly less palatable in books for children.' Now go read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the details on this problematic anthology of essays!

'A blind blues singer you've probably never heard of goes to an Asian country you've probably never heard of and wins a prize for singing in a style you've probably never heard of. And two brothers, yeah, who you've probably never heard of, made a prize-winning documentary film about it.' Who wouldn't be drawn into a review with a start like that? Gary Whitehouse starts things off with a bang with his look at an Academy Award nominated documentary, Genghis Blues. This film takes a look at an unusual musical style, Tuvan throat-singing, and it got a lot of positive press when it first came out. And when the film was nominated, there was even a guest appearance at the Oscars by one of the singers, complete with a bit of throat-singing on the red carpet! Read the Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see if the film lives up to the hype.

Not to be outdone, Vonnie Carts-Powell headed out to see Auktyon, a group of Russian musicians that seem to defy musical pigeonholing. 'Auktyon are sure something. I'm not sure quite what, and from the folks that I talked to, that's part of the pleasure of seeing them live -- every time they play around Boston (about once a year), they are different. I am hampered, first, by my lack of Russian. The band from St. Petersburg, Russia, makes no concessions to being in the US -- their lyrics and poetry and patter are all in Russian. Musically, I'm also hampered by not knowing the roots they may be drawing on. Then again, on some songs I was lucky if I could make out a melody at all.' Ah, but is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Vonnie's Excellence in Writing Award winning review tells you everything you need to know about their gig.

A favourite band around the Green Man offices gets its new recording reviewed by Gary in his second featured review: 'From first glance, it's obvious that something is different about Calexico's fifth full-length studio release, Garden Ruin. The flowery, raven-centric artwork by James Jean is a stark contrast to the industrial-barrio art of Victor Castelum that has graced most of the band's previous albums. The difference is even more apparent with the first notes of the first track, 'Cruel,' which opens with the flatpick strum of a steel-string acoustic guitar. The electric guitar and John Convertino's drums kick in on the second verse, and more instruments are layered in -- keyboards, pedal steel -- until it reaches the refrain, with a Stax-Volt horn chart over a twanging Nashville 'tuning guitar,' as frontman Joey Burns sings of birds that refuse to fly and a 'cruel, heartless reign / chasing short term gains.' By the time the song fades out on Burns' singsong falsetto chant of 'lo-lo-lo-lo,' it's quite apparent that Calexico has taken a sharp turn into a new musical landscape.' Read Gary's Excellence in Writing Award winning look at an evolving band!

The last Featured Review of this issue takes a look at one of the seemingly endless rounds of conventions, or 'cons', out there. I-Con 25, a SF convention that spans several other related genres, gets the once-over by James Lynch. 'Ah, I-CON: the annual three-day science fiction and fantasy convention. The guests! The panels! The costumes! The gaming! The egg salad! I always seem to get egg salad when I'm out there.' Don't be surprised if James' humorous, comprehensive look at I-Con 25 has you checking your calendar to see if you've got time for I-Con 26!

Kathleen Bartholomew's review of Dreamhunter is summed up very nicely in her lead-off paragraph: 'Elizabeth Knox (The Vintner's Luck, Daylight) writes a kind of magical realism, lucid and fantastical. Her prose has a strange, lovely, spot-lit quality -- the details of her worlds are clearly illuminated, but the light is both dreamy and supernaturally sharp. This gives Dreamhunter -- Knox's first juvenile work -- the feeling of a classical English children's story, along the lines of Kenneth Grahame (The Wind In The Willows) or Alan Garner (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen). It both enchants and subtly terrifies.' Read her well-crafted review for all the details on this engaging novel!

Katherine found another winner in a gothic/magic realism novel: 'Cherie Priest is a first time novelist. However, she writes with ease and a deceptive power, like the flow of the Tennessee River through her home city of Chattanooga. Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a Southern Gothic with a hint of hard boiled mystery: there's grit in the magnolia honey, and in the heroine as well.'

Katherine rounds off her reviewing this edition with a look at the latest from a prolific writer: 'The Thirteenth House is the sequel to Sharon Shinn's Mystic and Rider. Shinn (The Shape-Changer's Wife, the Archangel series) is an accomplished fantasist in the world-building tradition. This is the second volume in what promises to be a fertile new series.' Read her review to see why, despite some pickiness on her part, she really liked this novel.

Katharine McMahon has, Donna Bird says, 'written The Alchemist's Daughter as a personal memoir, although without the framing devices that some authors use with this style. So, for example, she does not present the short entries that comprise each of the book's twelve named chapters as parts of a diary or letters to someone else, nor does our narrator make any asides that reveal her older self's judgments on her younger self. She doesn't end the book by self-consciously telling the reader that the tale is over. I observed only the faintest hints of foreshadowing. Sometimes a light touch on that device is the best approach!' Read her review to see what she thought of The Alchemist's Daughter.

Craig Clarke leads off his Excellence in Writing Award winning review in this way: 'Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales is subtitled 'A Collection / A Recollection / A Writer's Handbook,' making it a much more ambitious rendering of the slim collection of the same name that won its author, Norman Partridge, a 1992 Bram Stoker Award for Fiction Collection. He won the same award for his 2001 collection, The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists, demonstrating his respect within the genre. In this new version, in addition to adding more stories from his early years, he tells how he got where he is today. Twenty-three essays alternate, more or less, with 19 works of fiction, offering a nearly complete portrait of a writer on the rise.' Now go read his review to see why he has added this collection to his writing collection as another book to call upon when his writing 'needs a concerted boost.'

Quite likely the most well-known horror writer living today gets his newest novel reviewed by Denise Dutton, who says: ' I was excited, but also worried. Excited, because I like nothing better than reading a Stephen King story where he really brings it to the table. Worried, because as much as I like his earlier work, I though this book could turn into 'The Stand 2: This Time It's Verizon'. This is the story fans of Stephen King's earlier works have been waiting for, and he doesn't disappoint. I guess you could say that this is the last book King would want to just phone in.' (You may now groan at her pun.) Go read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for all the gory details on this horrifically good novel!

April Gutierrez was lucky enough to get to review a choice goodie: 'If you're at all fond of Gaiman's prose, Zulli's art, or their earlier collaborations, Creatures of the Night is an exquisite addition to your bookshelves.' Now go read her review to see why she really liked this small but delightful publication!

April also looked at John Greenleigh and Rosalind Rosoff Beimler's The Days of the Dead: Mexico's Festival of Communion with the Departed: 'The Day of the Dead – El Dia de Muertos – has always fascinated me, ever since, as a teen, I first read Ray Bradbury's Mexican-set stories (e.g., 'Next in Line') about this celebration of the dead. So when offered the chance to review The Days of the Dead, I jumped pretty darn fast. And I am thoroughly pleased that I did so.' Read her review for a look at that rarest of books -- a well-crafted photo essay!

Katie Roiphe's Still She Haunts Me: A Novel of Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell. was a quick read for Jasmine Johnston: 'I managed to read this fictionalised view of authorial alchemy in about twenty-four hours. It is riveting and harrowing. It is a novel of subverted desire turned fiction: a paedophile writes a child's novel. It creates an answer to the question many readers have had about the bizarre Wonderland novels Charles Dodgson wrote, a question which usually runs something along the lines of, 'how on earth!' or 'did he make all that up from his head?' Roiphe reverses the process of biographical criticism, generating an imagined Dodgson, and then gleaning from his imagined life the elements which inspired his fiction. She melds history and vision to create a monstrous psychoanalysis of a taboo sexuality. And, as is so often the case for those Victoria writers, it works incredibly well.' Read her review for a look at a novel almost as odd as its subject matter!

Now go read the Excellence in Writing Award winning review by David Kidney of a classic dystopian graphic novel: 'V for Vendetta is now a major motion picture reviewed by Green Man Review elsewhere, and it is also available as a graphic novel all gathered together in one volume, but it began life even earlier that this DC version. Writer Alan Moore describes it this way, 'I began V for Vendetta in the summer of 1981, during a working holiday upon the Isle of Wight. My youngest daughter, Amber, was a few months old. I finished it in the late winter of 1988 after a gap in publishing of nearly five years from the discontinuation of England's Warrior Magazine, its initial home . . . [it] represents my first attempt at a continuing series, begun at the outset of my career. . . .' He goes on to talk about the clumsiness of the early chapters, the 'youthful creative inexperience' displayed there, and some naivete shown in the series' depiction of nuclear war.  All that may be true, but still Moore and Lloyd created a stunning and convincing world from that naivete, one which still fascinates and intrigues today.'

David also looked at the Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus' edited anthology, The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad: 'A while back Gary Whitehouse reviewed a compilation CD entitled The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad here in these very pages. It was a CD containing twenty American 'ballads.' The book of the same name, edited by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus, features those songs, plus a couple, celebrated in literary form by, well, the publisher calls them 'an astonishing group of writers and artists.' And it's hard to argue with that description.' Read his review to see what's cool in this rather quirky work!

Lisa L. Spangenberg takes a look at the latest in a series akin to Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicles. She says in her review that Charles Stross 'knows how to tell a story. This a fun book, an interesting book, and Stross has integrated the back story so thoroughly that The Hidden Family stands on its own -- not at all common in the second volume of a series.' Go read her review for a look at why she liked this novel!

Two books for children, Alexander Asenby's Great Adventure and Creatures of the Night were reviewed with pleasure by Robert M. Tilendis: '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.'

Vlado Perlemuter and Hèléne Jourdan-Morhange's Ravel According to Ravel and Michael Davidson's The Classical Piano Sonata from Haydn to Prokofiev garnered this comment from Robert in his Excellence in Writing Award winning review: 'Music, among forms of art, is a rather strange beast: it is ephemeral, subjective, almost completely dependent on interpretation, and, looked at logically, has no intrinsic meaning unless paired with a text (which does not keep us from responding as though it does). It relies heavily on tradition, which can be amplified, explained, and sometimes even changed by scholarship. Two books exemplifying both the value of that scholarship and the value of tradition crossed my desk recently, and each, in its own way, is illuminating.'

Jonathan R. Eller and William F. Touponce have written a critical study of a well respected writer which is called Ray Bradbury -- The Life of Fiction. Go read Robert's review to see why he thinks these authors found Bradbury troublesome as a subject.

Robert has an recipe for you to consider: 'Take Escape from New York, mix in an echo of A Mirror for Observers and a generous helping of The Book of Revelations as interpreted by your worst nightmare, and focus very tightly on the crisis point. You're coming close to Alexander C. Irvine's The Life of Riley.' Now go read his review to see if the resulting product was tasty -- or if it gave him indigestion!

Robert has a good read from the Golden Age of SF: 'Clifford D. Simak was one of the major voices of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He was, as well, one of what I (and others) call the 'John W. Campbell generation': those writers who moved away from Hugo Gernsback's formula of stories built around science into a more humanistic view. The sense of wonder was still there, the idea of the universe as a place of marvels, filled with possibilities, and the sense of optimism that said we could make life better, but it became colored with the awareness of the moral complications inherent in our ideas of progress. Way Station was awarded the Hugo for Best Novel in 1963, when the New Wave authors were just beginning to make their presence felt. Some have denigrated the award (it beat out Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, certainly a departure from the accepted canon), but I think that judgment is unfair: when boundaries are shifting, it's foolish to throw away the map. I think Way Station deserves that status, because it is a worthy example of what the Golden Age was about.' Read his review to see why Simak still matters!

Oz as the stuff of nightmares? Makes sense to me -- those flying monkeys always gave me the screaming meemies! Gary Turner looks at one conception of Oz as a nightmare in his review of Christopher Golden and James A. Moore's Bloodstained Oz: 'If you like lots of violence and gore, and you’re a fan of The Wizard of Oz, then you'll like this book. The evil manifestations of Baum’s characters are one of the highlights of the book.' Now go read his review with the lights all on!

Christopher White looked at the Blues this outing: 'These books offer two very different views of the blues. [Michael Taft's] Talkin' to Myself: Blues Lyrics, 1921 - 1942 is precisely what its subtitle says; so is [Jeannie Cheatham's] Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On: My Life in Music. In the case of the former we have a scholarly research compendium described in the preface to this new edition (the original was published in 1983) as, 'an experiment in the application of computer technology to the analysis of pre-World War II African American commercial blues texts.' The latter is a very personal memoir by Jeannie Cheatham, an African American pianist and singer who met and performed with a vast array of well-known figures in jazz and blues.'

 

April Gutierrez makes her first foray into CD reviews in quite a while with Peter Ulrich's Enter the Mysterium. She says that 'Ulrich has put together a fascinating CD that is a pleasure to listen to, on both a musical and intellectual level.' Intellectual? Yes indeed! Read her review to get the scoop on some of Ulrich's more esoteric sources for lyrical inspiration!

Giants was a recording which very much pleased Peter Massey: 'This album is produced by David Henry and Donal Hinely, and recorded by David Henry at True Tone Studios. Nashville, TN, USA. On it Donal Hinley presents a selection of self-penned songs that are sensually American, as you would expect. I liked it and I expect you will too. The album echoes of the Nashville sound/influence that is found on lots of other good quality albums from this part of the world, often copied, but never quite as good as the real thing in my humble opinion.'

Kelly Sedinger looks at Kate McDonnell's Where the Mangoes Are: 'Where the Mangoes Are is the fourth album by singer-songwriter Kate McDonnell, who crafts a nice blend of rock, blues, and folk. Looking through the discography on her Web site, I note that since her debut album in 1994, McDonnell has averaged one every four years or so. This isn't some songwriter who sets stream-of-consciousness doggerel to basic melodies and square, predictable harmonies. Her songs make clear the amount of effort and thought she puts into them.'

Robert M. Tilendis says that 'The idea of 'meaning' in music is a complex one, the pursuit of which can go all sorts of places I don't want to go right now. Suffice it to say that most commentators feel that relating music to some sort of narrative line is sufficient to address the question, and I, at this point at least, am not going to argue against that approach. This leads naturally to discussions of 'program' music, which is something we find reflected in everything from Vivaldi's Four Seasons to movie soundtracks, stopping along the way to encompass such diverse works as Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 and Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra, not to mention opera and ballet in general.' Go read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14, Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17 (Part II: Love Scene), Aaron Copland, Billy the Kid: Suite and Waltz, and Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite for his discussion of these well-known compositions.

L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti, says Robert, 'was written in less than a month, is generally considered a masterpiece of comic opera. The story is simple and the opera as a whole is fairly light-weight, but the music is delightful.' His review is equally delightful, so go read it now!

Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90 ('Italian'), Symphony No. 5 in D, Op. 107 ('Reformation'), and Octet in E-flat, Opt 20 (Scherzo) get the once-over from Robert. Read his review for a look at an artist who Robert definitely wasn't a fan of of before hearing these recordings but is now!

Straight To Hell both pleased and really offended Gary Whitehouse: 'Shelton 'Hank' Williams the Third cuts a wide swath through country music with this disc, reminiscent of Sherman's march to Atlanta. It's a cliche, I know, but Hank III is kickin' ass and takin' no prisoners.' Read his review to see why this was so.

Danielle Howle's Thank You Mark and Jane Monheit's Taking a Chance on Love found favour with Gary: 'These two female vocalists both have different takes on American music of the jazzy sort; one's a singer-songwriter whose style is jazz-influenced, the other a stylist of jazz standards. And both have had their work featured on recent movie soundtracks.' Read his jazzy review now!

Lura's De Korpu Ku Alma is, according to Gary, a damn near perfect packaging of this Cape Verdian female vocalist: 'An accompanying DVD present eight songs in concert opening for Evora in Paris' Grand Rex theater, including a couple that aren't on the CD. It also has sexy videos for two of the songs, a slide show of Lura and a nice interview/musical portrait of the singer. The booklet has lots of photos, full credits and lyrics in Portuguese and English. Altogether a lovely package, giving full value, and a nice introduction to this vibrant singer.' Read his review to see if the artist was as good as the packaging of her was!

 

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Updated by CE 13.20 GMT, 9 April 2006