Our story, which you can find below these opening remarks, deals with the matter of Last Call in our centuries-old pub and also fleshes out the story of just who or more accurately what Winter, the master publican here, is.
All of our featured reviews are of a culinary nature and most by our new Culinary Editor, Joseph Thompson, so all of them involve either food (such as baked sheep's head!) or alcohol in some form or another. Or both in some cases. (Donna Bird recently reviewed an Icelandic mystery series in which the protagonist was fond of that bloody sheep's head.) Now you Celts out there should not take offence as you certainly eat things equally as odd, such as haggis and deep fried Mars bars. Reviewer Kelley Caspari rounds out the featured reviews with a look at some excellent beers she found on the left coast.
Like the lock on the door, the bell above the bar at the Green Man Pub rings on ceremony rather than function. As today slips towards yesterday and we -- those of us enjoying just one more before finding the roads to our beds -- cross into tomorrow, Winter pulls the cord attached to the hammer and rings out last call.
Winter, a first class publican, is not a man prone to the trappings of ritual. He leaves that for his customers to define. But last call is the exception. Before the sound of the bell finishes reverberating down the pint glasses, Winter slips over to the door, flips the lock, and then takes the final orders.
He moves from table to table with dance-like grace. Mia (Craigmill's Fraoch Heather Ale, currently on tap) suspects the pub cats taught him to tread lightly. But Camilla (Newcastle Brown Ale, frosted mug) disagrees. 'Watch his feet,' she says in a whisper. 'He moves like the fall frost.'
David (Innis and Gunn Red Label, slightly cooler than room temperature with a half-inch square of Belgian chocolate), looks down. No matter how many times he's heard this discussion, he never knows who to believe. Winter does move with feline grace, but the swirls guiding him around the room look like Autumn's silver dance. And David swears that when a flickering lantern light hits the floor where Winter just stood, a frosted outline reflects and then fades.
At the next table, Joseph (two large mugs of Nogne-O Imperial Stout) sits across a chess board from one of the cats. Denise (Irish coffee, no whipped cream) and Leona (ditto, with all of Denise's whipped cream) informs the cat that if it needs a better challenge, they'll play tomorrow.
The cat (a saucer of what ever stew is still hot) purrs. It cares not for toy kings and queens. It lives in a world surrounded by pawns always willing to scratch its ears or slip it a table scrap.
At Chris's (Murphy's Stout alongside a chunk of Cahill's Porter Cheese) table, Winter leaves a bit of soda bread. He pauses to ponder the riddle proposed by Kelly (Captain Morgan's Tattoo rum with sugar-sweetened cola, over ice, in a tall glass) and Richard (Mosstowie, neat) -- How is Queen Mab like a summary?
'Would you like the long answer?' ask Winter. 'Or would you hear it in a hazelnut shell?' He is droll tonight and his smile is as loud as his patrons' applause.
JJS (tall, cold glass of Strongbow cider) follows up with his own answer. 'There's a 'b' in both,' he says.
Then the drinks are served. Winter unlocks the door and last call is over. 'Am I too late?' asks Gereg (Torpedo IPA if it's on tap). He slides gracefully over the cold patch of floor by the door where Winter lingered for a moment and stops at his table. He is late for last call, but he is on time for the first.
Joseph Thompson took a look at Bill Barich's A Pint of Plain -- Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub, which he describes as 'a brilliant hybrid of new journalism and memoir. . . 'By his own admission, Bill Barich is a dreamer on a mission to recapture his youth. But he greets each illusionary fishing hole, village, and forest with clarity and wisdom. In the end, the reader -- not the author -- feels nostalgic and thirsty for something never really existed.' And Joseph even tells you how he did it. Plus, he earns himself an Excellence in Writing Award for this review.
Joseph also brings us a DVD from a 'snarling, rabid, intelligent, cranky jackass' who may have recently visited Joseph's own favorite pub -- Anthony Bourdain! Of Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations -- Iceland Special Edition, Joseph says 'Whoever chose to create and release this DVD is a genius. By showing the misery of his job (albeit with funny commentary and cutting remarks), Bourdain reveals his human side.'
Speaking of pubs -- and when is it ever a bad time to speak of pubs -- reviewer Kelley Caspari explores the Cork County Public House in Oregon. Read her thoughts and vicariously drink her beer here. Joseph Thompson picks up the east coast with a review of a Maine bar and an excellent imperial stout he researched many, many times. Stagger thisaway to read his review.
It's spring in parts of the Building's extensive grounds. Not everywhere, of course. A certain acreage entered fall on the first of March. There's even a grove on the far side of Oberon's Wood where it's always spring. However, spring this year is exuberant enough to have taken over much of the estate, and the hearts of our reviewers, and they present to you a springtime posy of reviews.
Donna Bird leads off with a look at Rebecca Cantrell's A Trace of Smoke, a noir historical murder mystery-suspense-romance set in Berlin in the dying days of the Weimar Republic. '. . .It's 'a very appealing mix for my taste,' says Donna, and she's looking forward to the sequel.
Richard Dansky looks at two books for us this outing. He's scathing about the first one, The Tulip Virus by Danielle Hermans. 'It's just that this is a mystery that fails to be mysterious, a thriller that does its best not to thrill, and a historical puzzler that feels like a high school history class lecture. Barely anything is set up, nothing is resolved, and in the end the reader cares about neither tulips nor the various characters who've spent so much time talking about them.' Couldn't be much clearer than that, could he? And for his scathing effort, Richard earns himself a Grinch Award.
Richard is not so categorical about Ian McDonald's Ares Express. He describes some of the 'roughly forty-seven thousand impossible things' in the book, then leaves the prospective reader with a choice -- 'The litmus test is very simple -- what is your reaction to the name of the main character. If you find Sweetness Octave Glorious-Honeybun Assim Engineer 12th to be painfully twee or flat-out incomprehensible, then you will hate this book.'
We have three reviews from Cat Eldridge, who is into continuity this time 'round. He considers Last Exit to Babylon -- Volume 4 of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny perfect spring reading. This fourth volume in the seven-volume series of Zelazny's work is devoted to the late 1970s and early 1980s, is, according to Cat, a worthy part of '. . .the finest publication effort ever devoted to a single writer.' He doesn't advise you starting with this one, however, as he thinks they are best read in order.
Cat feels the same way about Simon Green's new Secret Histories novel. 'From Hell with Love is both an intelligently written novel that advances the story of the characters, particularly Eddie and Molly, while telling a ripping good yarn . . . I wholeheartedly recommend this novel. However, you should read the first three novels first, as too much of the plot -- including who killed Martha and why -- will only make sense if you know what has happened already.' Cat's review certainly tempts one to do just that.
As for A Madness of Angels -- Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift and The Midnight Mayor -- Or, The Inauguration of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin, Cat just plain reviews them together, feeling that 'they seem to form one quite seamless narrative'. Of course, the narrative combines first person singular and first person plural, sometimes in the same paragraph, but that's part of its charm.
Next up are two reviews from Deborah Grabien. The first, of Mirror Kingdoms -- The Best of Peter S. Beagle, is in the form of a song, the 'Avicenna Boogie'. 'Nuf said. (Except to add that Deborah earns herself an Excellence in Writing Award for this unique review!)
Deborah's look at Sam Cutler's memoir You Can't Always Get What You Want -- My Life with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and Other Wonderful Reprobates, is also musical, tied together with snippets of song lyrics. Deborah describes being asked to recommend a good book about the Rolling Stones and says -- 'Nearly forty years later, there is finally -- finally! -- a good book about the Stones. And not only is it about the Stones, it may well be the first really clear look at that period in the world of Marin County and the Grateful Dead. The man responsible, Sam Cutler, is better qualified to do this than anyone else on earth. . .' Her review sent me to the references to find out about a period I'm just barely too young to remember.
April Gutierrez reviewed two graphic novels from Vertigo Crime for us this issue. She has praise for Jon Evans and Andrea Mutti's The Executor. Of the story, she says this -- 'The plot is fast-paced and filled with physical action (and perhaps a leap or two of logic that are a bit strained), and if the ending isn't a storybook one, it's more realistic and fitting.' She is even more admiring of the artwork -- 'His characters are physically unique, backgrounds are rendered in detail and Mutti's use of screentone is simply amazing, giving every panel a sense of real depth and space.'
April also likes Christos Gage and Chris Samnee's Area 10, which combines gruesome murders, elevating twists on the tropes of police procedurals, trepanation and the ability to see both past and future. She says -- 'Area 10 is a superb entry into Vertigo's young Crime imprint, sure to be enjoyed by fans of horror and police procedurals alike.'
Gereg Jones Muller took a long look at Rockin' the Bronx, a tale of the Irish emigrant experience from the 1980s instead of the 1840s by Larry Kirwan, and he's not sure he likes what he sees. '. . .Rockin' the Bronx fails to fulfil its promise. There are a lot of good things here, but what there isn't is a complete book. One hopes for better works from Kirwan in the future, because his voice is clean and his eye for character shows depth and insight.' This review earns Gereg an Excellence in Writing Award.
Kestrell Rath examined Holly Black's first collection of short stories, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, and she liked what she found in this 'elegant and eloquent collection of dark fantasy and fairy tales' -- vampires, library sciences graduate students, the seemingly disempowered who persevere in the fight to save those they love.
Kestrell isn't nearly as pleased with Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn, a double storyline featuring Evie Walker, chosen one with a magical destiny, and Evie Walker, co-creator of an apocalyptic comic in an equally apocalyptic world. Gradually the magical storyline takes over, not to Kestrell's delight -- 'Sadly, although Discord's Apple contains some original elements which start off reflecting the fears and anxieties of living in a world which seems to at times hover on the brink of apocalypse, the powerful possibilities of that potential storyline are dropped in order to tell a more well-worn storyline about magic wars and power-hungry gods from forgotten pantheons.'
Kelly Sedinger took a look at a new book by a favorite author, Guy Gavriel Kay: '. . . I have worried, upon the release of his last few books, if he is becoming a comfort to me, an author to whom I return because I know what I'm going to get. Luckily, that unsettled feeling is always proven foolish by the actual books themselves . . . And the same worry was pushed aside once again by Under Heaven, which is, simply, a great book.'
Leona Wisoker wasn't terribly happy with the volume she reviewed for us this time, either, William Horwood's Hyddenworld -- Spring. She likes bits of it -- the unique and vivid characters, the deeply spooky sequences, the solid emotions, the omnipresence of nature. Yet, yet, '. . .for me, this novel gives glimpses of terrific writing -- but ultimately, just does not deliver strongly enough to make me want to reach for the next volume.'
Joseph Thompson agrees with April about Vertigo Crime graphic novels, and he found The Bronx Kill, by Peter Milligan and James Romberger, the perfect read for this perplexing time of year, combining as it does noir and melodrama. As he says -- 'Besides, gratuitous gore is the guilty pleasure of the crime/mystery graphic novel.'
This issue is rounded out by a quartet of reviews by Robert M. Tilendis. Michael Andre-Driussi's Lexicon Urthus -- A Dictionary of the Urth Cycle and The Wizard Knight Companion -- A Lexicon for Gene Wolfe's The Knight and The Wizard are reference books to the language and worlds of Gene Wolfe's works. Robert describes them this way -- 'Together, these two volumes, the product of dedication, if not downright obsession, are, I think, valuable tools for the Wolfe scholar (yes, there truly are Wolfe scholars) and, what's even better, fun to read in their own right.'
Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner, A. B. Sina, LeUyen Pham, and Alex Puvilland is another graphic novel, a spin-off from the game of the same name. Robert finds it fascinating, though hard to describe, and has this verdict -- 'If you can deal with stories set four hundred years apart that seem to blur into each other, abrupt transitions between stories that may not be transitions, all set in a lively and somewhat exotic graphic style, take a look at Prince of Persia. In fact, take a look at it anyway.'
Robert found Robert Wilson's Julian Comstock -- A Story of 22nd Century America disturbingly prescient, a story set in the next century that is all too close to some events in this century. Says Robert, '-- it's a book to savor and reflect on.' For this thoughtful review, Robert earns an Excellence in Writing Award.
Finally, Robert looked at An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat -- A Chronicle of the Dread Empire, a collection of short fiction by Glen Cook set in Cook's Dread Empire universe, and found it either a 'tickle to the memory' for those familiar with Cook's work or a good introduction to it for those who are not. He has high praise for Cook's style.
So whether you're in spring or fall, surely there's a volume or two here to tickle your fancy.
Cat Eldridge looked at two DVD offerings this week. One he liked, and one he definitely did not. He calls A Mind to Kill 'A brilliant show, well-acted with an intelligent story and an engaged and talented cast . . .' Clearly that's the one he likes! Of the second, he says 'It's amazing how horrible it is given it came from the creators of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, two must-see shows.' Read his review of Bonekickers -- The Complete Series to find out why he hated it so much!
Gereg Jones Muller caught up with the second season of a television series we've previously reviewed here at GMR. Gereg says 'The most fundamental problem in the whole series is that it can't quite decide to what degree it's black (magic) comedy and to what degree it's supernatural crime drama.' Find out what else he thought about the second season of Blood Ties in his thorough review here.
Finally we have a film which David Kidney calls '. . . an intimate portrait of a man who is a human being first and a celebrity way down the line.' He says that Still Bill, a biographical film about R&B great Bill Withers, is '. . . a very special film, well worth seeing!' And David's review is well worth reading, as well!
Despite the March hype around St. Patrick's Day, April is the Irish month here in the states. All three colors of the Emerald Isle's flag are now coming up through the dull brown spring mud -- green crocus leaves, the last of the white snow drops and orange on the bravest of robins.Along with all the color, an excellent new crop of Celtic and folk albums have arrived at the GMR offices.
Iain Nicholas MacKenzie is not Scottish Irish despite his name and will not be propping up the Ulster Orange! He does provide us with reviews of three older Oysterband albums -- Deep Dark Ocean, Little Rock to Leipzig, and Ride. Iain does note that the Oysters are English with a Welsh vocalist, not bloody pan-Celtic, despite a certain record of theirs in the States marketing them as such.
On this side of the Atlantic, but true to the Green Man's Erin roots, Donna Bird reviews Solas, a band she saw back in 1996 -- yes, a whole 14 years ago -- in Portland, Maine. Read her review of The Turning Tide to find out if they've still got it and then check out the list of other albums by the band she's reviewed. Keep in mind that we will be doing a full edition devoted to Solas this fall!
After Donna, Pete Massey reviews of Kitty Donohoe's Northern Border, here. After reading about her combination of 'Irish feeling' and everyday American life, there can be no doubt she provides the peaceful white rectangle of the Irish flag.
Going a bit further north, Peter also explores the ecumenical mix of Canada-based Hawp and their album Storm + Calm, thisaway.
Jumping back over the pond, Massey rounds out his reviews with Allan Yn Y Fan's album, Trosnant. If you enjoy Cerddoriaeth Geltaidd o Cymru or want to know what that means, read his review, here.
And finally, Deborah Grabien reminds us that despite the warm, spring weather, we still can find things to get cranky about. Find out what's making her cranky by reading her review of Steeleye Span's Back in Line.
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Book Reviews Editor
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Proofers and What's New Writers
Kage Baker (1952 to 2010)
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 to 1973)
Kage Baker reading her
A reading from Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn
Elizabeth Bear reads The Chains that You Refuse
Black 47's 'Liverpool Fantasy'
An excerpt from Paul Brandon's The Wild Reel novel
Emma Bull and Will Shetterly's The War for The Oaks movie trailer
Nicholas Burbridge's 'Open House'
Cats Laughing's 'For It All'
Charles de Lint performing his 'Sam's Song'
Charles de Lint -- Some thoughts on his fiction
Gaelic Storm's 'Kiss Me'
Christopher Golden's 'The Deal'
The opening chapter of The Weaver and The Factory Maid, the first novel in Deborah Grabien's Haunted Ballad series.
An excerpt from Deborah Grabien's Rock & Roll Never Forgets -- A JP Kinkaid Mystery
'The Winter Queen Reel' (played by Roger Landres), composed in honour of Jane Yolen
Chuck Lipsig on 'Star of Munster' variations
McDermott's 2 Hours' 'Fox on the Run'
An excerpt from James Stoddard's 'The High House'
Tinker's Own performing 'The Tinker's Black Kettle', a jig by Charles de Lint from The Little Country
Vagabond Opera's 'Marlehe'
A Vasen tune for your enjoyment
Cathrynne Valente's 'The Surgeon's Wife'
Cathrynne Valente reading a selection titled 'The Tea Maid and The Tailor' from The Orphan's Tales
Robin Williamson's 'Five Denials on Merlin's Grave'
Archived 17th April 2010 LLS