G'evening on this midwinter night. Welcome to the Green Man offices . . . mind the cats . . . lazy buggers all. I do hope you took some time off over the past month as we certainly did. Reviewers 'ere 'bouts make themselves scarce except for hanging 'round the kitchen cadging treats, listening to music in the Pub, and sprawled like cats reading bloody near everywhere. But working on reviews? Surely not! Oh, they got 'em done, but not 'til after Russian Christmas when I'll admit that they did turn in many a fine review which you can read below. . . .
But first, a story. (We always 'ave a story. That's our nature.) Orla Melling has been hangin' around the Green Man Pub a lot in order to recover from her recent Canadian reading/signin' tour and her vacation in Spain. She does not drink intoxicating libations so she decided to do a bit of bar keeping work so she could serve up some of her non-alcoholic concoctions. Let's 'ave her tell what happened. . .
How did it begin? Me serving bar in the Green Man? Well, there I was, a little while before Christmas, sitting in the pub with Cat and moaning about the stress of deadlines that fall just before Yuletide, when the pixie waiter brought my hot blackcurrant drink. Steaming in a glass goblet, with a wedge of lemon, it was like a rich purple wine. Cat eyed the drink, and our chat turned to the subject of Irish writers and their reputation as fierce drinkers.
I quoted comedian Tommy Tiernan’s line about being Irish, 'People expect you to be drunk.' Then I admitted, in fact, that I was an ex-fierce-drinker.
That was when Cat reminded me that my favourite fantasy writer, Charles de Lint, didn’t take a drink either, and the subject changed again to the dearth of interesting non-alcoholic beverages.
'I wish the Green Man served more of a variety,' I said. (The only ones on offer that day were the hot blackcurrant I had ordered and Turkish coffee served in a silver urn.)
Ach, I should have known better than to utter fanciful words in that rarefied atmosphere! As the seanfhocail i nGaeilge, or old Irish proverb, goes: faigheann iarraidh iarraidh eile. Seeking one thing will surely get you another.
For no sooner had I spoken than I found myself compelled to glance over at an apparently abandoned alcove on the far side of the room. There, half-hidden in shadow, was a little bar of its own, with an undulating counter of dark mahogany carved with leaves, grapes, and merry bacchanalian faces. The counter was partnered by several tall stools with pedestals that you knew might spin whenever they had a mind to. Behind the bar was a misty mirror with shelves of bottles in the oddest of shapes -- ships, trees, vases, crowns, birds, animals, people. That curvy rose-and-cream-coloured one was definitely Marilyn Monroe in her wind-blown dress.
I knew instantly what I was looking at.
And I knew it was calling to me.
Now let’s be clear about this. I am no longer the spring chick who pulled pints of porter for farmers, cattlemen, and the occasional musician who tramped into the bar of my Aunt Betty’s hotel in Ballinamore, County Leitrim many summers ago. Nor am I the young woman who flung out pints, shorts, and hot whiskeys at a furious rate on packed Saturday nights in the old Bernie Inn on Nassau Street, in Dublin’s fair city, a good few years after that. But what the hell. Ní baois go seanaois. There’s no real tomfoolery until old age. I was on for it. I was ready to serve up and dish out non-alcoholic but nonetheless intoxicating ichor in my own budding corner of the Green Man Pub.
To be continued. . . .
Green Man selects the best books of 2006
Ahhhh well. There's plenty of great stuff in this issue to make up for that bit of disappointment, don't you worry. For example, Donna Bird penned a coda to her splendid House of Eliott review with a look at the Series Three DVD collection. And it's well worth a peek to see how the third installment fares against the first two years. Talk about reviewer follow-through; what a great way to ring in the new year!
A recording by Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer got the full attention of Jack Merry so read his Excellence In Writing Award winning review: 'Hambo in the Snow is not a Nordic traditional recording 'tall, but a Nordic-American traditional recording firmly grounded, like the Prairie Home Companion, in the culture of Minnesota. And a slightly misty eyed vision of the Nordic countries as noted in this bit on the trio's website: 'On the other side of the year, the Land of the Midnight Sun is a land of long, dark winter. But winter in Scandinavia is also a time of light: the moon’s reflection on snow, the levande ljus (living light) of candles and torches, and the inward light that comes with honoring beloved traditions. Here are some of the tunes that have become our favorites over the years of performing together. Most of these tunes come from the ancient bygdedans (village dance) tradition.' Like Lake Woebegone on Prairie Home Companion, Hambo in the Snow harkens back to a earlier, less complex age when bundling was indeed an innocent activity for couples to do on a cold winters night. And Freya knows how badly our present society could use a lot more innocence!'
Our featured book review comes with an apology from Green Man to its author, Farah Mendlesohn. Her book, Diana Wynne Jones: The Fantastic Tradition and Children's Literature, was sent by Routledge for review quite some time ago but the reviewer we assigned to do the review failed to do so, nor did she return the book to us. (She is no longer on staff nor is she welcome in our Pub ever again.)
Over an OR Melling concoction in the Pub, Kestrell Rath volunteered to review it from the copy she had, which is why we have a review 'ere. Author and subject are, as Kestrell notes in her Excellence in Writing Award winning review, well-suited for each other: 'Diana Wynne Jones (DWJ to her fans) is one of those writers who, despite the fact that she is frequently referred to as a 'children's author,' has a significant following of adult readers. Although there are an increasing number of literary critics addressing the subject of children's and young adult fantasy, there is still a lack of literary criticism addressing why these books often shelved in the children's sections of bookstores and libraries hold such a strong appeal for so many adult readers. Despite the title of this book (a title chosen by the publisher, not the author), its subject is a sophisticated exploration of Diana Wynne Jones's complex approach to writing and storytelling.'
Kathleen Bartholomew first review is of Dreamquake which is 'the second in Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter duet, the first volume being the eponymous Dreamhunter. Dreamquake is a darker, more mature work, as befits the increasing maturity and troubled life of its heroines. The young adult audience of the first volume should find this conclusion moving and satisfying, answering all the questions raised in Dreamhunter in sometimes astonishing ways.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for a look at a sequel done right!
Her second review is of a work which surprisingly disappointed her. The premise (Cherie Priest is a splendid writer. Her two previous novels -- Four and Twenty Blackbirds and Wings To the Kingdom -- are highly original takes on clairvoyance, psychic ability, family dynamics and even coming-of-age. They are also beautifully crafted examples of Southern Gothic, well-researched and rich with regional detail and atmosphere. Dreadful Skin, her first effort at a period piece, a werewolf tale set just after the American Civil War.) was fine, but oddly flawed. So why it is worth your time? Read her review!
Ahhhh, Paris. Lovely Turkish coffee can be, as I can testify, had in many a Left Bank dive. And the less said about the retsina I drank there, the better. Donna Bird looks at four books about Paris (Lisa Appignanesi's The Cabaret, Robert Baldick's The Siege of Paris, W. Scott Haine's The World of the Paris Cafe: Sociability among the French Working Class, 1789-1914, and Jill Harsin, Barricades: The War of the Streets in Revolutionary Paris, 1830-1848) in this Excellence in Writing Award winning review: 'I have been reading fiction set in and around nineteenth-century Paris for a number of years (see, for example, my reviews of The Wrong Side of Paris and The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter), and often like to complement those travels with forays into related non-fiction. These are all historical works that would appeal to scholars as well as general readers who share my interest in nineteenth-century Paris. Although I have listed the titles in alphabetical order by authors' last names at the top of this page, I will review them in an order that better reflects the time periods they cover. That will make it easier for me to articulate the connections among them-and probably easier for you to read!'
Donna also looked at a novel by Monique Charlesworth: 'You may have noticed that I am quite enamored of novels depicting the experiences of civilians living in Europe during World War II (check out my review of some of these here). So I was delighted to run across this shining example of the sub-genre at The Book Market, a remaindered bookstore in Kittery, Maine, during its final weeks of operation (it appears that the whole chain collapsed, the victim of rapid changes in the way these kinds of books are sold). Because the store was closing, all the books had been marked down, so I picked up this beauty for just $1. And it really is a beauty. Like Adieu, Volodya from my earlier review, the principal protagonists in The Children's War are children, more correctly teenagers, both thirteen when the story begins in March 1939. When we first encounter her, Ilse Blumenthal is on her way to Morocco to stay with her uncle and his wife. Her mother, Lore, has sent her away from their home in Wuppertal, Germany, hoping to keep her safe. Although Lore is Protestant, Ilse's father Otto is both a Jew and a Bolshevik, not a winning combination in Nazi Germany. Despite increasing social pressure, Ilse's parents stubbornly resist divorce, although they seldom live together because Otto is often imprisoned for his subversive activities. Nonetheless, Ilse appears to have good memories of a relatively affluent childhood spent in a nice house.'
Caroline Finkel's Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire 1300-1923, John Freely's Istanbul: The Imperial City, Colin Imber's The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650: The Structure of Power, and Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City are what Donna Bird looks at this essay: 'I would love to be able to explain my fascination with the history, culture, and geography of Turkey. But I can't. It's just one of those aspects of myself that I accept -- and indulge by reading books like the four I am reviewing in this essay.' She goes on to say 'Istanbul is not the only city that fascinates me, but it is certainly one of them.' and reading her review will show you why, like Paris, that is so!
Our ever-esteemed Book Editor, April Gutierrez, leads her reviewing this edition off with a look at Jim Butcher's Cursor's Fury: Book Three of the Codex Alera: 'In this third entry in Butcher's Codex Alera series, three characters take center stage: Tavi of Calderon, now a Cursor for First Lord Gaius Sextus; his aunt Isana, Alera's first female Steadholder and Countess Amara, also a Cursor, secretly married to Bernard, Isana's brother, Tavi's uncle. This time around, their stories unfold against the backdrop of incipient civil war -- and worse, the threat of potential invasion by the deadly Canim.' Confused? Go read her review to be englightened!
April has developed a serious jones for anything Tokyopop publishes in their new Popfiction line. Hiroshi Ishizaki's Chain Mail from them was superb according to her and quite moving as well: 'Chain Mail opens with what is an extraordinarily chilling chapter for a young adult novel: a young girl receives her acceptance letter to a prestigious junior high school in the mail, only to have it trigger a memory of her father beating her mother because of the girl's earlier failures at cram school. The unnamed girl is Japanese, and it turns out her mother has left home to avoid the beatings. So the notice is a hollow victory for the now motherless girl.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review to see that although the author's 'protagonists are junior high school girls, and the world they live in is very real -- present-day Tokyo -- it's a world sufficiently different enough from Tokyopop's target audience (American teen girls) that it might as well be a fantasy.'
Would it surprise 'tall that April also has the jones for anime? I thought not. So it was not 'tall surprising she snapped up Susan J. Napier's Anime: From Akira To Howl's Moving Castle from Palgrave, a press well-known for their Japanese culture studies, when it came into our mailroom: 'Napier, a professor of Japanese literature and culture, originally wrote this intriguing analysis of anime in 2001. Following the world wide critical and commercial success of Miyazaki Hayao's Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle movies, she decided to revisit and revise Anime, updating it with some more recent titles. Why, you might ask? After all, they're just cartoons, right? If you've never been exposed to Japanese animation, you might well be tempted to ask just that. And indeed, Napier herself might've asked just that years ago, before she'd been introduced to Akira, the post-apocalyptic anime movie that changed her outlook on anime.' Take a gander at her review to see why she approves of Napier's study!
Bill Willingham's Fables is perhaps the best take on storybook characters thrust into the 'real world' that I've ever read. April, like me, is a fan of the series which is how she came to review Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall: 'As if to make up for the mild disappointment of the previous volume in the series, Arabian Nights (and Days), Willingham has set the eighth Fables' book in the Sultan's lands, involving only Snow White and the Arabic Fables. But this time, there's no let down to Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, which is, as the discerning reader might guess from the title, Willingham's quite clever take on the Scheherazade story. 1001 Nights is set sometime in the nebulous past, but presumably some time after the Fables have fled their native lands. Snow has been sent from Fabletown to the Sultan to ask for his support against the Adversary. Only he isn't interested in listening to a woman, as he's intent on adhering to his systematic pattern of bedding a virgin a night from his harem, then having her executed the following morning. When Snow forces his Wazir's hand (by throwing tantrums, when good behaviour fails), she ends up switching places with his daughter, and finds herself before the Sultan, facing certain death. And so, she spins tales. Fairy tales...'
Richard Dinnick & Andy Frankham's Space 1889: Red Devils and Space 1889: The Steppes of Thoth are, according to John Benninghouse, 'the first two installments of the Space 1889 steampunk audio adventure from Noise Monster. The series is based on the role-playing game of the same name which debuted in 1988. In steampunk, Victorian scientific theory rules the day as men travel to Mars in ships outfitted with Thomas Edison's propulsion system which shoots them through the ether.' John goes on to note 'both great listens.' Read his review for a look at that ever-so-rare creature -- well-crafted audio fiction!
Amber Benson and Christopher Golden's The Seven Whistlers was strangely familiar to Tiffany Matthews: ' The eerie short novel The Seven Whistlers will evoke more than a tang of familiarity for New Englanders. The story's events take place amidst a small-town Vermont backdrop, deftly elucidated with drafty homes, rusty woods, antique shops, and the largely reticent local denizens who populate them. Throughout the book, I found myself believing that phlegmatic protagonist Rose Kerrigan must certainly have been modeled on someone I've brushed shoulders with on the street in rural Massachusetts.' Read her review to see if this horror novel gave her the chills!
Kestrell Rath also reviewed an eagerly anticipated follow-up to a beloved novel: 'I originally read and reviewed an advance copy of selected stories from this collection in the summer of 2006, after which I promptly pre-ordered the book through Amazon. The collection proved to be not only one of those too-rare experiences, a much-anticipated work that was worth the wait, but it ultimately became my favorite story collection of 2006. Yet, despite my delighted enjoyment of this book, I'm not certain that I can answer the question with which most reviewers seem preoccupied, namely: is this second book as good as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? For my part, the answer is an enthusiastic 'Yes!' However, as in the case of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell itself -- a book which, though it ultimately proved to be a critical success, evoked wildly conflicting opinions from readers -- The Ladies of Grace Adieu will probably appeal to some readers and not to others.'
I do believe that Elizabeth Vail really loved Saffron and Brimstone: 'The title of Elizabeth Hand's new collection of short stories is just one of the many clever things about this book, referencing the two stories that begin and end the collection, 'Cleopatra Brimstone' and 'The Saffron Gatherers,' respectively. Despite the title, this gorgeously written collection cannot be so easily bookended...The only flaw that could attributed to this collection is that it is too short, that there are too few stories, too few escapes into fantastically illogical dreamscapes.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning commentary for a look at a truly great collection!
Kat Richardson's Greywalker is, like a lot of debut novels, a mixed affair according to Elizabeth: 'Private detective Harper Blaine finds herself in for a boatload of unpleasant surprises after a brutal beating from an unpredictable perp leaves her medically dead for two minutes. After recovering, she discovers that she has somehow gained access to a strange, misty dimension known as the Grey, which exists between the world of the living and the world beyond . . . [but] . . . As a stand-alone novel, Greywalker leaves a lot to be desired in narrative clarity, but the interesting characters, fantastic dialogue, and romantic mishaps make it worth at least a library trip.'
Ahhhh, long fantasy series. If they're 'tall good, they're bloody perfect for passing many a long winter's eve pleasurably reading. And indeed it appears she found a great one: ' It has not been often in my experience to return to a beloved fantasy series to read it for the second time and find it more difficult to get through than the first, but such was the case with Tad Williams‚ gargantuan fantasy epic series Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn -- and I do mean epic. Clocking in at roughly two thousand four hundred pages, if you don't actually have a mind to read these books, they could still serve you well as doorstops and blunt weapons for self-defence. Be that as it may, Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series carries a gem of a narrative -- a complex, multifaceted, three-dimensional and, yes, ultimately rewarding narrative that is unfortunately swaddled in a mass of exposition, florid description, and internal musing. There are many worthy parts to this series, but it must be mentioned beforehand that a great deal of patience and digging is involved.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for why you perhaps should read this series!
We lead off with a look by John Benninghouse at an interesting set of musicians: 'Duo Live Oak consists of Nancy Knowles and Frank Wallace. Knowles brings her voice and poetry while Wallace contributes his guitar and lute plus his voice. And he is a composer to boot. As contemporary classical artists, the pair look back to the Renaissance and Middle Ages for inspiration and song.' Read his look at Piva: Renaissance Song of Italy and Spain and Woman of the Water: Songs of Frank Wallace to see what he thought of this duo!
Lively balkan music caught the fancy of John: 'Somewhere in this country there's a group of SCA members drinking mead and listening to New Dark Ages, the new CD by Felonious Bosch. With the release of their first full-length effort, the band have finally made good on the promise of their self-titled EP from a couple years back, which I have reviewed elsewhere. The band take a rock'n'roll rhythm section and add a medieval attitude with violin, dulcimers, and all manner of stringed instruments. Like Philip Pickett with his Bones of All Men, Felonious Bosch look back hundreds of years for inspiration. But, while Pickett's music would provide a good soundtrack for some light-hearted gaiety, the songs here are better suited for drunken revelry. Or skylarking.'
POLKA! And damn fine polka at that according to John: 'As bandleader and musician, Jimmy Sturr has recorded over 100 albums, garnered 15 Grammy awards, and is again nominated for the 2006 awards. Considering that they created the best polka album category only in 1985, it must be said that Sturr has dominated the it. The album at hand, Let's Polka 'Round, won in 2003. Truth be told, the list of accolades and accomplishments can go on ad nauseam. Hence, it's difficult to argue with his title as the 'King of Polka.'Sturr doesn't strictly conform to one style of polka, though, with the general emphasis on horns, it most resembles the Czech style. (Contrast this with the Slovenian style of Frankie Yankovic with its emphasis on accordion.) Let's Polka 'Round is, in a sense, a precursor to the two albums which followed: Rock 'N Polka and Shake, Rattle and Polka! The latter two albums are comprised of covers of rock'n'roll classics with a host of famous guest musicians from outside of the polka world. Let's Polka 'Round features Charlie Daniels, Bela Fleck, and Boots Randolph and contains a few doses of rock'n'roll. It's all done in an attempt to bring a new audience to polka, which is perhaps the most neglected form of American roots music.'
John says living where the Dark is very long can be a bitch for musicians: 'Norway's most visible musical export today is black metal. Flukt, however, are miles away from the distorted guitars and raspy vocals of that genre. Eschewing rock'n'roll and instead embracing the traditional hardanger fiddle, the band makes music that is more suitable for playing in church. Indeed, Drufiacc was recorded in one.' And he goes to say 'With a couple qualified exceptions, the songs here aren't likely to fill a dance floor. But the guys in Flukt live in Scandinavia. You'd be making music like this too if the sun didn't shine for half the year where you live. Having said this, Drufiacc isn't a collection of dirges. While I can't dance the polls, I can listen to one and hear the joy spill through.'
A fifty year-old recording now re-released by Paul Clayton caught the fancy of Faith J. Cormier: 'Whaling and Sailing Songs from the Days of Moby Dick is another Empire Musicwerks re-issue of important folk music. As with other disks in this collection, the liner notes are those from the original album, issued in 1956. They're excellent notes, too, succinctly explaining just enough about the songs and about whaling life.'
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's Classic Scots Ballads is the second Empire Musicwerks' series of re-issues of important folk music which Faith looks at, and she says it's 'a worthy addition to the series. Most of the 14 cuts on it were nowhere near as well known when the album first appeared in 1961 as they are now, and that they have become well known is thanks in part to the album itself.' Go read her review for a look at classic recording!
Listen up as David Kidney has something worth hearing 'bout Bibb's Diamond Days: 'I recommend that as soon as you strip the cellophane off this package you slide it into a computer and watch the charming little featurette that makes up the 'enhanced' portion of the disc. I thought we had seen the end of 'enhanced CDs,' what with the rise of 'dualdisc' and bonus DVDs, but here it is: 11 minutes and 19 seconds of Eric Bibb visiting a gorgeous little guitar shop in Paris. He greets the owner and proceeds upstairs to a room filled to the brim with classic acoustics. He chooses a couple of beauties and picks a blues or two, and the guitars ring out as mellow as Bibb's own voice. He has a camera-friendly face (and personality), and this intimate look at the contemporary bluesman makes one wish for a longer, more in-depth video program. You may not watch the video portion more than once or twice, and that's why I suggest looking at it right away. The music, though; you'll be going back to it over and over. This is perhaps the definitive album of Bibb's career.'