We've got looks at the Celtic Connection festival... the new Steeleye Span recording... the first novella in a series honouring the 5th anniversary of Firebird Books... Dylan's legendary 1965 press conference in San Francisco... life in modern Turkey... a World War II witchcraft trial... a tribute to Brian Wilson... how to write horror... Holly Black and Cat Eldridge discussing a forthcoming YA novel, City of Bones... a look at Second City, the Chicago-based collective of comedians... a sampler for The Complete Songs of Robert Burns... And that names but a few of the offerings this edition. But first, a few words from The Old Man...
Jack Merry calls me The Old Man. Most of the rest call me Sir.
Looking for a conversation, or a seat? I'm not one much for talk this early in the evening, but if you want to save your strength to lift your glass, sit you down. You won't disturb me while I write, I'm sure. Yes, quite sure of that.
There's an old joke I like. 'A man has just hit someone's car, and is dutifully writing a note. The onlookers can't tell that what he's writing is: The witnesses think I'm giving you my name. Damn fools...' That one's so old, the original participants were driving chariots. All the jokes I like are old.
I've spent many a Winter's night here in the Pub, writing. No one asks what I'm writing - to these people, someone writing is as normal as a farmer in a field, and just as invisible. So they think nothing of it. They think they know what they're seeing. They don't, not really, but they seldom do. If it doesn't bother them, it doesn't trouble me.
But I've been recording the doings here since the Pub was two barrels and a board beside an open forge. I took my turns at both, too. When I fill up a volume, I put it in the Library, or that closet in the front hall where the old guest books end up. I kept the first one of those, as I recall. The place was collecting travelers like dust piles up in a corner, and I thought it would be a good idea to keep track of who came through here. You might say I'm the memory of the building.
Some folks only show up once, but can be memorable. A lot of the redecorating gets done after those visits, especially in the Pub. Some folks show up regularly, and I suppose I'm one of those. I like to winter here. When the Winter sets in, a wise man find a place to eat well, sleep soft and stay warm. And since I like to do all those things in a safe place, I keep track of the other guests. No one seems to notice, but then -- they've never noticed the few guests I've ∑ removed .. over the years. Though Jack Merry may realize how long I've been here, and how I watch the place. Jack watches everyone else, and I think he amuses himself by reading through the old guest books, too. Luck to him, if he does -- I'm not in 'em.
(Jack speaking. I know how long he's been 'ere. And I know who he really is which is why I call him The Old Man. How do I know? His Ravens gossip.)
Anyway, I'm comfortable here, and the old place likes me. We get on together, an old man and an old building, and neither one of us decrepit yet. Reynard there has yet to be stumped when I order something old and strange; nor does he scorn to serve workingman's booze. Whiskey may be dangerous when it's cheap, but akvavit and vodka are already so deadly, who cares if it's a cheap brand? Spending more coin on a fancy label is pointless when the stuff can be used to clean metal.
The place is getting lively and noisy now. The Solstice is barely six weeks past, and already people are talking as through Spring is here and it's time to go dance in the gardens. But if you know Winter well -- and I know it like a wife -- you know we're hardly halfway through. The year's temper can change overnight, and those hopeful trees in the courtyard will wake up with their buds cast in ice. Not that it will bother the trees. Trees are patient. But the anxious children in here will complain, warming their hands before their tame fire; then they‚ll call for mulled wine and hot whiskey, and dash out to stage a snow ball war between the Library staff and the gardeners. Children indeed.
And like children, they like their stories and music. They've got an interesting batch under discussion right now. Go check out the menu on the wall -- it's not showing what's to drink tonight, but what these youngsters have read over the last fortnight. Now, you might as well make yourself useful while you wander over there, and fetch me another drink while you're up. Tell Reynard to pull me another pint of methyglin.
This issue's featured film review comes to us courtesy of David Kidney, who casts his eye over the DVD release Dylan Speaks: the legendary 1965 press conference in San Francisco. This is legendary footage of one of music's greatest icons, as David tells us, 'So what we have here is an historic document really. Bob Dylan speaks to the press.' ... 'Forty odd years later there is a wonderful innocence to it all.' David concludes, 'If you want to catch a glimpse of the Sixties, you could do worse than spending an hour watching and listening to Dylan Speak[s].' If you want to read more, then you can certainly do no worse than hearing David Kidney speak! Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review here.
David drove for an hour on one of the coldest nights of the year to see four of Canada's finest songwriters in concert. Ian Thomas, Murray McLauchlan, Marc Jordan and Cindy Church have written for people like Santana, America, Rod Stewart and Manfred Mann...oh, and for themselves as well. But this was no songwriters' circle of individuals playing their hits...Lunch at Allen's is a group, four highly individual characters who have found strength in unity. "So it was new songs and old songs, all served up with intricate harmonies, gentle acoustic picking, and laugh out loud humour for a couple of hours straight." Read David's Excellence in Writing Award winning review for the details.
Lost in the excitement over the deserved hoopla regarding the 40th Anniversary of Fairport Convention is that Steeleye Span is only a few years shy of being 40 years old as well as Hark! The Village Wait, their first recording, was released in 1970! Which leads Lars Nilsson to pose a question: 'It is lovely to have Steeleye Span back in business again, with what seems to be a stable line up. After all this is their third studio album in a row with the same five members, something we are not used to. And with it also being the third studio album in two years, they are close to the production pace we saw from them at their very beginning, some 35 years ago. One of the problems with listening to new albums from old groups is that we each have our favourite era of those groups' history. Any new product is always compared with those 'classic albums' of the past, albums that usually stood for something new and revolutionary when they first appeared. But how can you continue being revolutionary for almost 4 decades?' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review of Bloody Men, their newest recording, for how he answers his own question!
Celtic Connections is an annual music festival that takes place every January in Glasgow, Scotland. This year's event was spread across nineteen days and nights, and Mike Wilson was lucky enough to join in the fun for three of those days and nights! Mike managed to take in gigs by Luka Bloom, Dervish, Lisa Knapp, Maeve Mackinnon, Genticorum, Stairwell Sisters, Julie Fowlis, Fred Morrison, Salsa Celtica (featuring 'an extremely sexy and voluptuous Eliza Carthy'), Claire Mann, Rachel Hair and the Gordon Gunn Trio. Any of these names whet your appetite? Then, have a read of Mike's Excellence in Writing Award winning review and hear how he got on.
That we get a lot of really good books 'ere at Green Man shouldn't surprise you. Indeed I saw our Editor discussing with Holly Black as they sat near the fire in the Pub. a forthcoming YA novel, City of Bones, which really will appeal to adult readers as well. He was drinking a Gueuze lambic that the Pub just got in, and Holly was enjoying a nice scotch with a little ice -- Reynard, our barkeep, says it was from the Lagavulin Distillery. City of Bones is the first book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy that Cassandra Clare is writing which she described in talking to Holly as 'City of Bones is an urban fantasy about a fifteen-year old girl named Clary Fray, whose search for her missing mother leads her into an alternate New York called Downworld, filled with mysterious faeries, hard-partying warlocks, not-what-they-seem vampires, an army of werewolves, and the demons who want to destroy it all. She also finds herself torn between two boys—her best friend, Simon, for whom she's developing new feelings, and the mysterious demon hunter, Jace. She becomes a part of the secret world of the demon hunters, or Nephilim, and as she does she discovers that rescuing her mother might mean putting their whole world in jeopardy.' All I know is our Editor has been raving about it, and Holly says of it that 'What I love about City of Bones is that Cassie is able to write a book that is simultaneously really funny and heart-wrenching. Plus I have a serious crush on Luke.' Read more about this novel here!
Now for our reviews this edition...
O. Z. Livaneli's Bliss is according to Donna Bird a good look at life in modern Turkey: 'It's a relatively short novel, just under 300 pages in length. The plot is relatively straightforward, focusing on the experiences of three characters over a period of no more than a few weeks, months at most. Fifteen year-old Meryem is the primary character, and by far the most sympathetic. When we first encounter her, she is living in a village near Lake Van in eastern Anatolia, in country I have come to regard as Turkish Kurdistan. Her mother died when she was born, and she has no siblings. Her closest companion is Gulizar, the village midwife who presided at her birth. After her uncle rapes her (a harrowing event the reader only experiences in Meryem's nightmarish flashbacks), her family members lock her in a barn, hoping she will hang herself for bringing disgrace on them. No one seems to be interested in hearing her side of the story-and her uncle, a respected religious leader, claims no responsibility whatsoever.'
A favourite writer here gets a new Firebird Books novella reviewed by Vonnie Carts-Powell: 'If The Game wasn't so playful, it could be terrifying. Diana Wynne Jones' novella for young readers requires bravery from its young heroes and a willingness from readers to accompany them in their temporary ignorance. At 192 pages, it's a short-enough read not to intimidate fledgling readers. The publisher's recommendation that the book is for readers twelve and up has more to do with some of the more adult themes than with reading comprehension. The great thing about Diana Wynne Jones is that she remembers both the inherent discomfort as well as some of the joys of being a child. Her characters are gleeful or miserable or angry depending on what has happened in the past five minutes -- and are remarkably indifferent to most of the more distant past. They also don't have much information and have to weed out misinformation from empirical truth. As in most of Jones' stories, in The Game many mysteries remain mysteries. Grownups are terrifyingly realistic: children are not the center of their lives and many are selfish and myopic even when they are not downright bad eggs. Fellow children are bad eggs as well.'
Kealan Patrick Burke's Currency of Souls had a grimness to it which appealed to Craig Clarke: 'Eddie's Tavern is not a place where friends meet and jovially chat about the day's events. One might consider Eddie's the antithesis of Callahan's: Here, shared pain is not lessened, and there's little joy to be found at all. In fact, the regulars of Eddie's Tavern almost seem to wallow in their misery.' Go ahead, read his review -- just don't blame us if you too get just a bit depressed after reading this novel!
Mort Castle edited the revised edition of On Writing Horror: A Handbook by The Horror Writers Association which Denise Dutton says is overdue: ' Ask horror buffs, and they'll probably tell you about the great idea kicking around in their heads, something intriguing that they'd love to put down on paper. But like any good genre fan, they know full well the large amount of crud out there that's currently masquerading as horror fiction. Fear keeps many from even trying to pen their own unique horror creation. And that's simply horrible. On Writing Horror was first published in 1997, and became a popular reference book for the genre. But, as Mort Castle mentions in the Editor's Introduction, much has changed. So, ten years later, a revised edition hits bookstores, eager to help those who would like to scare the hell out of folks through the written word.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning look at a must reference work!
A Kim Harrison novel which has elements of horror in it also got her attention: 'I love history. But I really, really love alternate history. You know, taking the world and tweaking the timeline it a little. And perhaps putting in a few things that don't exist in the world as we know it. For example, let's just say that instead of the space race of the sixties, there was a focus on bioengineering. And that focus caused a plague started by a most innocuous source: the tomato. After the majority of the human race has been extinguished, witches, vampires and weres (or Inderlanders, as they are all generally known) decide that they've stayed hidden long enough. Sound interesting? Then you've just landed in Kim Harrison's Hollows, a place Rachel Morgan and her friends call home. For A Few Demons More is the fifth book in this series, and though the earlier tales are worth reading, this is a great read all by itself.'
Cat Eldridge became rather enamoured of a Tim Pratt collection and that says quite a bit as he notes here: 'Now understand that I don't favor short fiction as a reading experience, as I like novels where I can get deep into a story and be with it for quite some time. So I picked Hart and Boot up when it came in just to glance through it. (I admit that I was first looking to see if we got quoted in the blurbs. Yes, we did -- from our review of Small Gods. Ego boost is a good thing. Well, most of the time it is...) Several very pleasurable hours later, I had finished Hart and Boot. Sigh...' Read his review for a look at a most brilliant collection!
Sometimes we do an updated review of a work already reviewed here. With over sixteen thousand reviewed books, recordings, and DVDs, it's not surprising many get revised. Such is the case with one book David Kidney reviews this edition: 'When Stephen Hunt reviewed the first edition of Dazzling Stranger for GMR back in 2000 (which you can read here) he concluded by saying 'I'm sure that [Mr. Harper would] like to hear from [people who were there]. I wouldn't put it past him to come up with a revised and expanded version in a few years time. True labours of love are never really over.' Well, sure enough, here we are six years down the highway and Bloomsbury has published this new edition, with a foreword by Johnny Marr, and a new introduction by Colin Harper himself in which he tells the story of interviewing Davy Graham, 'the man who Bert and all acoustic guitar players of note from that generation regard as the wellspring from which their very careers and much of their musical ideas flowed.' The addition of this piece of history alone would make a new edition worth reading, and I thought (like Hunt) that the first edition was remarkable.' Read the rest of his perfect updated notes here.
Even bad prose can't stop Liz Milner from enjoying a fascinating tale: 'The Strange Case of Hellish Nell [subtitled The Story of Helen Duncan and the Witch Trial of World War II] is a fascinating true-life tale of the supernatural. Even Nina Shandler's hackneyed prose cannot diminish my enthusiasm for this story. In 1944, when the Blitz was at its height, a Scottish psychic named Helen ('Nell') Duncan revealed an uncanny familiarity with British classified intelligence information during séances. Her spirit guides communicated top-secret information on British casualties that the War Office deemed harmful to public morale. This, and her frequent travels between the two strategic locations of Edinburgh and Portsmouth, caused military authorities to fear she was a using her role as a medium to spy for the Nazis. A way had to be found to keep Mrs. Duncan quiet and an enterprising War Office bureaucrat found it in a long-ignored statute, The 1735 Witchcraft Act, under which Duncan was arrested, convicted of 'conjuration' and held at Holloway Prison for the rest of the war. Duncan was the last person in Britain to be convicted of witchcraft.'
Kestrell Rath says that 'Holly Black's Ironside, along with the preceding books of Tithe and Valiant, is highly recommended as an outstanding YA fantasy series which provides a powerful metaphor for young adulthood itself. Most of all, it is that rare and perfect thing, a great book with great characters whose problems you want to all come out right in the end.' Fans of Emma Bull's War for the Oaks and other similar works in particular should read her Excellence in Writing Award-winning review here.
Kestrell also enjoyed Elizabeth Hand's new novel Illyria which she says 'follows in a long tradition of science fiction and fantasy stories which reference the works of Shakespeare, particularly the romances, and Hand's lyrical writing style is a wonderful fit for the dark romance she sets out to tell. The romance tells of the relationship between two cousins, Maddy and Rogan, but like that of the twins Viola and Sebastian in 'Twelfth Night' to which the title Illyria alludes, the relationship between Maddy and Rogan proves to be a powerful touchstone for drawing together all the 'big ideas' of love, ambition, and conformity to family and social expectations.'
A lot of reference books arrive here for review so it wasn't surprsing that John Scalzi's You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop -- Scalzi on Writing ended up being reviewed by Robert M. Tilendis who notes it 'is the latest book on writing to cross my desk, and has some unique qualities worth looking at. I should point out that 'writing' books seem to have evolved into two distinct species. There are the books specifically about the craft of writing, such as David Gerrold's Worlds of Wonder or Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook, and there are the books on 'the writing life,' such as Anne Lamott's classic Bird by Bird or Betsy Lerner's illuminating The Forest For the Trees. (There are also several subspecies, but this is not the place to construct family trees. I'm sure you can make a good start on your own.)' Read his entertaining and insightful review here.
Matthew Scott Winslow just finished moving into his new Green Man office after taking a leave for a few years and he returns to the fold with a review of David Farland's The Runelords: 'The Earth is dying. We all know this. Turn anywhere in the news and you get the doom and gloom reports of ecological disaster of one form or another. Matter of fact, it's gotten to the point where almost all our modern ailments are due to some ecological disaster or another. So it is of no surprise to find a fantasy series that uses the death and rebirth of the land as a major motif. Death and rebirth, especially related to the land, is a common motif, but no series that I am aware of has used it as strongly as David Farland has in his Runelords series. The first volume of that series is either eponymous (as the cover would have you believe) or it is The Sum of All Men (as the title page would have you believe). Either way, it is a strong first volume of a series that is now into its fifth volume (just recently released by Tor) that follows the adventures of Gaborn Val Orden as he grows from a young prince into his manhood.'
Michelle Erica Green talks us through an animated children's film, Happy Feet. Michelle reckons that this film is 'a landmark in children's animated entertainment . . . a movie unafraid to offer a direct political plea for activism from young viewers and the adults who venture in as well, lured by advertisements that promise simple penguins singing and dancing to retro hits.'If singing and dancing political penguins are your thing, then you can find Michelle's review here!
Next up, David Kidney has a good ol' laugh courtesy of Second City, 'the Chicago-based (but now international) collective of comedians who have been responsible for most of the comedy the readers of Green Man Review have grown used to over their lives.' David explores his own personal links back to this comedic clan, that includes many celebrated talents such as Alan Arkin, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, Dave Thomas, Jim and John Belushi, and Martin Short. 'You'll find lots to laugh at, and you might even learn something. I know I did. Pick up a copy for yourself.' But first of all, have a read of David's review.
David's next film review is of Eagle Vision's A Tribute to Brian Wilson, filmed back in 2005. This seems to be exactly what it says on the tin. Featuring a stellar cast including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shelby Lynne, Michael MacDonald and of course, the man himself, Brian Wilson. 'It's all a bit sad, and yet hopeful. The music is surprisingly good (produced by Phil Ramone!) The video is clear and crisp.' David seems to enjoy this one... 'that's what this whole show is all about. Brian Wilson, and forty years of amazing music.' David tells us more in his review.
The Alfonso Cuarónn directed film, Children of Men has apparently created quite a buzz and Robert Tilendis has checked it out for us and lets us know what he found. 'The basic premise, universal infertility with mysterious causes, is perhaps arbitrary and extreme, but that's no disqualification to a hardened veteran of science fiction for making a good story.' So, what happens Robert? 'What happens is that this gray little movie goes flat after about fifteen minutes and never recovers.' Oh dear! Robert gives a good account of why this film failed to create a buzz for him, in his review.
Kim Bates will be reviewing all 380 plus songs of The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, but Faith J. Cormier has tackled the sampler this edition: ' My Heart's in the Highlands is a kind of taster for Linn Records' series The Complete Songs of Robert Burns, a massive project under the direction of Dr. Fred Freeman to record every song every written or collected by Robert Burns - over 360 of them. This is serious stuff. Unlike, for instance, Eddi Reader's Songs of Robert Burns, there are no peculiar or anachronistic arrangements. The wildest this gets is Tich Frier adding a couple of lines of 'O my Luve's like a red, red rose' to the end of 'Ah, Chloris, since it may not be'. This is all to the good, too. Experimentation has its place, but there is much to be said for good, old-fashioned respect for tradition.'
We get far too many compilations for possible review here, so our reviewers get very picky as to what they will review, but David Kidney found a good one: 'Compilation records are both a mixed bag and a mixed blessing. This new project from Hip-O Records combines the sound of the Buena Vista Social Club with songs and performances by some of 'today's most popular music stars.' When you spend your days in the subterranean offices of the Green Man Building where our music department resides, it's easy to miss out on who today's most popular music stars might be. We get excited when a new album of fiddle tunes comes in, less so when new albums from Christina or Britney arrive. Have no fear, the stars on Rhythms del Mundo all meet our rigid (if slightly snobbish) specifications.'
Creature found favour with Liz Milner: 'If Green Man Review had a fabulous cover art contest, this baby would win hands down. I can't stop looking at this artwork! It's an evocative collage of a night scene on a haunted mountain with a full moon lighting a swirl of lurking, murky shapes that might be 2001's space baby, Grendal, or a wolf depending on how you look at them. Artwork this evocative and strange creates high expectations for the CD which Allen Gogarty and the Wads only partially fulfill. Alan Gogarty is an Irish-born singer-songwriter with a voice of almost angelic sweetness. His high notes can be astonishingly sweet and his high, soaring vocal in 'The Grace of Time' is a knockout.'
Liz also looked at a whole slew of Celtic recordings: 'In the past 30 years, 'Celtic Music' has gone from being an instantly recognizable label to a grab bag for all sorts of styles. In many cases, DNA is the only factor that differentiates 'Celtic' musicians from generic popsters. Witness this current roundup of Celtic CDs which ranges from the real thing (The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill) to haute trad (Helen Roche), to ecclecticelts (Vivian Ellis, Gráda) to Celtic Fellow Travellers (Al Petteway & Amy White).' Read her review to see what tickled her fancy!
White Swans Black Ravens impressed Peter Massey: ' Daniel Bouwman & Andrew Guy are from Michigan, U.S.A. but they found a link for what they wanted to do in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England. Bury St Edmonds a very nice typical East Anglia Town nestling in the stockbroker belt of England and has some very fine examples of 12th century Norman architecture that have been preserved. So it seemed only natural that Daniel & Guy should utilise Moyse's Hall to give atmosphere and record most of the songs for this album, for the way the songs are played and sung gave me a distinct impression of two 16th century court musicians or perhaps at a medieval banquette.'
Nihil Project's Plough Plays pleased Peter not 'tall: 'I am sorry to say the music didn't connect with me or any of my folkie friends that I asked to listen to the album. This does not mean it will be the same for you. As I said before this sort of thing is very subjective! You will have to make your own mind up about it. I find it very hard to say anything positive about this album as it left me decidedly nonplussed.' Read his review to see why.
Do read the Excellence in Writing Award winning look by Gary Whitehouse at John B. Sebastian (1970) , Tarzana Kid (1972), and Welcome Back (1976) which were just re-released by Collectors' Choice: ' John Sebastian's combo The Lovin' Spoonful was a folk-pop crossover in the mid-1960s, but by 1968 he was ready to strike out on his own. He had been around the New York folk scene since the early years of the decade, and had a lot of connections and a lot of musical ideas that didn't fit in the framework of the band. In fact, as Richie Unterberger points out in his excellent historical notes in the booklets of these Collectors' Choice re-releases, Sebastian was one of the first of the rock-era bandleaders to get the solo singer-songwriter bug. He had his debut album ready to go in 1968, but due to contractual disputes with his former label, it didn't come out until 1970, when singer-songwriters were common as hippies in Haight-Ashbury (or guitar-pickers in Nashville, for that matter).'
Mrs. Ware, the cook 'ere at Green Man, befitting the bleak midwinter weather has been asking visitors to her kitchen for their cocoa recipes.. First up is Lojo Russo, a well-known singer-songwriter, with her Lojo's ChoCoffee drink:
Coffee: Jamaica Blue Mountain - rich & nutty, or dark roast Italian -- if you like your coffee with an edge
Chocolate: 1 part heavy cream, 1/2 ;part dark chocolate syrup, 1/4 part sweetened condensed milk (depending on your sweet tooth), vanilla or almond flavoring (vanilla for Jamaica, almond for Italian) -- Blend
Pour chocolate mixture slowly, gently, lovingly into coffee until it suits your tongue. If you're like my Italian grandfather, who taught me how to enjoy coffee when I was 8, there will be more chocolate cream than coffee.