We have a special treat in the recorded music section this edition as we rounded up a selection of our favourite Nordic music that we've reviewed over the past decade so that you'd have a rough guide to that genre. Nordic music of the sort we're featuring 'ere is, like a Swedish smorgasbord, comprised of traditional elements (the instruments in particular though not always) and often features not so traditional material (some of the music is seemingly younger than a newborn bairn) coming together to produce something that we find quite tasty. We hope you too will find much to like in our selections!
If you were expecting our previously announced third Peter S. Beagle edition this outing, we're sorry to say that it got pushed back just a month as Peter, or Uncle Fox as we call him 'round 'ere, is even busier than usual on several very cool writing projects. When we put up what we are calling The Once and Future Peter S. Beagle Edition on the twenty-second of March, you'll be gobsmacked at what's in it!
In the meantime, take a look-see at our book reviews this edition. From the academic (a study of werewolves from antiquity through the Renaissance and Battlestar Galactica taken seriously) to the joys of coloring mandalas along to a very eclectic round-up of fiction including urban fantasy in printed and audio formats, several graphic novels, a book exploring the music of a much revered album, and several excellent sf novels as well. Surely you'll find much to read on these still cold, windy winter evenings.
But first, a story. . . .
Hello, there. I know what you're thinking -- you might as well say it out loud. You're thinking, 'What's a grubby teenager doing wandering around the GMR building?' There once was a grubby teenager who lived in this building -- I remember him very well -- so take it as an indication that you don't know everything. And I might tell you that it's not a good idea to offend me. I'm not vindictive, but I can be less than cooperative. You might keep that in mind, the next time a window gets stuck.
I don't sound like a teenager? Well, why should I? Maybe I'm not a teenager. I could be a raven, after all, and that would be just as apt. (There have always been ravens here.) I could be Munin, who sat on Allfather's left shoulder and made sense of the news that Hugin brought. As the poet sang --
Huginn ok Muninn fliúga hverian dag
Or I could not. I could be something else entirely, now couldn't I?
I was just listening to Barber's Adagio -- well, someone was listening to it. I was eavesdropping, which is very easy for me -- I don't even have to try. Someone said it's a monument to grief, but I think it's rather silly to try to put music in a box like that, don't you? It's much more than that -- it's the memory of passion, a little bit of that -- what's the word I want? -- tristesse, not quite melancholy, but the memory of loss. Even happy memories have that bit of sadness to them, don't you think? Because they're memories.
Think of it this way -- what do you suppose makes a city come alive? Seriously, now, think about it -- all those lives passing through, soaking into the stones and bricks and streets -- and how long does it take? Fifty years? A hundred? A thousand? I've . . . this building has been here much longer than that. It knows things, things that might surprise you, and it has its own wishes and dreams. Did you know this is a Place? I thought that might surprise you. That's how much alive it is, how powerful its memories are, how deep they run in the stones and bricks and beams of this house. They reach across to other memories, other Places, other lives.
There's one of you, at least, who understands that, that cat-eyed man who always seems to be looking past things as he wanders the halls and gardens. You've seen him? Hah -- your thoughts are all over your face again -- you think he's vague and somewhat of an airhead, don't you? Well, you just keep thinking that. I think he really delights in those glimpses, that he understands -- imperfectly, most likely, but he at least realizes there's something there, maybe even a little bit of what it means. Maybe it's because his memories are not limited to yesterday.
You see? You've only begun to scratch the surface.
Mackenzie? Another whose memories aren't limited, but he's also one who keeps trying to confine them. Well, better him than me, I say -- I've much too disorderly a mind for that, and it seems to soothe him, somehow, so I suppose that's alright -- that's his job, after all, to keep all those memories in some sort of order, he and that multitude of Annies -- there have always been Annies, and I remember each and every one of them -- and he -- Mackenzie, that is -- generally seems to need soothing. Well, but that's what they are, don't you understand that? Dreams, dissertations, flights of fancy, ruthless examinations, stories of battles fought, loves lost and won -- the moment they take shape, they become memories.
What's that? Well, of course I know everything that goes on here. Ah -- I see you begin to understand. Why a grubby teenager? Well, two things about that -- beware of neat and obedient teenagers -- they're up to something, and I'm being quite straightforward today. And as for the rest -- well, teenagers should be confused and rebellious. After all, they're tomorrow's memories, and the future doesn't make sense yet. Although I'm going to be around for a while.
So we'll see how that goes.
Donna Bird has our Featured DVD Review -- 'Foyle's War is set during World War II and adheres closely to the timeline of war-related events that affected life in the southeast England town of Hastings. For example, 'The White Feather' (Series One) effectively depicts the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk; 'The Funk Hole' (Series Two) deals with citizens of means who fled the cities to live in rural guest houses where they felt safer from the threat of bombing raids; 'Invasion' (Series Four) concerns the arrival of American soldiers to boost the war effort; 'All Clear' (Series Six) takes place as residents of Hastings prepare to celebrate V-E Day.'
Cat Eldridge cocks an ear to enjoy the audiobook of Simon R Green's Hex and the City in this issue's Featured Book Review. Far from feeling like listening to a slog of a lecture Cat enthuses that he can 'now say unequivocally that listening to this story was an immeasurably better experience for me than I had reading (and re-reading) any of the other Nightside novels, as the incredible work done by everyone at Audible makes the story come truly alive.'
Kage Baker starts things out with a disappointed review of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen -- The Black Dossier, in which she declares that the volume's chorus of bells and whistles isn't quite loud enough to drown out the silence of an empty plotline. According to her, it's 'Clever, clever, clever, but short on actual storytelling.'
Donna Bird breaks open her crayon box to review the first three volumes of Susanne F. Fincher's Colouring Mandalas series of colouring books that enhance spiritual health (and happen to be fun to do, as well). 'An art therapist and licensed professional counselor, Fincher opens each book with a well-written and useful discussion of the use of mandalas in different spiritual traditions,' Donna explains, 'as well as in Jungian and other forms of psychotherapy.'
Reading the Clockwork Phoenix anthology gave Deborah J Brannon decidedly mixed feelings. 'It seems that Mike Allen started with the worst stories and built this edifice into a dizzying and satisfying end. It was definitely an anthology that necessarily folded out over time, best consumed slowly and intermittently rather than quickly.'
Richard Parks' The Long Look gets an admiring look from Faith J. Cormier. 'The Long Look is a great read and works on several levels. It's an adventure story, with plenty of kidnappings, fair maidens, murders, political intrigues and horrible villains. It's also an introspective work, dealing with love and hate, good and evil, destiny and free will.' Sounds exciting? Check out Faith's lovely Excellence in Writing Award-winning review.
If the last Cylon is revealed in the woods, with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Denise Dutton explores this and other arguments in the entertaining Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy -- Knowledge Here Begins Out There, a series of essays that look at BSG from a philosophical standpoint. Denise says, 'imagine my delight when I cracked open Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy and actually learned something. Learned a lot, actually. As a bonus, it made me want to learn more.' High praise, indeed.
Also, Cat Eldridge takes on an entirely different mystery -- Charles de Lint's Mystery of Grace. Although it's not exactly an enigma why we hear at Green Man love de Lint -- 'It is a perfect introduction to de Lint, as it doesn't require you to have read anything by him, but gives you a good feel for what he is like as a writer, as it has well-crafted characters, believable settings, and a story that will hold your interest. And it is a novel that you will read again to get some of the nuances that get missed in the first reading.' Cat earns himself an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
Next on Cat's docket is Kage Baker's Empress of Mars, a novel based on a novella based on Robert Heinlein working concept of why no idea should be used only once. Confused? Worried? Cat thinks you shouldn't be. 'It certainly isn't the first novel that's the result of reworking a shorter work, and it works brilliantly in both forms.'
Meanwhile, April Gutierrez enjoys the Bill Willingham's Fables -- War and Pieces, the latest volume in this ongoing series. 'As always, Willingham's writing and attention to detail are top-notch -- and so too the art,' says April, but she reminds us, 'Even though the war may be over, the Fables' story isn't finished.'
April Gutierrez sets herself up for a good scare by reviewing the graphic novel Dean Koontz's Frankenstein -- Prodigal Son. Does the graphic novel deliver? Yes it does! 'Dark, bloody and twisted, Prodigal Son is a gripping re-invention of the Frankenstein tale. Victor may have improved his technique, but his creations are still far from perfect, and seeing how they fall apart -- whether his wife (!), the killer, or a mentally slow young man -- is fascinating,
April continues her exploration of comics with House of Mystery Volume One. 'This revival of the House of Mystery property, penned by Matthew Sturges (Jack of Fables) and Bill Willingham (Fables), takes the title and steers it away from straightforward horror to more of a dark fantasy with some horror elements. Further, though there are multiple stories in this volume, there is a central story driving the action, so it's less of an anthology than a cohesive whole made up of smaller stories,
Michael Jones takes a shot at Jenna Black's newest novel The Devil's Due, and finds that while the book remains true to Black's series, it doesn't function so well as a stand-alone. 'It's a good book, but taken on its own merits, not spectacular. It works better when viewed as part of the series as a larger story.'
However, Michael's reaction to Devon Monk's Magic to the Bone is much more positive. 'Every time I think the urban fantasy genre's maybe, possibly been explored to its limits, along comes another author with another neat twist, and occasionally, I have to sit back and wish I'd thought of it first. Magic to the Bone is one of those books, and I'll be looking forward to future offerings in the series.' Intrigued? Read more here!
Michael continues his winning streak with urban fantasy books with Deader Still, by Anton Strout. 'Take the New York of Men in Black and Ghostbusters, inject the same pop culture awareness and irreverence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Middleman, toss in a little Thomas Crown Affair, shake and stir, and you've got something fairly close to this book.'
Lastly, Michael reviews Beyond the Shadows, the final volume of Brent Weeks' Night Angel epic fantasy trilogy, and finds 'everything I'd hoped for in an ending to this trilogy. Maybe not everyone got the ending they wanted, but it certainly resolves itself in a satisfying way, making for one of the best epic fantasies I've read in quite some time.'
Meanwhile, Kestrall Rath tries Leslie A. Sconduto's Metamorphoses of the Werewolf -- A Literary Study from Antiquity through the Renaissance and feels that 'despite the academic nature of the book, it should be accessible to most readers familiar with such genres as medieval and Arthurian romance, medieval historical documents, or historical writings on magic and the occult. This material seems like fertile ground for developing fantasy and horror fiction.'
Amanda Marrone's YA novel Revealers, about teenage witches, gets explored by Elizabeth Vail, who discovers that while 'some of the plot developments and characters feel abbreviated thanks to the novel's short length, Amanda Marrone has nevertheless provided a gutsy, profound, and intense story that blends the pains of adolescence with magic in a truly affecting way.' Elizabeth garners an Excellence in Writing Awardfor her review.
While a newbie to T. A. Pratt's Marla Mason series, Elizabeth dives headfirst into Dead Reign, the newest, installment, and emerges quite pleased with a novel that manages to work on its own as well as part of an ongoing storyline. 'Reading a novel that's this quick-witted, smartly-paced, and inventive on its third go around bodes well for the series as a whole.'
Elizabeth's reaction to Best American Fantasy 2008 is markedly less enraptured, because the anthology doesn't live up to its own title. 'A few stories genuinely sparkled, others were unbearable examples of thinly-veiled literary posturing, and one seemed to be an interesting general fiction piece that wandered into the wrong party.'
Gary Whitehouse experiences similar disappointment with Hayden Child's Shoot Out the Lights, a book exploring the music behind Richard and Linda Thompson's album of the same name. Gary loves the album, but finds it 'too bad author Hayden Childs made such a hash of it,' when the author tried to express his review through a fictional story rather than straightforward musical commentary.
Kim Bates, doing an omnibus review of several Nordic Roots musical compilations, notes 'There's a pleasing dissonance in Nordic traditions, often a restraint that hints of something without ever going there, that's found much more in Nordic music than is often the case with music from the Irish and Celtic traditions.. Listening to these collections, I couldn't help but begin thinking about why that might be.' Discover the results of her reflections in her review.
Next, let her calm the frisson of fear that might steal up your spine upon reading the words '12th century chants, 21st century sounds.' With her review of Garmarna's Hildegard von Bingen, she assures you that you don't have to worry about the commercial appropriation of Gregorian chants; rather, you can look forward to 'a powerful interpretation of medieval music brought forward through astonishing vocals and accompaniment, that for the most part, really work.'
'Dear Reader, if you haven't yet had the Gjallarhorn experience, you've missed out!' Kim passionately declares in the last of her reviews featured this edition. Why does Gjallarhorn's Grimborg garner such an endorsement? Find out thisaway.
Donna Bird drops by this edition to bring us her thoughts on Frifot's Flyt. She starts with 'It's a very nice treat, from a group that never fails to satisfy' and gets more detailed from there. Follow this link for more.
Cat Eldridge also swings by with his enthralled critique of Beyond the Stacks, a 2007 offering from Aly Bain & Ale Möller -- read what he has to say -- beyond the fact that this album features 'fine music played by two masters of their traditions,' that is.
Judith Gennett gets into the flow of the river in her review of Jord's Vaylan Virrassa. Was it worth the dip into the current or did it send her sputtering for clear air? There's only one way to find out.
Scott Giannelli gives a careful and thorough Excellence in Writing review of the ever-evolving Finnish band Värttinä's 2003 offering iki. Find out how their music has fared after 20 years of flux, both in band composition and the construction of their songs.
He then moves on to Frigg, a band marrying both Finnish and Norwegian folk music and expanding to incorporate other styles as well. Get the low-down on their sound by reading his review covering their albums Live and Economy Class.
April Gutierrez gives a succinct yet strong overview of the Swedish folk music collection Till The Light of Day by Ranarim. Does she recommend it to fans of Nordic music and folklore? Read her review to find out.
Jack Merry pauses on his way down to the pub to deliver an extemporaneous and knowledgeable set of reviews on Lena Willemark's När som gräset det vajar, Ale Möller Band's Bodjal, and Maria Kalaniemi Trio's Tokyo Concert. Follow this link so the gent can talk your ear off.
If you haven't had enough of his natterings, let Jack Merry continue talking Nordic music to you as, arm in arm, you wander down to the pub together. This time, his subject is Hambo in the Snow, a collection of Nordic traditional music from a trio of Minnesotans (Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer).
Lars Nilsson reviews yet another Christmas album, initially despairing over whether such an inevitable project can distinguish itself among countless iterations of the same. Luckily for him, it seems this project does -- 'Whoever came up with the idea behind Jul i Folkton (Christmas in a Folk Style) must be praised. It seems so simple, yet it works so well. Gather a number of Sweden's best singers and musicians within the folk and roots field and let them tackle, in small groups, some of our best loved Christmas hymns and songs.' And then?
He's still worried about endless variations on a theme in his next review, this time on Gaate's Jygri -- 'After listening to folk rock for more than 30 years it is easy to suspect you have heard it all -- that every new record you get is merely a slight variation of some other record in your collection. And then along comes a quintet of Norwegians that completely sweeps you off your feet.'
Robert M. Tilendis brings us an Excellence in Writing Award winning review covering both Oslo Kammerkor's Kyst, Kust, Coast and Voces Nordicae's Nordic Voices. Discover his opinions on these two choral experiences in folk music from diverse cultures (though mostly Nordic).
Barb Truex is certainly impressed by the high notes hit by Grimsdóttir on her album Funi -- but did the rest of this collection of Icelandic folk music live up to the singer's vocal range? Find out in her Excellence in Writing Award review.
We should remind you about our special editions which are our way of looking at specific writers and other subjects worthy of exploring in-depth. Of course, we've done several editions on master storyteller Peter S. Beagle which you can find thisaway and over 'ere. Needless to say, we're very proud of the great edition on Charles de Lint we did.
We did one on the ever fascinating trio of Brian, Toby, and Wendy Froud; naturally we did one on master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien who is much loved by our staff; not to mention ones on Catherynne M. Valente, Patricia McKillip, and Elizabeth Bear
Oh, our Editor just reminded me that we did (as if I could 'ave forgotten!) an edition devoted to the now departed and much missed Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.
For our main page, please go here; to search the roots, branches, and leaves of This Tree, use the Google search engine; every past edition of our fortnightly What's New can be found here; for a detailed look at Green Man Review, go thisaway; and lastly, you report errors over here. Still have questions? Email our Editor here. Provided he's not in the Green Man Pub savouring a properly poured pint of Guinness while listening to Father Time tell a tale, he'll try to answer your question!
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This version uploaded, 19 FEB at 16.00 GMT