25 April 2004 to 12 June 2004

12 June 2004

Our world has enough for each person's need,
but not for his greed.
- Mohandas Gandhi

We're off to the coast! While we're off enjoying surf, sand and sun, we leave you to enjoy a nice, big pile of kickin' reviews. Hoopla!

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas blend fiddle and cello on Fire & Grace. "Seldom has an album been so well named," says Nicky Rossiter. "This CD burns with the fire of the music and glides with the grace of the players."

Patsy Watchorn has Hearts on Fire on this recent recording of Irish classics. "Watchorn is like Ronnie Drew or Bob Dylan in that he has that unique gift of a distinctive voice that brings heart to any song -- old or new," Nicky says. "Patsy makes the classics his own."

Laura MacKenzie shares the spotlight on Laura & the Lads. "This is an album of traditional and contemporary music from all four corners of the Celtic world," says Debbie Kortisas. "I'm truly impressed by MacKenzie's mastery of all the instruments she plays."

Session A9's What Road? brings together a "dream fiddle team," Andy Jurgis proclaims. "The album captures the feeling of an ad hoc and intimate pub session combined with contemporary polish and panache."

The Glengarry Bhoys get back to their Rhoots with a CD that shows off their love of Celtic music. "They are continually refurbishing the old and breathing new life into updated traditional," says Sheree Morrow.

Susan McKeown "is renowned for her unique interpretations of traditional music, wonderful songwriting and stunning voice," Jean Price states. "On Lowlands she does not disappoint."

Kelly Moore has reason to Celebrate! Jenny Ivor isn't terribly fond of Moore's vocals, but says the "traditional instrumentals are impeccably performed."

Eliza Gilkyson is in a Land of Milk & Honey with songs that have "a very distinct social and often political message," Nicky says. "This album is a jewel, by a force to be reckoned with in contemporary music."

Kathy Kallick sings both Reason & Rhyme for a folk/bluegrass crossover CD Jennifer Hanson calls "a thoughtful and enjoyable album. Kallick has created a collection of songs that use well-chosen images to convey matters more often expressed in psychobabble."

Charlie Major is Inside Out on a country CD that, frankly, failed to impress reviewer Jerome Clark. "These are mostly, of course, relationship songs: loving you, missing you, remembering you, wishing I'd done better by you, wishing you'd done better by me, hitting the road thinking of you, blah blah blah and then, for a change of pace, blahp blahp blahp," he explains. "Not, of course, that you can't make good songs of this sort of material, and lots of country artists -- who found novel, meaningful ways of conjuring up familiar emotions and situations -- once did."

Peter Lang plays Guitar. "This is rich, beautiful music, both full-bodied and subtle, and always moving, never more so than in the three tributes to fallen friends and idols," Jerome explains.

Lisa Sandell shows her lap-sliding chops on Little Reason. "Her musical influences range from jazz legends like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to folk artists like Greg Brown and Gillian Welch," raves Dave Townsend.

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia spend a Friday Night in San Francisco for some magical jazz, says new reviewer Ester Eggert. "It really is a great triumph of acoustic guitars."

Mychael Danna and Tim Clement celebrate nature with North of Niagara: Impressions Along the Bruce Trail. "While fitting loosely under the rubric of new age music, North of Niagara is a more incisive, thoughtful work than most you will find in this area," says Robert Tilendis. "If you're going to dip into new age music at all, this is one you should seriously consider."

Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys kick up a new serving of Cajun goodness on Bon Reve, says Gregg Thurlbeck. "Bon Reve is more than a terrific Cajun confection, though; it's also a musical journey and a history lesson," he says. "It's filled with superb musicianship and wonderful melodies."

Nestor Torres pulls off a blend of smooth jazz and Latin overtones on Sin Palabras (Without Words). The strength of this recording, Dave Howell explains, rests on Torres' skills with a flute.

The Gypsy Follies are a big-brass sound on this CD by Romany's "King" Naat Veliov & the Original Kocani Orkestar. "Gypsy Follies is a killer collection of brass," says Alicia Karen Elkins. "If you are into hard cardiac workouts and fast dancing, it belongs in your collection."

Jane Yolen shares a very personal chapter in her life through poetry in The Radiation Sonnets: For My Love, in Sickness & in Health. Kate Danemark, who finds herself empathizing with Yolen's inspiration, admires the work greatly. "How many of us could keep the presence of mind to record this fight for life in any form, let alone within the structure of a sonnet?" she asks. "Perhaps this was the very thing that held Yolen together and gave her the strength to keep fighting."

Tom Barris gives the Canadians their due in Juno: Canadians at D-Day. "Barris has succeeded in his aim to personalize the Canadian story of D-Day," says David Roy. "Even if you think you're familiar with what happened on that fateful day, you owe it to yourself to pick this book up."

Gore Vidal's Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson poses as history, Daniel Jolley reports, but it's really a politically motivated slam against more current events. "Those who agree with Vidal's politics will praise this book, but I don't think anyone will argue too strenuously that Inventing a Nation is a work of history," Daniel says. "Historians may not always be objective, but they must at least attempt to be so. Twisting history in order to push one's own agenda is, was, and always will be propaganda."

Suzanne Falter-Barns shares the wealth in Living Your Joy: A Practical Guide to Happiness. "If you have a dream, if you sit at work -- or out of work -- wishing you could be someone else or be doing something more fulfilling, then take the first step and read this book," urges Jenny.

Guy Gavriel Kay basks in The Last Light of the Sun. "It is a book full of great sorrows, surprising joys and ethereal beauty," says Laurie Thayer. "As with all of Kay's works, it is a treasure to be savored."

Susan Cooper brings a small piece of Scottish lore home to Canada in The Boggart. The young-adult novel, Tom Knapp says, "takes a fairly mundane plot idea and enlivens it with clear, witty prose and excellent characterization. The boggart in particular benefits from Cooper's skillful pen; rather than an anonymous imp, the boggart develops a distinct personality that is freshly unique."

Patricia Reilly Giff opens Maggie's Door onto the worst potato famine in Irish history. "The trials of the characters in the story make an excellent introduction to young readers of a time that stands apart in history," says Kate. "The great suffering of the Irish is contrasted with the belief that relief and all that is good and necessary could be found in America."

Mike Resnick compiles a collection of 20 stories in New Voices in Science Fiction -- but C. Nathan Coyle says only half of them fit under the sci-fi umbrella. "That's the only quibble I have with this collection of short stories," he says. "Weighing that against how entertaining this book is, I'd say that ends up being a pretty small complaint."

Sue Lange makes a Tritcheon Hash of a future "utopia" where women have left the planet. "Lange delivers most of her humor with a straight face, presenting ludicrous situations and inane human behavior with such a naturalistic tone that the absurdity of the situation only hits home after a pause for thought," says Sarah Meador. "That dry humor never gets in the way of plot, which moves with greased speed from a stalled spaceship and across hostile planets that happen to be our own."

Gene Wolfe bucks the trend of generic fantasy with The Knight, David Roy tells us. "The Knight takes all of the cliches of the sword & sorcery genre and turns them on their heads," he says. "Wolfe takes everything you thought you knew and turns out a thoroughly unpredictable read that will keep you going well past your bedtime."

Phil Meade begins a new series about psychically talented teenagers with PsiScouts 1: At Risk. "Meade tells the story at a fast pace, skimming over many details in order to keep the story happening and the action never too far away," says Jenny. "The style should appeal to anyone with a reading age of 9 or above, and made for a diverting hour or so for this 30-something reviewer!"

Kelley Armstrong continues her story about the world's only female werewolf in Stolen: Women of the Otherworld, Book II. "It immediately brings you up to speed and puts you on the edge of your seat," Karen enthuses. "From the chase and killing of a shaman in the first four pages, it is 399 pages of non-stop supernatural suspense!"

Walter Mosley uncovers The Man in My Basement in a strange audiobook "that will make you think about life, the world and your place in it," Wil Owen says. "What starts out as a seemingly normal story following the life of loser Charles Blakey ends up a philosophical journey into morality and just what, exactly, defines the bounds of civilization and humanity."

Mark Allen says The Steve Ditko Reader is a marvelous introduction to an artist's work -- a man whose creative output is more than just the co-creation of Spider-Man!

Janine Kauffman is Searching for Paradise, a film that "won a best actress award at the Milan International Film Festival for Susan May Pratt, whose Gilda is a turmoil of intelligence, emotion and desperate bravado. And it is her performance which shines through some obvious moments of pop psychology, giving Searching for Paradise a sometimes painful, ultimately hopeful center."

Susannah Carey joins us today with a review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. "I was left with mixed feelings," she says. "Throughout the movie I kept feeling like I was not going to enjoy this picture overall, but at the end when all of the loose strings were tied together I found myself longing to see more of the two leads' story."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

5 June 2004

I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse.
I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.
- J.D. Salinger

Upcoming wedding bells, ambitious vacation plans and home improvement projects are all combining to keep the central office occupied -- day and night! It's amazing we have time to write and edit reviews at all -- but heck, we just love the job too much to ever let it slide. Enjoy today's varied offerings!

Dursey Sound Connection's Forgotten Moons "seems like a soundtrack in search of a movie," Tom Knapp suggests. "The instrumental recording ... is a highly polished production, very evocative of mood and story -- although none is defined."

Sean O'Driscoll and Larry Egan get down-home and personal in The Kitchen Recordings, which -- exactly as the title suggests -- were recorded in O'Driscoll's kitchen. "Thanks to the advances in technology, it is note-perfect as it captures an informal atmosphere where two people who love the music let rip," Nicky Rossiter says. "The album is a joy to listen to as you can almost feel the intimacy of a session in a private house, where Irish traditional music thrives and feels most at home."

Davie Robertson's Star o' the Bar is a contemporary recording from Scotland. "If you pick up this album you will be unlikely to recognise a single track, but replace it at your peril," warns Nicky. "These are gems."

Jennifer Licko & Alan Chapman explore the Language of the Gaels in this "fascinating album," says Debbie Koritsas. "The album's a little short at just under 40 minutes, but there's an extremely good (and interesting) balance of Celtic music here," she muses.

Harem Scarem cries Let Them Eat Fishcake on this "lively debut album from a group of young, very talented musicians," Andy Jurgis proclaims. See why he expects "more really exciting things" from this band!

Christy Moore made great strides with his early classic recording, Ride On. "He has a pedigree in folk music that is hard to beat," Nicky says. The album, even after 20 years, "is one of the best possible introductions, not only to Christy Moore but to a vein of writing that is incredible."

The French side of Celtic music gets the spotlight on Accordeons: Bretonne Attitude, a compilation disc from Keltia Musique. "This CD sets out to celebrate that joyous 'creative spirit' found within the Celtic souls of the world," says Debbie. "OK, so there's an awful lot of accordion here, but I have to say that it's all bathed in a rather glorious Gallic glow."

Scott Merritt takes The Detour Home, which sees the Toronto singer's return to memorable music. "This is stream-of-consciousness poetry that's meant to roll over the listener," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "It's mood more than meaning. It's not the kind of thing that I would normally enthuse over. And yet, and yet...."

Duenow makes a generational bridge with If You Could Only See What They Are Doing to You, a rockin' band with a folky flair. "People of my generation are just not right, and the reality of our lives in post-hippie America is often nothing short of bizarre," Kate Danemark says. "Duenow is some kind of crazy tribute band to that reality, and they rock the fractured world in which we flounder."

Heather Horak's Lucky Charm "is one of those albums that tries to be quirky and funny, but just doesn't quite succeed," muses C. Nathan Coyle. "I wish I could say it's a case of trying too hard, but it's more like a case of trying the wrong thing." Jenny Ivor, on the other hand, says Horak "has a deft touch with the balladic storytelling style. ... This is entertainment for anyone who has eclectic musical taste."

Folksinger Lisa McCormick turns to jazz for Mystery Girl. "This is an album for the laidback lover of sweet sounds," Nicky says. "Lisa will have you melting in her vocal grasp."

Tori Amos was a revelation when Under the Pink hit the shelves. "The album showcases all her bests: challenging, poetic lyrics, haunting vocals and piano accompaniment that startles with its savant-like beauty and chameleon-like ability to change," says Tracie Vida. "In this pop music climate of superficial lyrics and synthesized sounds, Tori's naked emotions and authentic style rinse across the listener like a mountain stream after the first snow melt: brutal at times, but carrying away a lot of silt and rocks to expose the tender places beneath."

Jack Ingram "is a well-kept secret," says Jennifer Hanson. "This is a shame, because he delivers a blend of country and rock not unlike that of Steve Earle. ... Live at Billy Bob's Texas is a generous helping of alt-country honky-tonk music from one of the genre's great talents."

Dirk Powell believes it's Time Again for a bluegrass recording, and Jennifer echoes his sentiment! "Powell gets down to the emotional root of the music, the joys and the sorrows of the people who created it," she says. "Time Again is a fine disc of music by a modern practitioner who knows his heritage."

Little Muddy slips and slides in the Mayan Mud, a blues recording with a bit too much aimless jazz for Virginia MacIsaac's taste. "They've turned the good stuff upside down so your head isn't sure where the music went, or if the good stuff was ever there," she complains.

TJ Rehmi feels The Warm Chill on an album that "might not be the most demanding hour of music I've heard," says Debbie, but "it's also extremely chilled and relaxing -- the perfect de-stress tool."

Irene Papas shares the ancient music of Greece on Odes. Adolf Goriup lauds the effort, as well as the collaboration with famed composer Vangelis. Read his review for the full story!

Georghe Zampir & Friends supply the Folksongs from Rumania on this traditional collection of "energetic music that invigorates the listeners with some selections and relaxes them with others," says Karen Elkins. "This collection would be ideal for an outdoor gathering where the people had plenty of room to dance and whirl."

Kay Hill relates 19 legends for children in Glooscap & His Magic: Legends of the Wabanaki Indians. "As a whole they make a nice starting point into the Wabanaki legends," says Paul de Bruijn, "allowing readers young and old alike a chance to meet some of the characters in a fairly safe setting."

Pamela J. Gonzalez is Climbing the Wreckage, a collection of poems that "are challenging, sometimes difficult, but will repay those prepared to unlock their meaning," Andy says.

Uma Narayan disputes feminism as a solely Western notion in Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions & Third World Feminism. "Writing from an Indian feminist position, she attempts to clarify misconceptions that she believes have resulted in a false perception of Indian values, how Indian women live and religious constructions of Indian culture, law and society," Fern Gilkerson explains. "I think Narayan's analyses in this book are brilliant."

Donovan Webster takes The Burma Road to shed light on a different facet of World War II: eight years of combat ranging from the mountains of China to the jungles of Burma and other southeast Asian countries. "Webster has written a definitive account of this war from an American and British perspective," says David Roy. "I haven't read a better book on this subject, and I'm very glad I picked this up."

Elizabeth George Speare's classic story of colonial New England, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, gets a fresh look from Tom. "The story, which won the Newbery Medal for children's literature, moves at a slow and measured pace but is never dull," he says. "Nearly 50 years since its initial publication, the book deserves to be taken off the shelf and dusted time and again ... so read it, read it to your children, lend it to your friends and read it again."

Harry Turtledove reveals a scary new world In the Presence of Mine Enemies. "Although the writing flows quickly, making this an easy read, the proposed ethical questions will linger long after you've set the book down," opines Kate. "Perhaps it will even inspire you to examine your own life and appreciate it just a little more."

Diana Pharaoh Francis chooses the Path of Fate in this fantasy novel that soon shakes off its initial similarities to Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern concept. "The book holds the reader in a magical suspense, and just as one thinks a peak has been reached and a turning point must surely follow, the author provides yet another nail-biting, breath-holding passage to keep the reader enthralled," says Jenny Ivor, "blending intrigue and politics, horror, beauty and magic, religion, war and rich characters and richly descriptive prose."

Emma Bull leads us in a Bone Dance in this post-apocalyptic tale. "Bull is one of those writers who can pull the reader into the story seemingly without effort," says Robert Tilendis. "Her prose is tight and matter-of-fact, particularly when dealing with the supernatural."

Lee Child continues the saga of Jack Reacher in The Enemy. "If you're not already a fan, The Enemy is a fine introduction to the Reacher series," says Jean Lewis. "It's a pacy story, it's thoughtful and the hero's intriguing. Buckle up and enjoy."

John Marco's The Devil's Armor "is the epic sequel to The Eyes of God," says Karen Elkins. "This is one smooth book."

Michael Vance revisits The Collins Case Files in this first volume of Dick Tracy strips by Max Allan Collins and Rick Fletcher. "Dick Tracy had long before been stripped of its gritty violence," Michael says. "Collins eventually reintroduced many of the elements that had made the strip famous."

This paperback anthology has Broad Appeal, Michael says. "This is a chick flick on paper," he remarks. "Broad Appeal is recommended for women of all ages, and for men with the courage to want to understand women of all ages."

Tom bucks the trend with a favorable review of the monster madness in Van Helsing. "More action-farce than horror-drama, Van Helsing is entertaining for people who go to movies to be entertained," he says. "If plot analysis is your passion or Oscar-worthy acting is your pride, look elsewhere. If you want a fistful of popcorn and a big grin on your face, give this a try. It's an enthusiastic tip of the broad and floppy hat to monsters and monster slayers who deserve a fresh look now and again."

It is a shame, says Dan Jolley, "that gorgeous, poignant, sweeping epics such as Anna & the King rarely succeed commercially, as they have so much more to offer on so many different levels than your typical box-office smash hits. ... If you have a heart, Anna & the King will speak to it, and you will feel touched in a very special way after watching it."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

29 May 2004

There is real magic in enthusiasm.
It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.
- Norman Vincent Peale

Wow! Who can believe it's been five years since Rambles.NET made its first appearance?! And who can comprehend all of the changes and the phenomenal growth we've experienced since then??! And we're still going -- and growing -- strong!

The first edition appeared on May 30, 1999, with fewer than 200 reviews onsite to get us rolling. Now, that number has increased to more than 6,600! That fledgling magazine has also grown in stature, gaining regular readers all over the world and earning a top-notch reputation among music labels and publishers throughout the industry. Hoopla!

As editor, I've tried to guide Rambles.NET through its development in a responsible, yet entertaining manner. I hope you like what we've become! But I'd be nowhere without the dedicated staff that makes this place run, and I want to take this opportunity to cite the handful of reviewers who have been with us since the very beginning; these people all debuted here within the first month of operations here and are still with us today: Laurie Thayer, Chet Williamson, Jo Morrison, Jamie O'Brien, Julie Bowerman, Beth Derochea, Miles O'Dometer and Debbie Gayle Rose. Kudos, people! And that's not all, over the last five years we've enjoyed the writing of more than 160 people on this site, including some extremely prolific folks; besides the long-timers listed above, some of our most active contributors have been Sarah Meador, Nicky Rossiter, Jenny Ivor, Wil Owen, Virginia MacIsaac, Janine Kauffman, Paul de Bruijn, Ellen Rawson, Amanda Fisher, Elizabeth Badurina, Donna Scanlon and Karen Elkins. (Some of the newer additions to our staff are gaining rapidly, too!) Visit our staff page to meet all of our writers, past and present; we're grateful to those who are still with us, and we miss those who, for whatever reason, have moved on!

We are always striving to improve the site -- in fact, today's edition marks the debut of two new specialized review sections! -- and we welcome suggestions from our readers. Feel free to drop us a line at any time!

OK, enough said. We have a lot of reviews to share with you today, as well as an interview with a top-shelf fantasy author, so let's get this ball rolling and get started on our next five years of progress. Cheers!

Whapweasel is Relentless on this recording of English dance music jazzed up with fresh arrangements and a saxophone section that just won't quit. "The album has the sound of inventively arranged traditional music," Tom Knapp reports. "It speaks well for the band ... that the CD is made up entirely of fresh, original pieces that sound traditional beneath the surface polish of dance-band excellence. And, believe me, the ladies and gents of Whapweasel make you want to dance, if only you can figure out how to make those traditional ceilidh steps look modern and stylin'."

The Ruffians might need a better sound engineer the next time they decide to do a live recording. Kate Danemark is a fan of the band, but says Live At CBGB: The Official Bootleg rocks "in a flat, under-edited sort of way. ... But this "Official Bootleg" comes off sounding like something someone with a tape recorder in their pocket and unsophisticated recording technology at home might distribute on the Internet." Happy birthday, Kate!

Brenda Hunter and Banshee in the Kitchen join forces on Catching the Mooncoin. "This is a great album -- the presentation complements the ingredients beautifully," says Nicky Rossiter. "You get a new take on familiar tunes that changes them just enough but never eliminates the original feel."

Kilt might have had a short-lived career, but the maritimes band made a distinct impression on Jean Price! "Four in the Crib is a fantastic recording," she says. "There are very few CDs I would recommend without hesitation, but this is definitely one of them."

Joe Cormier remembers The Dances Down Home in this Cape Breton CD covering almost 25 years of his rich career. "Cormier weaves his magic on the violin," Paul de Bruijn describes. "The music has a rawness to it that fits more in a dance hall than on the concert stage."

Jed Marum extolls the Fighting Tigers of Ireland in this epic CD focusing on the Irish who fought in the American Civil War. "Many of the tracks are new compositions, but Marum also includes a few traditional songs that dovetail very neatly into the story," Nicky says. "Marum brings us back to a traumatic period in American history and relates it to the natives of a green island thousands of miles away."

Bob Fox is recording on Borrowed Moments, and Debbie Koritsas says it's "an album of the finest English folk song. ... Backed by fine musicians and with a Celtic feel to some of the tracks, this album is full of lyrical songs with strong, narrative lyrics; each song has a proper story to tell."

The Barnacles flash back to the past on Inland & Otherwise, which has Sarah Meador convinced that she missed an important era in music. "Much of the album sounds like it was pulled, screaming and dancing, from a stage in the 1960s," she says. "This is a fine introduction to a band that would have been a smash sensation 40 years ago, and may yet find a good bit of fame today."

Beth Wood insists You Take the Wheel on a folk CD "dictated by her many fans," Nicky explains. "Beth has a beautiful voice that is ideally suited to this form of acoustic recording."

Janis Ian is Working Without a Net on this, her first live recording. "This double CD is solid joy and a reaffirmment of Ian's skill as well as her maturing vocals and performance abilities," says Jenny Ivor. "Ian is older and wiser, and the differences in interpretation bring a new depth and poignancy to the lyrics."

Sid Selvidge mixes A Little Bit of Rain into his folk/blues blend. C. Nathan Coyle calls it "a serious yet enjoyable demonstration of experience, talent and storytelling."

The Dixie Hummingbirds mark 75 years of gospel music with Diamond Jubilation. "Diamond Jubilation is the culmination of music that has gone through the Great Depression, 13 presidents, four major wars, five generation of Americans and seven decades of the 20th century," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Now working into the 21st century, this popular gospel group is still going strong."

Johnny Cash gets the country compilation disc No Depression: What It Sounds Like, Vol. 1 off to a very good start, C. Nathan says. "It's perfect for those wanting an introduction to the musical subgenre and a treasure for long-time fans of alt-country that will enjoy some of their favorites collected in one place."

Al Copley is willing to Jump On It for some solid boogie-woogie piano blues. "Jump blues helped give rise to rock 'n' roll, and the music here is sometimes swinging, sometimes rocking," says Jennifer Hanson. "All in all, this disc is packed with plenty of verve and is a great record to play at a party."

The Ivan Kapec Trio serves up some Croatian jazz on Bava. "Kapec seems to have mastered the technical aspects of his craft very well, but still has trouble connecting emotionally with the listener," says David Cox. "Nor is it a particularly experimental recording. But Kapec has true talent, and the production quality is crisp and clear." Cheers to David for writing his 50th review for Rambles.NET. Hoopla!

The Optina Pustyn Male Choir of St. Petersburg shares its musical roots with Orthodox Chants from Russia. Dave Howell (with the help of his wife, Laura) says the CD "is unusual because it presents music that is used today inside Orthodox monasteries instead of the usual recordings of parish liturgies. ... The purpose of this music is to quiet the mind and remove extraneous thoughts so that the listener can draw closer to God. The effect will not be as intense for a home listener who is not surrounded by candles, icons and clouds of incense, but this music does have a calming effect."

Ravi pours his passion into The Afro-Brazilian Project, an album "featuring Brazilian music played by a multi-instrumentalist whose main instrument is an African harp," according to Dave (with no help from his wife this time). "There is only one drawback with this CD. Now there is one more performer's name I have to remember when I cruise the music racks."

Daniel Berlanga Ramos, joining us for the first time today, says you shouldn't look for any Spanish guitar on the flamenco recording 10 de Paco by Jorge Pardo y Chano Dominguez. "This is no mere performance and repetition of the original songs, but a deeper interpretation and personal view of the material," Daniel assures us.

A global music tradition is highlighted with The Hidden Gate: Jewish Music Around the World. Valerie Frankel recommends this two-disc collection, which offers tracks of "all different styles and flavors."

Ihsan Al-Mounzer exposes Middle Eastern dance music to the masses with Jalilah's Raks Sharki 6 on In a Beirut Mood: Pure Delight of Oriental Dance. "It is based on exotic and sensual music, filled with complex rhythms and catchy melodies," says Ron Bierman. "The Middle Eastern feel and instrumentation take some getting used to for listeners weaned on rock or rap, but it's worth the effort."

Sherrill takes everyone along to hear a recent performance by Enter the Haggis. Read her review and check out the mood in Rochester!

Two new book sections are debuting today at Rambles.NET! First up is a page devoted to gender studies, including issues about and between men and women, trendsetters in gender equality and parenting. We kick the section off today with two new reviews.

Gene Weingarten and Gina Barreca settle the differences between all men and women -- almost -- in I'm with Stupid: One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up. "I'm with Stupid will make you laugh," says Tom. "It will make you think, perhaps in ways quite foreign to you no matter what your gender. It's smart and clever, irreverent and wise. Read it, then share it with someone you love."

The thoughts of 529 women are compiled in This Day: Diaries of American Women. "This is such a cool idea!" Donna Scanlon exclaims. "The lives of these women are inspirational and encouraging, and even the ones who seem the most mundane offer fascinating glimpses into another woman's life."

Also today, we break the broad subject of history away from general non-fiction, where it has been wedged since this site first appeared on the 'Net.

Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew and Annette Lawrence Drew shed some light on a dark period of history with Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage. "The stories of hundreds of submariners, heroes one and all, had been shrouded in the secrecy borne of the Cold War," says Daniel Jolley. "It is a secret history more thrilling than that borne of the imaginations of the best military science-fiction writers."

Guy Gavriel Kay sat down for an extended chat with Laurie Thayer, who shares the author's thoughts in an interview titled devising worlds. Enjoy the conversation!

Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky is proof that the author "is only getting better as he goes," Tom proclaims. "The book is wonderfully fun and inventive, full of the things that make the best books in Pratchett's library great, and it's immediately apparent why it had to be written."

C.J. Cherryh reveals her shorter work in The Collected Short Fiction of C.J. Cherryh -- which is not entirely complete, Robert Tilendis notes for the record, but is still an eye-opening experience. "The themes are as varied as the subjects. The commonality throughout, as is so often the case with Cherryh's work, is that they all hinge on character -- even when the character is a city," he says. "For those who avoid anthologies, you might want to make an exception in this case, particularly if you are partial to Cherryh's own brand of rich, thoughtful, dense fiction."

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman join forces for The Fall of the Kings, which Robert says is ultimately "about itself, about its richness and complexity, its passages of uncomfortable intensity and dream-laden mythic potency, its juxtapositions of substance and triviality, and about the resolution of where our arbitrary but rational reality meets the coherent and unreasonable legacy of the past." What? Read his review to understand what he means!

Gregory Benford compiles a collection of 13 science-fiction stories in Microcosms. "Every writer on the list of 13 is a talented craftsman of these eerie stories that play on our collective claustrophobias," says Jean Marchand. "We read with the feeling that our hair is standing on end. We knew this would happen. It always does when we read good science fiction."

Kurt R.A. Giambastiani explores alternative histories From the Heart of the Storm, part of the Fallen Cloud saga of a what-if America "where the native people had an edge, dinosaurs still roam and industrialization is just beginning to close its hand around the country," Sarah reveals. "It's a world readers will be eager to share again with the exactly life-sized heroes who walk it, joined with them in a desire to know how it all will turn out."

Robert E. Vardeman continues the Battletech/MechWarrior storyline with The Ruins of Power. "While The Ruins of Power isn't on par with its predecessors, I found this to be an entertaining, quite satisfying novel," Daniel reports.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are back in the Liaden Universe with Balance of Trade. "This is an involved tale replete with the familiar treacheries and rigid manner system of Liaden society, where every word must be weighed, every bow measured to a nicety, to avoid calamitous consequences," Jenny says.

Nicholas Sparks presents two ordinary, yet utterly remarkable people in his audiobook, The Notebook. "It is a gentle story of caring, and responsibility," says Kate. "The responsibility that partners take on when they marry is significant, and it is both compelling and reassuring to listen to a tale of never-wavering devotion."

Mary Harvey samples a bit of history-driven crime noir in Batman: Detective #27, an Elseworlds remake of the costumed hero. "The surreal artwork is spectacular and marries the story to the plot with perfection, doing an excellent job of replicating the emerging modernist style of the times," she notes.

Michael Vance, on the other hand, finds Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace, film-noir-in-graphic-novel-form, to be sadly lacking. Oh, go ahead, see why!

Janine Kauffman says nothing is Lost in Translation in this movie that is "a triumph of little moments. ... We get a look at two people, separated from everything they know, immersed in a culture in which even the street signs, not only in a different language but a different script, bear no clue to their meaning. Totally out of their element, their usual crutches (except liquor) and camouflage aren't of any use."

Tempered by the knowledge of its sequel, Daniel gives Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery a slight reduction in rank. "This is not to say this isn't one of the funniest movies of all time, because I believe it is," he says. "It's rather strange how Mike Myers can make anything funny; there are old jokes and worn-out little gimmicks used in Austin Powers that would probably bomb in most other movies, yet here everything seems to work perfectly."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

22 May 2004

I don't believe that life
is supposed to make you feel good,
or make you feel miserable either.
Life is just supposed to
make you feel.
- Gloria Naylor

We're going to rush right into this week's update -- because next week's edition marks our fifth anniversary here at Rambles.NET! See you there!

Ben Sands, renowned singer-songwriter from a renowned Irish family, is feeling Better Already. "This CD with a mixture of funny, poignant and insightful tracks will bring joy to any ear and heart," says Nicky Rossiter.

Greenhouse shares One Last Cold Kiss on this Celtic recording that comes via the West Coast of America. "Greenhouse may live in the sunny land of California but their music is steeped in the mist-covered mountains of the Celtic dreamlands," Nicky says.

Michael Snow can Never Say No to a Jar, and Alanna Berger says it's hard to resist for her, too. Read her review to find out how successfully Snow concluded his Skelly trilogy of recordings.

Celtic harper Pamela Bruner shares her lovely Daydreams. "Her playing is ornate and very, very beautiful," says Jean Price. "Accompanying her singing or solo, her harping skills are boundless; this must be what the ancient bards sounded like."

The Crimson Pirates sing pirate songs on their self-titled debut CD. "If you like pirate songs, you'll like the Crimson Pirates," Tom Knapp notes. "If you don't, you won't. It's that simple."

The soundtrack to Rob Roy is "unique, beautiful work," says Jean, and it "avoids many of the musical cliches so common in soundtracks." Although overshadowed by Braveheart, which was released the same year, Rob Roy exhibits memorable work by composer Carter Burwell and the Scottish band Capercaillie. "This is as superb a soundtrack as ever there was!"

BareBones & WildFlowers are Higher Than the Moon on this folk-country recording "that will keep you company even after the last notes fall silent," says Sarah Meador. "Being at ease with their music, BareBones & WildFlowers are able to release it to the ears of listeners with a trust that encourages imitation."

Sour Grapes are at the Divine Grind for a live recording with excellent music and substandard sound, Gregg Thurlbeck says. "It sounds to me as though Sour Grapes are an entertaining live act," he explains. "But if they're going to commit their material to CD then hiring an experienced producer is essential."

Artie Tobia harkens back to an earlier folk music era with The Parade. "To his credit, though Tobia's writing seems fairly clearly autobiographical, he betrays no impulse for obsessive navel-gazing," says Jerome Clark. "Though there are echoes of folk and country, they're fainter than we've grown used to in this golden age, with a lively neo-folk revival manifesting in gratifyingly rooted Americana/alt-country sounds."

Lili McGovern fails to impress reviewer Wil Owen on her folk-rock debut, A Bare Calliope. "Lili's first effort is not necessarily bad," he says, "but there is not much to rave about, either."

Newfoundlander Ron Hynes offers "a fine collection of heartfelt country-folk songs" on Get Back Change, Joy McKay reports. "In a voice ringing with authenticity and emotion, Hynes tells stories of real lives. Although many songs on the disc seem autobiographical, they illuminate universal themes."

Johnny Cash has his last hurrah with Cash Unearthed. "Little did we realise as this fantastic boxed set was being released last year that it would prove to be the final output from the Man in Black," Nicky says. "Sad as that may be, it does stand as a unique tribute to the man and his music. ... His voice and sound are immortal."

Meg Tennant is Driving with You on a country CD that "invites us into her life," says Nicky. "This is a haunting album that sometimes makes me uneasy. I wonder if I am seeing deeply into another person's heart or if it is just the art of good writing."

Chris Isaak lives in a Heart Shaped World, and Kate Danemark spends some time there during this flashback to 1989. "A little bit country, a little rockabilly and a touch of pop, this album is a moody, often melancholy peek into the psyche of a man who may not often be alone, but can't seem to shake a pervading loneliness," Kate says. "This is a soundtrack for lovemaking, but it is also a score for the making of love."

Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets lose points for the title of their new CD -- Which Way is Texas? -- but Jerome warns blues fans not to pass this one by. "This is a road-tested band finely tuned, ready, able and willing to prove that if you do it right, the old-school, no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes, no-extras electric blues is never out of fashion," he says. "These are the right hands, and these are the pros, and if you like 'em, they got 'em."

Ilona Knopfler's brand of vocal jazz is Some Kind of Wonderful, according to Valerie Frankel. "Her clear, powerful voice carries listeners smoothly through a tuneful selection of jazz songs."

Oscar Lopez is "a talented flamenco-type player whose passion for music brings together many diverse influences" on Mi Destino (My Destiny), David Cox reports. "Through the filter of Lopez's guitar, everything sounds Andalucian, though influences of klezmer, merengue and other musical forms can be detected. You could call this music world-flamenco fusion if you wanted to label it."

The Cherokee National Children's Choir joins Rita Coolidge on Voices of the Creator's Children, which Karen Elkins calls "worship in my native tongue." Gospel fans should pay attention to this Native American interpretation of many well-known songs, she says!

Lunasa put on a fine performance in York, England, and Debbie Koritsas was there to catch the scene. Read her review to see what left the audience reeling!

Laura M. Porras collects her eclectic poetry in Alias "The Rose." "There is no doubting the sincerity of emotion through the 110 poems, but this attribute in itself does not always make for success," says Andy Jurgis. "It is the type of collection, though, in which readers will find emotions with which to relate."

Lee Irwin has compiled one of the finest resources on Native American Spirituality, Karen asserts. "It drops all the academic jargon and leads an in-your-face discussion of the entire scope of native spirituality," she says. "You will walk away from this discussion well-informed and conscious of the ongoing battle for personal freedom, religion and cultural retention that Native Americans face on a daily basis."

Martin Dugard embarks on a long 19th-century journey with Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone. "Dugard, himself an adventurer, writes a compelling story of courage, foolhardiness and remarkable achievement," says John Lindermuth. "Though there have been other books on the subject, this is the first to draw on modern research and to explore the fusing of adventure, politics and character at the heart of the tale."

Tom Holt is calling for Nothing But Blue Skies in his latest modern-mythology novel. This time, Tom K. explains, there are Chinese water dragons mucking about with the atmosphere. "Holt seems incapable of writing an unfunny novel," he says. "Just remember ... if the rain seems to be dogging your heels a bit much lately, perhaps you should try varying your goldfish's diet."

William C. Dietz is out For More Than Glory in his fifth Legion of the Damned novel. "The conclusion of this novel is somewhat open-ended, setting the stage for at least one more novel in the series," Daniel Jolley warns. "I don't have a problem with this, but those readers seeking to have all their answers provided in the pages of one book alone should be aware of this fact."

The characters in Chaz Brenchley's Feast of the King's Shadow, The Fourth Book of Outremer, "continue to evolve and grow in complex ways that surprise, touch and, sometimes, trouble me," Daniel says. "Brenchley is a brilliant writer; few authors could introduce so many troubling aspects into a story yet keep me captivated despite my own discomfort level."

Vonda McIntyre serves up a collection of fine tales in Nebula Awards Showcase 2004: The Year's Best SF & Fantasy. "The book not only collects the hottest work currently on the market, but also gives an intimate glimpse into the fraternity of genre writers through the commentaries spaced throughout the book," says Tracie Vida. "Both aspects of the book reveal a writing community brimming with life and creativity."

Judith Tarr unlocks the House of War in this conclusion to Devil's Bargain. "The emotions and arguments seem so real, the war scenes are bloodily descriptive and the romantic interludes exquisitely tender," says Jenny Ivor, "while the evil exudes horror and despair throughout and threads of magic hold the story together with vibrant colour."

Margaret Atwood reveals another disturbing maybe-future in Oryx & Crake. "The society Atwood depicts is frightening and provocative," says Julie Bowerman. "The possibilities are too realistic. The manipulation disastrous. Atwood's prose pulls readers and leaves them trembling among pink skies and piles of debris."

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Low Port looks "beneath the smooth panels of space stations and through the gutters of space colonies for the people who aren't heroes of their own series, or even supporting characters in their worlds," Sarah explains. "Here is grit and grimness to spare. Science fiction seems to free authors to consider the bigotries of class and privilege, and there are some brutal views of life on the bottom."

Michael Vance looks back at pioneer comics with Winsor McCay. "Winsor McCay: Early Works, the first volume in a collection of McCay's work as a comic strip pioneer, reprints four of his strips," he says. "McCay's groundbreaking bird's-eye views, unusual perspectives, outstanding composition and inking all added to the popularity of his incredible artwork."

Tony Gatlif's 1993 film Latcho Drom (Safe Journey) "is a homage to the music of the Rom people from Rajastan, India, where the journey begins, to Egypt, Turkey, into Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, and finally into France and Spain," David reveals. "While the performers differ in their styles, all are worth hearing. The film is a visual feast, as well, with lively dancing and bright colours."

Janine Kauffman cleans up with The Housekeeper (a.k.a., Une femme de menage). "The performances of Jean-Pierre Bacri as Jacques and Emilie Dequenne as Laura, unhurried and with genuine affection, ... are what pull The Housekeeper back from shallow midlife crisis," she explains.

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

15 May 2004

Push something hard enough and it will fall over.
- Fudd's First Law of Opposition

Spring this year was more of a concept than an actual event. In this part of the world, at least, it hop-skipped straight from cold and wet to hot and sunny without that all-important period of springy comfort. Augh! I blame global warming. Why, I remember when I was a lad, we had actual weather....

Tommy O'Sullivan's Legacy is secure with this new release of a decade-old recording. "Legacy is an accomplished album that highlights O'Sullivan's talents both vocally and instrumentally," says Chet Williamson. "It's also an intimate album, and one can easily imagine O'Sullivan sitting in your favorite pub or even your living room, a pint at hand, playing this altogether captivating music while you drink your drink and tap your toes."

Pubside Down is Keen on Green, and so is reviewer Jean Price. "Recorded in a day and a half soon after losing their lead singer, the album has a very spontaneous feel to it and the energy of a live show is captured in the studio," she says of the Swiss-Irish band. "It is fun, energetic, well-played Irish music that even the harshest critic of traditional fare would enjoy."

Brothers 3 are back with a new eclectic Celtic recording, The Journey That Lies Before. "With the vast quantity of musical talent between them, Brothers 3 has created a recording that bends the boundaries and gives fresh jazzy sound to some old standards," says Jean. "A wonderfully epic journey lies before you."

The Ennis Sisters combine "their trademark harmonies and youthful enthusiasm" on their third album, 3, Jean reports. "This album is great, especially if you enjoy sweet, pure-sounding music."

The Welsh label Sain releases a new compilation CD, Canu'r Pridd, which David Cox says is the best Welsh collection in recent years. "The sparse arrangements work to highlight the musicians, who are first rate," he explains. "There's variety of sound without the songs appearing disconnected from each other."

The Be Good Tanyas mount a Blue Horse for the debut album that has haunted Rambles newcomer Fern Gilkerson for two years. "There are 12 songs on the album, and each one is a gem in its own right, embodying a spirit that hasn't moved me like this since Prince and his Purple Rain album -- but trust me, there is no other comparison to be had there," she says. "I have decided to call their style femino-centric old-time/new-time, combining the concept of 'women-centered' and some type of current adaptation of old-time music."

Mad Agnes plays for a Magic Hour on a CD that marks the folk trio as "one of the most exciting to emerge in recent years," Nicky Rossiter reports. "This is a very accomplished album that I can recommend highly."

Louise Ford has Heroes & Angels on her side. "The CD is a very spiritual and uplifting experience," Nicky says. "No, don't dismiss it because of that. Most of the greatest music we listen to on a regular basis is spiritual -- that's often the hook that gets us without us being aware."

Diane Taraz's Beat of the Heart "is an exuberant joy of an album," Sarah Meador exclaims. "This engaging, dulcimer-driven collection of folk songs is balanced between the time polished and the shining new, all given spirit and warmth by Taraz's excellent delivery."

Darrell Scott draws the curtain on the Theatre of the Unheard. Paul de Bruijn says the folk album "is a wonder to listen to. The songs are powerful, the words showing the physical and the emotional."

Abbie Gardner switches from folk to jazz on My Craziest Dream. Wil Owen enjoys her voice, but is particularly enamored of her father Herb Gardner's vocals and piano and backing musician Dan Levinson's reeds. "I was easily transported back in time to when jazz was great," Wil says. "If you are a fan of early jazz, I think you will enjoy it, too."

Tony Rice names his latest CD after the serial number of his favorite guitar. 58957: The Bluegrass Guitar Collection is "an excellent introduction not only to Rice's music but to modern bluegrass in general," says Jennifer Hanson. "Rice is one of the all-time greats as far as bluegrass guitar is concerned."

Tim Story and Hans Joachim Roedelius combine efforts for the new-age recording Lunz. "Story and Roedelius are after more than mere prettiness," Jennifer says. "Lunz is recommended to those who like ambient music to give them something to think about, not those who want it to lull them to sleep."

Michael Paul Miller heads Homeward on a blues CD that, at first, didn't appeal to Karen Elkins. "However, once you hear a few verses, you realize that his voice is perfect for this style and the musical accompaniment he selects," she says. "The same voice that first struck me as oddly scratchy became oddly comforting, taking on the quality of a friend sharing his inner feelings."

High Noon takes to the Native American pow-wow for Have Drum Will Travel. "The production sound is very clear, and I imagine I can almost hear the winds created by the powerful arms of the drummers as they beat out the rhythms," says Virginia MacIsaac. "This CD leaves you with a very great sense of the power of the drum and the power of our voices."

Oskorri "continues to delight listeners while exploring the folk traditions of the Basque Country" on Desertore, says David C. "They are creative, prolific world-class artists that never for a moment forget where they are from."

An earlier review of Baka Beyond's East to West lured Gregg Thurlbeck in to The Meeting Pool. The music, he says, "is one of those wonderful musical experiences that demonstrates that the human species, for all its contrast and conflict, can come together to build something of grandeur and subtle beauty. Now if only music were the language of politics...."

Nellie McKay "is a disarmingly charming delight," William Kates reports after attending a recent live performance by the young singer. "McKay's stage presence was friendly, humorous and appealingly unpolished."

Jerome Charyn tackles history, celebrity, music and more in Gangsters & Gold Diggers: Old New York, the Jazz Age & the Birth of Broadway. "In the end, a book with this style suits old Broadway's history better than a more linear history would," says Jennifer. "Charyn is free to draw from art, memoir and biography to create a fuller portrait of the time."

Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire introduced a young Sarah to a whole new pantheon with Norse Gods & Giants, a collection of myths "with vibrant, inspired illustrations, one that made its heroes intimate, living beings and used the simplified language of children's books to give urgency and drama to the old stories. ... Those tired of the too-repeated Mediterranean myth cycles will find an engaging introduction to something new."

Kathleen Ragan collects stories of Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World to rectify an age-old gender bias in popular lore. "Ragan rectifies the problem with one enjoyable volume in which the girls win the day, save the boy, outwit the foe and survive the challenge," says Tom Knapp. "Children of both sexes should find the tales equally enthralling."

John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem unleash The Doomsday Brunette, which Kate Danemark describes as "a near-perfect murder mystery" that adheres closely to -- and breaks -- the formula of mystery novels while adding a slice of science-fiction to the mix.

Sara Douglass crosses the Threshold with this enthralling fantasy novel "with very few passages of predictability," Jenny Ivor relates. "Just when you think something must happen in such a way, she turns the tale around and immerses the reader in an even more fascinating scenario."

Mary Gentle brings a touch of fantasy (mathematical precognition) to her historical novel 1610: A Sundial in a Grave. "Gentle is also known as a meticulous researcher, and she shows that again in this book," says David Roy. "1610 is a wonderful book that just starts a little too slow."

Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye make their Myth Alliances known. "This is the first of the Myth books to be co-authored, and that in itself is a hint that the series is running out of steam," says Jean Lewis.

Simon Brown opens his Keys of Power series with Inheritance. The premise, says Daniel Jolley, "isn't anything startlingly original, yet this proves to be a most absorbing novel with very well-defined and inherently likable characters. Political intrigue, betrayal, cold-blooded murder and just the right touch of magic makes the kingdom of Grinda Lear an exceedingly interesting and complex fantasy realm."

Mike Shepherd makes a fumbling start on a new science-fiction series beginning with Kris Longknife: Mutineer. "The inconsistencies, plot holes and thin characters ... cause too much distraction," says Tracie Vida. "All the pleasure the reader can get is leached away by irritation."

Jack McDevitt returns to an established science-fiction universe with Omega. "Omega reads at times as though McDevitt was losing interest in the series," says Gregg. "Still, McDevitt going through the motions provides a better read than many authors manage to deliver at peak performance."

Neil Gaiman makes a rare appearance in 1602 for a clever tweaking of major characters from the Marvel Universe of comics. "The power of this story is not found in tights and spandex," Tom says. "Rather, it's Gaiman's cunning reconstruction of familiar faces out of time, his clever tweaking of abilities and loyalties -- an entire reinvention of the world in a way that not only works, it feels comfortable."

The Saga of the Swamp Thing is revealed in this groundbreaking collection by Alan Moore. "Although it is clearly a horror comic, a quick perusal of the first pages defies any expectation that this will be a traditional horror story," says Mary Harvey. "This is a not-to-be-overlooked classic and a must-read for anyone who wants a good starting point for proving the literacy of comic books."

The Shane MacGowan story takes the spotlight on the DVD special, If I Should Fall from Grace. "It is not a biography, more a sketch of his life, but it abounds with little gems that only film can produce," Nicky says. "In between performances of songs we get performances of life. Shane can be one of the wittiest of speakers and he shows this here."

Janine Kauffman says School of Rock is "kind of like combining the DNA of John Belushi and Jack Nicholson, and sending the result out into a classroom as the Pied Piper. ... It's truly joyful mania."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

8 May 2004

Ideas are like rabbits.
You get a couple and learn how to handle them,
and pretty soon you have a dozen.
- John Steinbeck

It's Mother's Day weekend, so everyone be nice to your moms! If you have a mother, be nice to her! If you're married to or dating a mother, be nice to her! It's not all that complicated! Remember ... your mother gave you oxygen as a fetus, so she deserves a cheery hello.

Grey Larsen and Paddy League are at it again on the Dark of the Moon. Larsen's "passion and affinity with the flute is clearly displayed to advantage and listening pleasure on the 11 tracks of this CD," says Jenny Ivor.

Aine Furey puts her family to work on Sweetest Summer Rain, an album with a traditional sound supporting fresh, new writing. Sadly, says Jean Price, "Furey's voice lacks depth and emotion, and the songs are arranged in such a manner as to sound almost washed out."

Seven Nations redefine the boundaries of Celtic rock on their self-titled CD. "They are not very traditional on this album, though they do have moments of traditional purity," says Jean. "If you are looking for a group not afraid to bend the boundaries a bit, you may be pleasantly surprised!"

Coyote Run "is an excellent example of cultural diversity," says C. Nathan Coyle, who recently spun the Virginia band's latest CD, Don't Hold Back. "While the roots of their inspirations are all over the map, they have a focused talent for narrative music," he says. "Coyote Run's songs range from serious and somber to light-hearted fun, and the continuity of strength is in their ability to convey a story."

Dean Owens blends Scottish roots and alt-country sounds for My Town. "Owens writes fine songs, often autobiographical in content ... and delivers them with passion, enjoyment and conviction," Debbie Koritsas reports after attending his album launch in Glasgow. "This album will have great appeal for those whose main interest is country music, though there are strong elements of Celtic, folk and rock in the overall mix."

Laura MacKenzie supplies the soothing Celtic sounds on Evidence: Songs, Airs & Waltzes. "It is music that will make you desperate to close your eyes and let MacKenzie transport you at her will," Jean remarks. "It is much more complex and has much more depth than many of the 'ambient' Celtic albums designed for relaxing."

Norland Wind "took an enormous step forward on their musical journey" with From Shore to Shore: Harp Music from the Celtic Northwest, says Adolf Goriup. "The music here is full of lightness and playful rhythms."

Ina May Wool "is a wonderful writer and performer," Nicky Rossiter states, and he offers her second recording, Crack It Open, as evidence. He highly recommends this "lovely album of original songs that display a rare talent for soul-searching lyrics and performs them to perfection."

Christine Lavin marks Mother's Day with a new live recording, Sometimes Mother Really Does Know Best. Unfortunately, says Kate Danemark, Christine's mother didn't tell her that some songs don't need to be recorded over and over again. "Now, if all of these songs are unfamiliar to you, by all means, buy this CD!" Kate says. "But if, like me, you can sing all the words and even know where the audience response goes, maybe hold off for the next one."

Nappy Martin is riding Steady Through the Storm with a "quietly soothing voice that floats gently along and brings a solid cheerfulness to his songs," Sheree Morrow reports. "Clean and wholesome without being sappy or cheesy, this music puts me in mind of the days when you could count on understanding the lyrics you were hearing and wouldn't be embarrassed by them."

Groovelily gets a folk/jazz groove going on Are We There Yet? "The 12 tracks ... keep your interest, keep you listening to the smart lyrics, keep your feet fidgeting to dance and keep your finger on the replay button," Jenny reports. "This is the CD to fit any mood -- laidback cool and sometimes jazzy, yet brimming with mature pop enthusiasm."

Don Ross lets his Robot Monster loose on a jazz 'n' folk album featuring fingerstyle guitar. "The impetus for these compositions was his wife's struggle with breast cancer," says Jennifer Hanson. "In some pieces, like the title track, he plays out his anger and grief. In others, he tries to find something to encourage himself and his two children to continue on after her death. ... There's not much mellow fingerpicking here."

K.J. Denhert finds a Girl Like Me on this recording of jazzy "urban folk," Jenny says. Jenny lauds "that indefinable warm, smooth rhythm that gets you to unwind and chill out, even if the lyrics are taking your head to a different space -- zen jazz, maybe? I do know it was a real effort to take it off the player, and I will definitely be looking out for more."

Glamour Puss build its blues from Wire & Wood. "There are some albums you can be happily absorbed in, and this is one of them," says Sarah Meador. "I'm not saying it'll lead you to paradise or absolve you of your sins, but it will help you ace the day in a braver, happier and just plain better mood."

Daniele Sepe provides an effectively disturbing package of music and imagery with Anime Candide: War & Love Songs. "Sometimes he holds up a mirror that reflects our war-damaged attitudes. Sometimes he takes us through the looking glass," says Virginia MacIsaac." He shows us truth with lyrical word paintings and makes us feel with dynamic music. What you feel will be up to you; the anger or empathy comes from within." Hoopla, Virginia, for review #100!

Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger utilize the Earth's own rhythms in Singing Stones, says Karen Elkins. "If you are not already in tune with nature, this would be an excellent starting point," she says. "This CD is haunting."

Karsh Kale provides "world fusion that defies categorization" on Liberation, Karen says. "It has its base in India, but that root is heavily layered and well camouflaged beneath at least a hundred world influences."

The Brazilian music scene gets a lift in The Pulse of Brazil, a new compilation disc from ARC. Dave Howell recommends the disc as an introduction to the sound, but says the recording "does not make for a consistent listening experience, even though there are some good individual cuts."

Chet Williamson takes a look at The Last Samurai soundtrack, which is composer Hans Zimmer's 100th film score. "The Last Samurai predictably blends the sounds of East and West, although I would have liked to have heard more authentic Japanese music," he says. "This is first and foremost a traditional romantic Western score, and those looking for authenticity will be disappointed."

Kate Rusby has been reviewed -- live and recorded -- quite a few times here at Rambles. Debbie takes the latest crack with her commentary on a recent performance at the Barbican in York, England.

Rory Block bares her country-blues spirit in a lively chat with reviewer Pamela Dow. Take a look at Pam's highly detailed and personal interview for your chance to see what makes Rory tic!

Alix Olson combines poetry and music on Independence Meal. "Those familiar with DiFranco's work will recognize the in-your-face political consciousness, feminist ideals and apparent stream-of-consciousness rants that end up being interconnected webs of disparate yet related subjects," says Jennifer. "Olson is by turns thoughtful, observant, vengeful, passionate and iconoclastic, sometimes spitting out her words so fast the listener is challenged to keep up with her."

Climate, not culture, dictates the selection of tales in Bob Barton's collection, The Bear Says North, Tom Knapp says. "This slim volume, handsomely illustrated by Jirina Martin, brings together 10 stories from Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and other lands where the winters are harsh and the snows are deep. So throw another log on the fire, tug the thick blankets a little more snugly around your shoulders and listen closely."

Jennifer Niven recounts a tale of Arctic heroism in Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic. "Stranded on a lonely Arctic island, part of an exploration gone fatally wrong, Blackjack displayed a depth of courage that earns her a place among any heroes of the Age of Exploration," Kate says. "Gathering information from archives, letters and memories shared by the explorers' families, Niven shares with us a world of ice and hardship, where only the strongest can survive, and then sometimes not even those."

James Treat compiles a collection of thoughtful essays in Native & Christian: Indigenous Voices on Religious Identity in the United States & Canada. "Natives are often expected to deny their own cultures and traditions to adopt those of white Christians, some writers argue, while most Christian Natives integrate their own backgrounds and culture into their faith," notes Karen. "It is interesting to read the variations."

Joseph O'Connor sets sail with the Star of the Sea -- but this is no pleasure cruise. "Star of the Sea is a hell-ship, barely seaworthy, carrying too many starving and pitiful Irish refugees from the great famine of 1847 in its hold, carrying too little food and fresh water, and numbering at least one black-hearted killer among its passengers," Tom explains. "This ambitious book reads so realistically, it's hard to believe it's not lifted directly from the pages of history."

Bodil Bredsdorff's The Crow Girl is a story that, while intended for children, might not be suitable for its target audience, Kate warns. "This Danish children's story has a fairy-tale quality, each event an essential lesson for our little heroine as she faces terrible hardships and learns to thrive," she says. But, she adds, "while I think it is a wonderful story for adults, I question a child's ability to face the sadness of the little Crow-Girl's life."

Kij Johnson "takes a chance with Fudoki by using an unusual method of narration -- and it works wonderfully," reports Beth Derochea. "Readers will be enchanted by this story, which is truly fantastic without being obviously fantasy."

Jody Lynn Nye offers a choice between The Lady & the Tiger in this science-fiction adventure on a garden planet. "Nye's style is fun, with light touches of humor to leaven the suspense and tension," says Tracie Vida. "Although her soapboxing on certain ecological issues can be a bit heavy-handed at times, this does not detract from the story's overall power to entertain."

Mercedes Lackey reveals the Exile's Valor in this new tale of Valdemar. "Although barely qualifying as stand-alone, this story is a welcome addition to the Valdemar series, reviewing the early story of Queen Selenay and her most devoted protector," says Valerie Frankel. "Mixing Alberich's sardonic humor with Selenay's very real angst about growing up, this book creates a strong story that all Lackey fans will enjoy."

Steve Augarde uncovers a world of tiny people in The Various. "There is nothing cutesy or twee about Augarde's Various," says Donna Scanlon. "The story is complex and thoughtful."

Deborah Chester continues to expand her fantasy "trilogy" with The King Betrayed. One irritation aside, Jenny reports, "the book is full of suspense and excitement, and makes me want to read the previous books to acquaint myself with the full story."

Mark Allen joins The Castaways for a hobo's life on the road. "The Castaways is highly recommended for all ages, and is a great candidate for a classroom comics selection, being both entertaining and historically relevant," he says.

Mark enjoys a little crossover between Superman, the mightiest hero of the DC Universe, and Thundercats, the alien kitties of 1980s animated television. "This is one of those comic projects that, in my opinion, has the crossover appeal that comics so dearly need today," Mark says. "If well-hyped and sold outside the specialty market, a lot of people who don't normally read comics could be reminded why they enjoyed them as children."

Janine Kauffman shines in American Splendor after watching the film drawn from the life -- and art -- of Harvey Pekar. "It's inspired," she says. "The combination of media to create the portrait of a man who takes real life and puts it on paper is a great example of what film can be with some creativity behind it."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

1 May 2004

Love and magic have a great deal in common.
They enrich the soul, delight the heart.
And they both take practice.
- Nora Roberts

It's Beltaine! Or, if you prefer, May Day!! It's a time for renewal as spring helps to shake off the last remnants of a long, rough winter, and a time to celebrate the ceaseless cycle of rebirth in nature.

Our editor (Tom) and one of the assistant editors (Kate) celebrated the holiday early with a romantic trip through New England and bits of Canada. Disturbingly, that nation's long friendship with the United States is cracking, the international scene being what it is. Obvious signs are as blatant as t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as "George W. Bush: International Terrorist" and "What Are We Going to Do about the United States?" and as subtle as the absence of the American flag among various international displays. Those of a more literary bent might choose to browse the new "American Imperialism" section appearing in some bookshops.

On a brighter note, the trip included a grand visit with Canadian author Charles de Lint and his lovely wife, artist MaryAnn Harris, for a great chat and some lively gossip. Musical opportunities on this excursion included an hour of solitary fiddling on the banks of Walden Pond and a chance to jam with Charles and MaryAnn in a pub just outside the Glebe in Ottawa, as well as an opportunity to hear Irish/Nova Scotian duo Evans & Doherty perform to a packed house in the Byward Market.

Enough of these notes from the road; our update last week was slightly abbreviated, so you're probably eager to see what's in store for you now. Here it is!

Afan, from Arizona, has brought together the various Celtic traditions of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Brittany in a delightful mix on Queen of the Rushes/Brenhines y Brwyn, says David Cox. "Afan truly enjoys what they are doing, bringing a little Welsh 'hwyl' (good fun) to the desert."

Norman MacKinnon makes a Western Promise on this Gaelic/English recording. "MacKinnon's voice is the cornerstone," Virginia MacIsaac proclaims. "Lyrics shine through traditional sounds of pipe, fiddle, guitar and piano as they move around and over and under, creating a beautiful body of music."

Runrig introduced its new sound and new singer at a popular Glasgow music festival, and you can hear it all on Live at Celtic Connections 2000. "If this is as close as you're ever going to get to seeing them live, you should definitely start searching," raves Jean Price. "The energy is palpable and you want to dance around your living room since you can't be dancing around the concert hall!"

Star Edwards provides "a lovely collection of music," all performed on nylon and wire-strung Celtic harps, at The Emerald Crossing, Valerie Frankel says. "This soothing collection is perfect for a relaxing night under the stars."

Steeleye Span's classic Now We are Six gets another look by Adolf Goriup, who recalls the "brilliant technique" used by singer Maddy Prior and the groundbreaking fusion of old ballads and new rock.

Great Big Sea is seeking Something Beautiful in its latest release, but the Newfoundland band may be looking in the wrong direction. "Great Big Sea's seventh album offers 13 tracks which are, for the most part, melodic, catchy, polished ... and decidedly mainstream," says Katie De Jong, a new addition to the Rambles ranks. "In other words, it's good. Great even. But it's not Great Big Sea."

Erin O'Bryan "draws you into her world and has you hanging on her every word," Nicky Rossiter says. On Walk with the Saints, he says, "O'Bryan has provided a showcase of her writing and performing talent."

Tom Paxton, Anne Hills and Bob Gibson prove themselves Best of Friends on this 2004 release of a 1985 recording. "With just vocals, guitars, banjo and bass, the talent shines through the years as we realize that good songs well-sung do not need high-end recording and engineering," says Nicky.

Steve Klingaman reaches the Vanishing Point after resurrecting a brand of folk music that sounds, David warns, suspiciously like the "dark age" of 1970s pop. "This is a very disappointing effort," David says.

So Love Breaks All the Rules on Dave Falk's new CD. Joy McKay calls its "a sincere and spirited debut from a talented young performer. ... The overall listening experience is a bit uneven, but Dave Falk should be given lots of credit for taking creative risks and not being hung up on perfection." Congrats, Joy, on review #50!

John Wright supplies a "gently paced and quiet album to relax to on a lazy weekend afternoon" with That's the Way Love Is: A Collection of Love Songs, Andy Jurgis announces. "Wright's combination of roots, country and soul love songs creates an accessible album with potentially wide appeal to different music audiences."

Halley Devestern becomes a Superhero Killer on this "intense juxtaposition of serious tone and catchy music," C. Nathan Coyle forewarns. "Don't pick this out if you're looking for an entertaining sound with amicable lyrics. This is an album with depth that will challenge your perceptions."

Sandra Boynton of greeting-card fame stages Philadelphia Chickens, a benefit CD that casts itself as an imaginary Broadway spectacular for children -- and adults with a touch of whimsy in their souls! "This stuff is fun no matter what your age might be," Tom Knapp promises. "These songs will capture the attention of children, but the lyrics are slyly smart enough that adults will enjoy them, too -- even if the kids demand to hear them over and over and over again. The music also is toe-tappingly good, with melodies that will stick in craws young and old."

The Masters of the Accordion make their sound known on this ARC collection. "Much of the music on this disc is traditional but it stretches the boundaries, particularly in the department of virtuoso technique," says Jennifer Hanson. "Accordion fans will be confirmed in their regard for this instrument, while those who think it's only about polkas will get a shock."

Japanese guitarist Kotaro Oshio demonstrates his skills again on a Dramatic recording of jazz and new age sounds. "His technique is astounding," raves Chet Williamson. "Acoustic guitar aficionados should delight in the wealth of superb playing to be found here."

TerryLee Whetstone explores Kairos: The Past, Present & Future in this recording that reflects his poetry with the Native American flute. "It is as if the music just flows right out of his heart," says Karen Elkins. "His ability to command and manipulate mood and message is mystical, magical, and downright uncanny!"

The music is great on Electro Bamako, by Mamani Keita and Marc Minelli, but unfortunately, says Karen, "the singing makes me want to cry."

Un Solo Pueblo takes David to Venezuela. "The momentum never stops from start to finish," he reports. "With this group, the question is not whether you can dance to their music, it is whether you can stop dancing to it."

Patrick Ryan resurrects the tales that inspired the world's most enduring literature in Shakespeare's Storybook. "Whether or not you enjoy reading Shakespeare, anyone who likes a good folktale will enjoy Ryan's efforts here," Tom says. "As Shakespeare well knew, a good story deserves to be told and retold, and this book -- like Shakespeare's plays -- deserves to be read and read again."

Thomas Bulfinch's Mythology -- the first part of which was published in 1855 -- is an enduring collection of the world's great stories. Jean, in reading the Edmund Fuller abridged version, says the volume "contains the essence of the myths described within. This is an amazing book that is essential for anyone who reads, as these myths are still often alluded to in modern literature, as well as older writings."

Hamish Haswell-Smith is pretty darned thorough in The Scottish Islands: A Comprehensive Guide to Every Scottish Island, which Andy Jurgis calls "an endlessly fascinating book full of interest and surprises on every page." So why was the Isle of Skye, among others, left out of this book? Read Andy's review for the reason!

Celia Rees sets sail with Pirates! in this 18th-century adventure for young adults. "With a title like Pirates! one might expect a book packed with nonstop sailing, swordfights and well-swashled buckles," says Tom. "But Celia Rees is too canny a writer to do the obvious. Pirates! has action a-plenty, but this young-adult novel is thoughtful, well-paced and much more realistic than your average rum-soaked yarn of parrots, peglegs and keel-haulin' on the Seven Seas."

Herbie Brennan supplies lots of hilarity in Fairy Nuff: A Tale of Bluebell Wood, Kate Danemark says. "Definitely read this book out loud, as some of the funniest parts come across only when you hear the words pronounced," she says. "In fact, some of the jokes are subtle or require a knowledge of history, and therefore are actually funnier to the grown-ups."

Poppy Z. Brite strays away from her former mainstay ("sexy horror") with Liquor. Beth Derochea calls it "an excellent step forward along Brite's literary path. I hope she continues to tell the stories that she wants to tell."

Lian Hearn continues the Tales of the Otori in Grass for His Pillow. "Hearn's writing is lush and lovely, full of specific details, each of which enhances the tale," Donna Scanlon reports. "There is suspense and depth in the tale, which a cast of thoroughly delineated characters portrays."

Debra Tash strives to Challenge the Wind in this historical novel set during the American Revolution. "Tash brings the complex Revolutionary times to life and fills a believable story with characters the reader will care about," says Ron Bierman. "Challenge the Wind is interesting, entertaining and recommended."

Gillian Bradshaw admires The Wrong Reflection in a departure from her usual focus on historical fiction. David Roy says she "succeeds brilliantly" with this science-fiction thriller. "She creates vivid characters and ties them into a tight thriller that keeps you turning pages as you wonder what's happening," he says.

Katherine Kurtz is In the King's Service in a novel that fleshes out the history of the Deryni. "In the King's Service is a subtle novel, relying on well-written characters and intrigue," says Paul de Bruijn. "That is not to say there is not action, but it stems out of the politics of nations and kings."

Loren L. Coleman continues the Battletech/MechWarrior storyline in A Call to Arms. "Coleman does a brilliant job of creating credible battle scenes," says Karen. "You will feel as if you are there."

Gabrielle Bell gets graphic with When I'm Old & Other Stories, a comic collection Sarah Meador warns is not "an innocent assembly of heartwarming stories." The stories, Sarah says, "soon take a turn into the absurdist and surreal."

Marvel's top mutant team, the X-Men, get sterling treatment in the classic God Loves, Man Kills. "From an entertainment standpoint, this is a dream project," says Mark Allen. "Chris Claremont, known for a long and creatively fruitful relationship with Marvel's premier mutants, pens a highly emotional tale that defines the characters to this day -- while providing nail-biting action and suspense."

Janine Kauffman takes flight with Winged Migration. "It's a pretty straightforward documentary with some jaw-dropping acrobatics and some visual images of birds, simple and exotic, winging their way north, then south again, in migrations that span hundreds, if not thousands, of miles," she says. "Even at its most repetitive, it's an astonishing sight."

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!

25 April 2004

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times,
always with the same person.
- Mignon McLaughlin

We're back! (Only slightly late!! And a little bit shorter than usual....)

Cathie Ryan is Somewhere Along the Road with this recording of original and traditional songs. "You are in for a rare treat," Nicky Rossiter promises. "This is a beautiful collection, sung with immense feeling and intensity."

Anne Buckley, formerly of Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames fame, proves herself to be The Celtic Goddess on her debut recording. "I am not, in general, fond of a soprano voice," Jenny Ivor admits, "but Buckley has won me over! She has a delightfully clear voice, which is shown off to every advantage with this eclectic collection of tunes."

The Best of Celtic Woman is available on one disc, says Dave Townsend. He calls the disc "a good collection of songs sung by some beautiful voices and is a good choice for those who enjoy the softer side of Celtic music."

Charlotte Greig's voice is a little unsettling on Winter Woods, says Virginia MacIsaac. "Her voice is like the conscience you've partially tamed, tied up in old rags and threw out of sight under the stairs," she says. "She's got a very mood-inspiring voice and if you like your folk music edgy and intense, or need something to keep you awake in the small hours of the night as you tinker away, she'd be great company."

The Rankin Family's Collection has a lot to offer, Jean Price says. "If you have most of their recordings already, though, you probably don't need it."

Twinflame's Peaceful Warriors is a hit with Andy Jurgis, who enjoys the mild folk sentiments, modern Celtic sound and especially singer Rebecca Hilton's voice. Still, Andy says, he wishes they took a firmer stand with their lyrics. "I do feel they are sometimes too spiritually vague and lack any political bite."

Andrew Hardin offers up the cream of his crop on The Best of Andrew Hardin. "The mix is about as perfect as you can get it, and the tones are pure and clear and true," says Donna Scanlon. "There are no human vocals; the guitars sing it all."

Ian & Sylvia "are the epitome of what folk music was in the 1960s and what it should be today," Nicky says, and The Complete Vanguard Studio Recordings are an excellent way to make their acquaintance. "Here on four CDs you get seven albums of top-quality writing, playing and performing that will not be equalled," he says.

Railroad Earth keeps a Bird in a House for this CD. "It's pretty much a given that if a group of creatively talented musicians are put into a room together and given a chance to jam, magic will happen," says Sheree Morrow. "Such is the story of Railroad Earth. ... The group discovered a fellowship that could not be ignored and resulted in some of the best bluegrass music I've been privileged to hear in years."

Cellar Funk shifts from smooth jazz to jazz-inflected dance music on Down to the Bone. "If you are a jazz purist opposing to sampling, don't touch this one," warns Dave Howell.

Sivan Perwer's self-titled CD "is a window into another culture, and all you have to do is listen," says Paul de Bruijn. Read his review for more detail on this Kurdish music "that speaks of the desert and the wild."

On Lullabies from Jerusalem, Hanna Yaffe collects soothing music from diverse sources "to emphasize the multiculturalism and diversity" of that city, Valerie Frankel reveals. "While the sweet, soothing songs lull children to sleep in a multitude of languages, they also reflect the culture of Jerusalem and the city's troubled past."

David Newman's soundtrack to The Cat in the Hat "perfectly parallels the playful (in adult terms) tone of the movie," says Lynne Remick. "But do we really need any more evidence that an impostor cat has jumped right out of the pages of Dr. Seuss's acclaimed children's book and landed at our doorstep with his foul mouth and lewd expressions/gestures?"

Carol Stober supplies a collection of Love Songs for Autoharp. "Every addition to the can of published song and music books is to be heartily welcomed, and this one is particularly apt," Nicky says. "The author ... is an accomplished instrumentalist, and her repertoire spans many genres from bluegrass to gospel and traditional."

Jeremiah Curtin's Irish Fairy Tales were published in this collection in 1993, but the folklorist enthusiast gathered them more than a century ago. "The 30 stories in this book were gathered during Curtin's travels in Ireland," Karen Elkins explains. "These stories are of an ideal length for reading aloud and they will delight groups of all ages."

Devdutt Pattanaik explores Indian Mythology: Tales, Symbols & Rituals from the Heart of the Subcontinent in this satisfying book reviewed by Karen. "I cannot praise this book highly enough," she says. "Pattanaik is a gifted teacher and writer. He has a knack for wading right through the obscure and transforming it into something concrete."

Vandana Shiva discusses Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature & Knowledge in this "hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is, point-the-finger" kind of book, says Karen. "She starts off strong and does not waste space casually leading up to her point."

Wendy Cincotta takes us along on Christopher's Adventures in Evergreen. "From my perspective as a veteran elementary school teacher, I predict that kids will like the wacky conversations and situations in this book," says Jean Marchand. "Try this book on a fourth- or fifth-grader with a sense of humor and a good vocabulary."

Ezra Scott's Angel Up My Sleeve is rife with potential, Ann Flynt proclaims. "However, I am unable to find an audience for whom I would recommend this book," she says. "This book is colorful, mystical, but clearly not magical. It did not cast a spell over me, and for the average fantasy reader, it is ultimately, a disappointment."

Just Say Hello to Jupiter for Boris Bouquerel. But, says C. Nathan Coyle, "while Bouquerel has an enjoyable voice in his writing and an attention to detail, the remaining elements of Say Hello to Jupiter range from mediocre to weak."

Bernardo Atxaga reveals The Lone Man in a literary thriller from Spain's turbulent Basque country. "This novel is set in one specific time, yet this story is one that could take place anytime, anywhere," says David Cox. "The elements of a great novel -- riveting plot, intimate character exploration, almost visible setting and life's great themes, all inhabit this fine novel in abundance."

J. Elizabeth Harris shines A Light in the Window in this novel that flashes back to the 1960s. Unfortunately, Jean Lewis reports, she found "the writing to be distractingly adverbial in tone and cliched in form ... and the see-saw flashback of the narrative made it hard for me to get too involved in the first place."

Tom Knapp is less happy with X, the 10th volume from Love & Rockets. "X has its place in the series, no doubt, but it's one of the low points along the way," he says. This book, Tom says, "is only for the L&R completist."

Miles O'Dometer casts his Secret Ballot for a film about election day in Iran. "It's about 'we the people,' in all our frustrating glory -- possibly the first piece of political cinema to work from the bottom up and strike gold without ever trying to reach the top," Miles says.

That's all for another day here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back soon -- new reviews are posted each week. Cheers!