When I sit down at my table, clasp my hands and bow my head,
Should I thank my heavenly landlord for my crust of daily bread?
When the hunter's in his stable, and the hound's in his pack, get the
pickings of the harvest on which I break my back?

There's a fence around the common land put there by the law,
it's called hunting if you're gentry but it's poaching if you're poor.
and the law forgives your trespass like the hounds forgive the fox.
You must number all your blessings with the ha'pence in your box.

And it feels like winter spit to eat and hell to pay.
It feels like Reynardine on Boxing Day!!

Robb Johnson's 'Boxing Day', recorded by The Band of Hope on their Rhythm and Reds album

Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn Newydd dda!

Come in. I beg your forgiveness for the messy state of this space as winter here at Green Man is when we get buried with review material, and that pile has just some of the more interesting items that have arrived in the past few weeks. Yes, in that pile there are two BBC series on DVD, A Mind to Kill and Bonekickers to be precise, an expansion of a Jethro Tull Christmas recording, and indeed that is an extra copy of a just out Charles de Lint collection, Muse and Reverie, so feel free to take it with you to read. But don't touch the gold wrapped chocolate bars as they're being reviewed. Yes, we're doing food reviews which is a natural given that we've reviewed such works as Iain Banks' Raw Spirit -- In Search of the Perfect Dram and The Two Fat Ladies series!

What's the lovely music that we're playing? It's a live CD by the String Sisters which Robert says of that 'There seems to be something magical about the number '6' when you're talking about fiddles. Maybe that many fiddlers reaches a kind of critical mass... It becomes truly orchestral, and it is delicious to hear . . . The energy is amazing, and it all comes through in the crystal clear sound... I think I'm in love.'

Catriona and I are taking a break from the Festivities going on downstairs and are just having honey cakes and tea that Sneezle prepared as a palate cleanser from the myriad strong spirited libations on tap in the Pub where our Winter Holiday party, which rivals the one in Jennifer Stevenson's 'Solstice' story, is now entering its second full week!

Speaking of strong spirits, there's an article now in Le hérisson de sommeil (The Sleeping Hedgehog), the in-house newsletter for our staff, on picks by the editorial staff for their favourite winter ales. It will have you hoisting a pint or two in no time 'tall!

Next edition is a look at the very best of the many Nordic music reviews that we've done. Of the hundreds of such CDs, which will make the cut? Come back in a fortnight to see!

But before we get to our all book review edition, a tale of music, really good junk food, and how to keep warm dancing outside in the winter! It comes from the archives of Le hérisson de sommeil and is written by Jack Merry as he tells us this rather amazing story!

Once upon a time, I fiddled away the entire night of the Summer Solstice under the stars with a Québécois band named Les Chèvres Dansantes in a field far north of Quebec City. That means in English 'The Dancing Goats', the French Canadian name for the Northern Lights, which they say are really goats dancing in the sky. Like the Northern Lights, the band danced as much as they played that night as Les Chèvres Dansantes danced above our heads.

(Side digression -- Québec has the world's finest junk food that I've ever been lucky 'nough to eat! It's is called poutine, and you can get it almost anywhere, to take out in paper boxes, or to eat there. It consists of a mixture of a sort of cheddar cheese that comes in popcorn-shaped clumps, frites, and a delicious gravy-like sauce that goes over the cheese and frites.)

But the reason we were there was to provide, as fiddler Kevin Burke of Celtic Fiddle Festival and Patrick Street fame once said, 'dance music, and it's got to have a fair old bit of jizz in it'. Surely you've felt like dancing when the night grows cold and there's nought but the stars overhead and a roaring bonfire for light? We did. For we who are musicians, it's always about playing music together, playing for dancing and for listening, and the magic that it creates in all of us. There's plenty of gossip among the musicians about who was playing with which bands, who has learned a new tune worth sharing, but mostly, it's about those jigs and reels and slow airs and waltzes, and how all of us -- be we musician, dancer, or listener -- are part of the music.

We played damn near everything that long, magical night -- Québécois, Celtic, Nordic, Russian, Welsh, and even a few from over the Border that the Seelie Court introduced to an Irish fiddler named Mad Pat three or so decades ago, and which I first heard being played by the Neverending Session in the Green Man Pub. We had more than enough musicians present so that all of us could grab a bite, drink a bit, dance, and still play music as we saw fit, and, for those so inclined, chase a willing lover.

We finished off the next morning as the sun rose over the mountains with 'Midsummer's Night', a sprightly reel also known among fiddlers as 'Miss McKnight's Reel', which was a lovely way to finish off!

The dancers treated us to what they called a proper morning-after breakfast -- Blue Mountain coffee with clotted cream, fresh squeezed tangerine juice, and a lavish buffet good enough to please even the most jaded of palates! For me, the freshly baked blueberry muffins the size of small melons was me favourite food that morning. Though I must admit the scrambled eggs with smoked Scottish salmon, Vidalia onions, and Chevrochon Tomme du Haut Richelieu was awfully good too!

We left promising that we would get together at Winter Solstice when we could build a 'nother proper bonfire but that's 'nother story for another time!

Here in the northern hemisphere where the Building stands, it's cold and blustery in December, just the weather for curling up with a warm drink and a book to whisk you off to other climes. In this edition, we have a whole crop of books that will do just that.

First, Donna Bird continues her long interest in Eastern Europe and the Austro-Hungarian empire in particular with her review of Miklos Vamos' The Book of Fathers. This multi-generational saga takes us from Hungary to America and back again. Have a look at how it compares with other books on the region Donna has read.

Next, Avril and Frances Tyrrell sweep us away to the fairy realms through The Illustrated Fairy Gazette. According to Faith Cormier, 'Yes, these are indeed among the most charming and sweetest volumes I've seen in years.' See why she also warns, 'If you don't like sweet and charming, stay away.' Faith earns herself an Excellence in Writing award for this review.

Cat Eldridge has three reviews for us this outing, books both that whisked him far indeed and that he enjoyed mightily. Poul Anderson's Orion Shall Rise is set on an Earth devastated several hundred years earlier by nuclear war. Cat says that he usually doesn't enjoy Anderson's writing, but that we have here 'a lively and complex story that shows how good he could be at his very best.'

Cat reviewed Orbus by Neal Asher. This is the latest in Asher's Spatterjay subseries of the Polity series, following The Skinner and The Voyage of the Sable Keech. Sound confusing? Well, Cat's fine review will unconfuse you somewhat, though as he says himself, 'Do read those novels first as much of the story here will otherwise make no sense at all. And all three novels read back to back to back are entertainment enough for many a night this winter!' So pull up a blanket and a beverage and enjoy.

Finally, Cat also looked at Power & Light, Volume 2 of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny. Power & Light collects Zelazny from the 1960s, and as Cat says, 'Roger was bloody brilliant by this time.'

April Gutierrez whisks us away as well. First she looks at The Umbrella Academy -- Dallas, a graphic novel 'filled with larger than life characters with amazing powers, leaps in time and space and only a passing familiarity with linear story-telling.' Sound good to you? Take a look to find out why April thinks so.

April also examined Necroscope -- The Plague-Bearer, a long novella by Brian Lumley. This time we're off in an alternate UK, where hero Harry Keough works for the E-Branch of the British Secret Service, traveling through time and space by Mobius strip to fight vampires, werewolves and goodness (badness?) knows what else.

Robert M. Tilendis has some reservations about a few of the volumes he reviewed for this issue. In his conclusion, he gets to the essence of the problems with Gareth Hinds' graphic novel adaptation of King Lear, certainly an ambitious project. Robert writes, 'It's a pretty book, and that, I think, is it's great failing. Lear is powerful, heartbreaking, and potent, but never pretty. It seems as though Hinds set out to do a Shakespearean period piece -- the setting and costuming are sixteenth century -- of intrigue in the court. That's not what Lear is about, and that, I think, is where this adaptation fails. I had hoped for much better.'

He's somewhat more complimentary of Elizabeth Hand's Aestival Tide, the second volume of her post-apocalyptical trilogy that began with Winterlong, describing it as 'rich and tasty' and mentioning that he 'can't think of anyone who has portrayed a cast of characters so fundamentally degenerate, in all sense of that word.' (At least, I think that's a compliment.) On the other hand, he finds it '"stately", meaning that nothing much happens for the first two hundred pages and even the crises are sober and reflective.'

When we get to the third volume in Hand's trilogy, Icarus Descending, Robert still hands out both criticism and praise. He finds there are too many places with 'more words than story', and both praises and damns her 'tendency toward detailed descriptions'. His final word on both these books makes it very obvious what readers will enjoy them and which won't -- 'The world of the Ascendant Autocracy is a pretty depressing one, the product of that fine old tradition in science fiction, extrapolation, grounded in an aesthetic that seems based in steampunk, subterranean baroque, and horror. Hand has taken the combination of genetic research, increasing expertise in complex and difficult surgeries, religious fanaticism, and the increasing stratification of American society and created a mix that would give any sane person nightmares. She did a pretty good job of it -- there's a certain amount of discomfort in reading these books for anyone, I think, half aware of what's going on in the world today.'

Robert, however, adored By the Mountain Bound from Elizabeth Bear, comparing her work to that of Euripides. His praise is lavish -- 'This is prose poetry, elliptical, evocative, loaded with meaning that happens around the words as much as in them… Bear is writer enough to hit that catharsis that the Greeks aimed for. This is a brilliant book.'

With all these choices, you're sure to find something that takes you away from December weather, no matter what December weather is like where you are.

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 Christopher Golden, Kage Baker, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, Patricia McKillip, and Elizabeth Bear.

We, of course, have done music editions as well -- checks out our Celtic music one-off as well as one we did in which staff picked the best CDs that they had reviewed.

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.

We pulled together a look at the Bordertown series that Terri Windling created -- go here for that article. And the late Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood series got an appreciative look-see from us as well.

We have put together a Recommended Series Reading List covering many genres from fantasy to mystery and (of course) sf for your reading pleasure. You can find that list thisaway.

Lastly, we have put together a Recommended Series Reading List covering many genres from fantasy to mystery and (of course) sf for your reading pleasure. You can find that list thisaway.

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 and provided he's not in the Green Man Pub savouring some spiced cider while listening to Ragged Raven tell her tale, he'll try to answer your question!

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Entire Contents unless otherwise noted are Copyright 1993 - 2009, Green Man Review, a publication of Fimbulvetr Publishing. The Sneezle xharacter is copyrighted by Terri Windling and is used with her kind permsission. All Rights Reserved.

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