10 March 2007 to 28 April 2007

28 April 2007

When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before.
- Mae West

The redesign on review pages has been received with an overwhelmingly positive roar, so look to see reviews gradually appearing with the new layout and color scheme. Meanwhile, early summer sunshine has been replaced with early spring rain, and my wife clumsily fell down in the middle of the street. (Lady, if you're reading this, thanks for stopping your car!)

Emily Smith is looking for A Different Life in music. "The first thing that grabs you with this album is Emily Smith's exquisite voice," Mike Wilson says. "Emily sings with fresh, lilting tones that are the perfect complement to both the faster rhythmic material and the slower, emotive ballads. Her voice combines the poise of Cara Dillon with the warmth and earnestness of Kate Rusby -- all wrapped up in her delightful Scottish accent."

Jed Marum serves up a pint of Lone Star Stout from Ireland by way of Texas. "One must clear the mind when approaching an album like this because we all have versions of these songs swirling in our minds by particular performers with distinctive arrangements," Nicky Rossiter says. "Marum strips them back to voice and guitar, and to some they may sound unusual or even strange, having listened to lush accompaniments in the past."

Kris Delmhorst carries on a Strange Conversation. "As a general principle, the notion of an album made up of poems set to music chills the hearts of sensible people. It's not that no poems have ever been set successfully to music, it's just that it happens so rarely that it's easy to overlook the infrequent occasion when something worthwhile emerges from the effort. I point that out to explain why, when I first put Kris Delmhorst's Strange Conversation on the player, I was confident that I would not like it," Jerome Clark says. "Sometimes it is good to be wrong, and this proved to be such an occasion."

Valorie Miller shines her Folk Star on a recording all her own. "We hear and read reams about the recording techniques and studio time of the superstars of modern music. Miller shows us that with talent all that technology is just window dressing and media fodder," Nicky Rossiter says. "Apparently she recorded this album in her singlewide trailer, with some tracks sung as she soaked in the bathtub. How relaxed can you get?"

Kristi Rae focuses on hardship on Things We Had to Let Go. "There's a gentle sadness in both her voice and her material," reports Michael Scott Cain. "Her voice fits the material nicely, which is both a strength and a weakness -- because if there is a single quality that Things We Had to Let Go needs, it is variety. Even the few up-tempo songs deal with loneliness and loss, and that creates virtually the only tension in the material."

Brad Davis presents "a charmingly crisp, uncluttered sound" on This World Ain't No Child, Jerome Clark says. "Then, alas, the rub: the songs themselves, or the bulk of them anyway. Everything around them -- voice, harmonies, instruments, mix -- works to positive effect. What follows, however, may not be a problem for at least some potential listeners, but the rest should be warned: Davis's writing on This World Ain't No Child tends to the drearily formulaic, as defined by flavorless country-pop melodies and factory-issue lyrics with all the emotional depth of greeting-card verse."

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith goes Way Back in the blues world. "At 71, Smith has a lot of energy," Dave Howell opines. "The heyday of the Chicago blues may be gone, but Smith proves they still have a lot of life."

The Yellowjackets are in an Altered State with this release of high-grade jazz. "Now in their third decade as a band and one of the most reliable purveyors of quality jazz, the Yellowjackets hold true to form on Altered State, their 22nd album," says William Kates. "It's modern-sounding traditional jazz all the way."

Terrence Brewer answers The Calling on this two-disc set of jazz. "The sound created lies somewhere between a Pat Metheny album and a Stanley Jordan project, with moments of surprising spontaneity and an overall mellow feel," Kevin Shlosberg says. "Why Brewer even bothered to record two albums is beyond me. ... I really don't see why one solid 70-minute album couldn't have been squeezed out of these 17 tracks."

Marilyn Scott claims to be Innocent of Nothing on her 11th CD. "Scott does not have an especially distinctive voice, but it is a clear, well-modulated one quite suited for jazz," Dave Howell says. "The sound is smooth without being bland, easygoing but containing some thoughtful lyrics."

After listening to Ludovico Einaudi's latest CD, "you'd be excused for thinking that 'divenire' means 'to be divine' in Italian," Jennifer Mo enthuses. "It doesn't, but it easily could. Evocative, elegant and beautiful enough to weep over, Divenire ("to become") is music to lose yourself within."

Sara Tavares finds her Balance in this long-overdue U.S. release. "Tavares has a sweet and appealing voice and her music is acoustic guitar-based, with a bounty of delightful rhythms reflecting the multicultural influences that are part of her background," William Kates says. "Tavares is an exciting find and a huge talent, and Balance is a CD well worth seeking out."

Emeline Michel expands on the music of Haiti with Rasin Kreyol. "Haiti is among the poorest nations in the northern hemisphere, and it is in the social and political commentary of the nation where Emeline focuses the subject of her songs," Sherrill Fulghum says. "But she also takes advantage of the vast collection of rhythm and sounds of the Caribbean music in the area."

R. Garcia y Robertson brings it all together in Firebird. "Firebird is an utterly enchanting novel of an eastern Europe that never quite was, a charming blend of fairy tale, myth, fable and history," says Laurie Thayer. "The story is well-paced, carrying the reader from Markovy to Persia to the Steppes and back again as though riding in one of the Tartar air-ships. It is a coming-of-age story set against a vivid backdrop, in which things aren't always what they seem."

Robin Hobb tests a character's destiny in Shaman's Crossing. "Shaman's Crossing is set in a wonderfully detailed world, with well-constructed societies, politics, etc.," Gloria Oliver says. "Robin Hobb's prose is smooth as silk and a delight to read."

Kim Harrison brings us more adventures with the witch Rachel Morgan in The Good, the Bad & the Undead. "The Good, the Bad & the Undead is a good, intense book in a series I'm enjoying to the hilt. Slow at times, the book is still building a world with a fascinating societal makeup and conflicting rules of magic," Tom Knapp says. "Besides, you have to love a book that bases an entire cultural nightmare on tomatoes."

G.P. Hardy III tackles environmental issues in his novel Angels of Wrath. "This novel is undoubtedly a believable story that can attract readers' attention to the environmental problems facing the planet," says Liana Metal. "The story involves social, political and scientific aspects and, though the characters are fictitious, the problems of the planet are very real and up to date."

Jeffrey E. Barlough carries some Strange Cargo is this alternate history that begins with the lack of an Ice Age. "This book is some of the best escapist reading I have ever found. The world described is so different (but not) and so replete with interesting characters, that it becomes a great place to retreat to," says Chris McCallister. "The writing is very detailed, with tremendous development of setting, characters and the interweaving stories. It is truly a fascinating journey to take."

Ken Douglas throws a few twists into the story in Dead Ringer. "There are no dull spots. The plot is quite complex, with many red herrings and blind alleys," Chris says. "But, while most books require some level of suspension of disbelief, this one goes way beyond what logic will allow. ... I would classify this as a 'guilty pleasure' read, as the quality is just not there to call it a good story, but it is fun, exciting and, if you can suspend disbelief far and long enough, it is interesting."

Alan Dean Foster first expanded the Star Wars universe in 1978, when he wrote the first novelized sequel to the blockbuster film, Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Now, Tom Knapp looks back at the novel, as well as a more recent graphic novel version he discovered by Terry Austin and Chris Sprouse. "It's powerfully good storytelling that still stands up nearly 30 years later," Tom says.

Tom Knapp has a close encounter of the Calvin & Hobbes variety while reading Franklin Richards: Lab Brat. "Franklin is no Calvin, for sure, but perhaps he could learn a few things from Calvin's often cerebral, always imaginative approach to the world around him," Tom says. "Instead, writers Chris Eliopoulos and Marc Sumerak plot simple action/reaction stories that never delve beyond the most basic level of surface humor."

The "terribly terrific and tremendously true travels of Simon and Jack" are waiting to be read in The Clouds Above, "a delightful little tale that children and adults alike can enjoy," Tom says. "The Clouds Above is a cute, quick read; although more than 200 pages long, each page has only a single cartoon panel, often with little or no dialogue."

Red Sonja crosses swords with Claw in The Devil's Hands. "When your heroine is a muscular, well-endowed woman in a tiny chainmail bikini, you need a good, solid plot to pull off a story that isn't just, well, cheesecake. Ditto the beefcake, when the hero is a brawny guy in a loincloth," Tom says. "Unfortunately, bringing WildStorm's Claw and Dynamite's Red Sonja together does not equal more than the sum of its parts."

Vampi, a manga riff on Vampirella, launches her own storyline with a Switchblade Kiss. "While Vampi shows off slightly less cleavage than Vampirella does, the book does focus heavily on her tightly thonged butt -- so if you like that sort of thing in your comics, order this one right away," Tom says. "Of course, being manga, Vampi appears just on this side of legal in age."

Mark Allen gets a front-row seat for Batman & the Monster Men by Matt Wagner. "Wagner successfully conveys a sense of terror throughout the story," Mark says. "Proving his versatility, however, he also gives the story a definite crime noir sensitivity, and even includes one laugh-out-loud scene that takes place between Bruce and Alfred in the Bat Cave."

John Carter dabbles in both science and rituals in Sex & Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons. "Carter uses public records, media sources, books, NASA archives, letters and more to recount the life of the enigmatic Parsons," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "The book suffers slightly for the lack of writing quality but, if you can make it past the tedious amount of detail in spots, this is a worthwhile read."

Tom Knapp made a mistake in judgment, and he shares it here to prevent others from doing the same. Do not, he urges, see Date Movie even if you love parodies and think Alyson Hannigan is an absolute goddess. "What was Hannigan thinking?" he asks. "Still best known as Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hannigan was also the best thing going in all three American Pie films and made a solid second splash on TV with How I Met Your Mother. She doesn't need the work, and I have to believe she has a more discerning eye than this would indicate. Perhaps she owed director Aaron Seltzer a favor, or maybe she wanted to knock herself down a few pegs to keep her ego in check. Maybe she thinks her rise to fame was too easy and she feels obligated to pay some dues. Whatever the truth, I hope she's come to her senses and puts her talents and charm to better use in the future."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

21 April 2007

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something;
in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
- Bertrand Russell

Hello! We're trying a bit of a redesign on our review pages and would love to hear what you think! The new design is on display on the Neck review, just two paragraphs down, as well as the Lustbader review down in books. Have a look!

Baby Celtic wants to calm your crying child with Wigglyjigs & Irish Lullabies. "I'll be honest, I approached Wigglyjigs & Irish Lullabies with the niggling fear that the music would be watered down somehow, diluting the music I love so much with 'age appropriate' instruments and arrangements that would leave a true fan shuddering with horror," Tom Knapp says. "Never fear ... the music here is up to par and should please many a discriminating Celtic listener."

Neck is raising rowdy glasses with Here's Mud in Yer Eye. "Here's Mud in Yer Eye is exactly what you'd expect to hear from a band that grew up listening less to the Chieftains and the Dubliners, more to the Pogues and ... well, pretty much just the Pogues," Tom says. "The difference is, while a lot of those bands don't have the chops to pull off that kind of aggressive punk-Celtic slam blast, London-Irish band Neck bloody well does."

Nervous But Excited blends a pair of women, a pair of voices and a pair of acoustic guitars on Once More ... with Feeling. "It's hardly a unique musical mix," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But with Once More ... with Feeling Kate Peterson and Sarah Cleaver, the particular pair of women who make up Nervous But Excited, have produced an album that is rather more than the sum of those parts."

Vance Gilbert is singing 'neath an Unfamiliar Moon. "Vance Gilbert is a gregarious performer who creates an instant and most comfortable rapport with his audience by means of a smart and self-deprecating sense of humor that makes his live shows a thoroughly enjoyable experience," says William Kates. "I'm here to say Gilbert has never sounded better on record than on this, his fifth studio album."

David Emmets' music is about Controlling the Users. "Morbidly lovelorn, the lyrics to each of the short 10 songs speak of lost loves and twisted relationships," Michelle Doyle says. "As a whole, the songs frequently feel directionless and grating and there is a sense that something is missing -- like a channel on the stereo."

Trent Summar & the New Row Mob come close with Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. "The best cuts sound much like live performances. Horseshoes falters only on those occasions when, I gather, somebody reminded somebody that they'd better put down something with a shot at commercial radio play," Jerome Clark says. "Well, the guys have gotta make a living, I suppose, but when they're doing it just because they like it that way, you'll like it that way, too."

James Christian & the Oriskany Strings are warning fans that The Train Don't Run Here Anymore -- but the music, Jerome says, is just fine. "The performances are hardly polished, but they are deeply felt. If homespun music about Mother and Dad, no-longer-running trains, Jesus, the cabin in the hills, broken hearts and the beauty of the mountain landscape appeals to you, here it is," he says. "As for myself, this sort of thing will stop moving me when I, well, stop moving."

Janiva Magness dominates the blues with Do I Move You. "Magness has a sultry voice that's always in perfect pitch," John Lindermuth says. "I don't think I'm alone in predicting the best is yet to come from this artist."

Swingin' Amiss invites everyone for a drink at its Portland Speakeasy. "Speakeasy is a collection of songs with varying styles and sounds," Sherrill Fulghum says. "The members of Swingin' Amiss prefer to concentrate on the song itself and the music as opposed to establishing one particular band sound."

Steve Oliver has a Radiant take on jazz. "Oliver rivals late soul legend James Brown for being the hardest-working musician in the business with more than 200 performances each year," Sherrill says. "Radiant is an appropriately named album, as it radiates Oliver's playing and musical skills and is an album of feel-good jazz."

Paul Avgerinos returns to his Greek ancestry for Phos Hilaron, "a collection of 10 hymns created before Columbus crossed the seas to touch the New World," says Sherrill. "These ancient hymns are combined with modern new age music for a sound that is far from the church."

Sol Hoopii may be the King of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar, but this "Acoustic & Electric" recording might not be the best purchase idea. "It's cool, it's chill. It's an appropriate album from which to learn something new about the development of Hawaiian music throughout the earlier half of the 20th century," says Kevin Shlosberg. "Other than that, though, it's nothing to get too excited about."

Ellen Rawson is back with a tale to make us all jealous -- her report on a recent performance by Loreena McKennitt in Belgium! Be sure to check out her review for all the details!

Alex Archer takes us into the field with monster-hunting archaeologist Annja Creed in Rogue Angel: The Spider Stone. "Archer has given us another great action-adventure story, with aspects of the supernatural, the spiritual and the ethical mixed in," Chris McCallister says. "The writing is smooth, and the pace is fast and furious, with no interruptions of the flow. It is just plain hard to put down!"

Peter Hamilton impresses SF critic Ron Bierman with Judas Unchained. "He's the best author of space opera going, and this is his best novel so far," Ron says. "The saga requires some commitment and concentration. But it is so entertaining and, at times exciting that most readers will be sorry to see it end rather than unhappy with its length."

J.C. Hall excites the imagination with Lady of the Lakes. "Hall has created a vibrant world full of magic, adventure and intrigue," says Gloria Oliver, a newcomer to the hallowed halls of Rambles.NET. "The story is gripping, the characters are interesting and the novel makes for a great ride."

Jim Butcher continues The Dresden Files with his eighth installment, Proven Guilty. "Butcher continue to build on the series to date with the result that this episode is slightly richer than those that came before," says Robert M. Tilendis. "It's a good, absorbing adventure, maybe not a heart-stopper, but certainly a page-turner, full of twists and turns, double-dealings (not always a bad thing) and a rich context built from many areas of folklore and fairy tale."

Eric Van Lustbader treads on Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, with The Testament. "While I was a little worried Lustbader might be trying to jump on the popularity of the religion-puzzle-chase genre that many attribute to Brown, I was eager to read The Testament," Wil Owen says. "And I was not disappointed ... at first."

Jennifer Roberson adds a new chapter to the lives of Tiger and Del in Sword-Maker. "This is a better-than-average segment of a better-than-average fantasy saga," says Chris McCallister. "The bottom line might be that this above-average 464-page book could have been an excellent 350-page book. It is still a good read, if a bit slow and meandering at times."

Faye Kellerman is heading Straight into Darkness with this mystery audionovel set in pre-World War II Germany. "It is difficult to keep track of the characters in this audiobook that offers an abridged version of the novel on five CDs," Dave Howell says. "Stripped of novelistic detail, the story tends to flag at the end. ... Straight into Darkness seems to be more interesting for its background than its plot, so this book might be better read than listened to."

The protagonist of this new book is Half Dead in Marvel's London. "There's a lot of potential here for grand storytelling in a modern horror style. Unfortunately, Half Dead feels rushed, as if the writers had a 250-page story and were told to squeeze it into a 128-page book," Tom Knapp says. "Still, there's plenty here to warrant a second look, if Half Dead continues further. I hope Marvel is willing to give it the chance to develop and grow."

Michael Vance has mixed views on Para. "The characters have a habit of fairly long, emotionless, dialogue when confronted with apparitions and situations that would have left real humans speechless," Michael says. "The reality-based art starts on the high end of excellent and ends a bit sloppy."

This heroine might not be quite as Empowered as her name suggests, but creator Adam Warren still hopes she finds a receptive audience somewhere between mainstream superheroics and costume-shedding manga. "OK, so you probably can tell what audience Warren is aiming for, and since the book is cute and funny and sexy, he'll probably get it. Or at least he should," Tom says. "Why not? Readers looking for a more empowered heroine have plenty of options out there on the shelves. Perhaps it's time one of them did worry a little bit about the kind of message her skin-tight and concealing-nothing costume is sending to her fans, foes and teammates. And, considering her vulnerabilities and her track record against the villains, Empowered certainly is a brave little cheesecake idol."

Got a little infernal lawnwork to do? Well, John Constantine is the Rake at the Gates of Hell, at your service. (groan.) "Constantine is never better than when he's faced by a really tough evil -- although the resolution to this particular problem seems a bit rushed right out of the blue," Tom says. "But that doesn't stop Rake from being a fine, fine read, with Constantine at his roguish best. Couple that with a race riot, a little sacrilege, an ex-girlfriend turning tricks for crack and a far-too-short visit by love-of-John's-life Kit, and you've got a book that keeps the pages turning."

The Wookie has his day in Star Wars: Chewbacca, a special collection celebrating the beloved character's adventures. "None of the short stories in Chewbacca sets the Star Wars universe on its ear," Tom says. "They're small tales, mostly, little incidents in the life of a Wookie from courtship and feud to duel and melee. Some are funny, some serious, some a little sad. All in all, they're kind of sweet."

Michael Mallory examines Marvel: The Characters & Their Universe. "Mallory has put together a respectable history of Marvel Comics, starting farther back than most who retell this particular story, with the inception of Red Circle, then a pulp-fiction magazine publishing company," Mark Allen says. "And, considering the fact that the book chronicles Marvel history up to the 21st century, it can be considered quite comprehensive."

Jen Kopf is ready to play a little Murderball with this team. "It's not maudlin or sappy -- these guys would have recoiled from taking part in anything like that. It's not falsely optimistic or horrific, either," she says. "What Murderball is, unexpectedly, is funny."

The big-screen version of Dune pales in comparison to this made-for-TV adaptation, Chris McCallister says. "I think, for the magnitude and complexity of the story, this is a much better telling than David Lynch's 1984 rendering," Chris explains. "Lynch's version came off as a long, confusing series of nightmare images, with most of the story lost in the shuffle. ... This made-for-television 2000 offering, instead, was able to take the time to introduce and develop the characters and actually tell the tale, to the extent it could be squeezed into 295 minutes."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

14 April 2007

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

There was a young lady named Anne,
Whose grandson was her biggest fan.
    "Happy Birthday," he cried,
    With a smile so wide,
And he chuckled at his cunning plan.

Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick are Straws in the Wind in their first recording together in 14 years. "As you might expect from this legendary duo, you are presented with a highly accomplished recording that shows the same passion and invention that has always been their trademark," Mike Wilson says. "If one needed proof that their legend has not diminished, Straws in the Wind offers just that."

John and Sharon Knowles invite us into their Ferry Cottage for a collection of traditional Scottish and Irish tunes. "The old, traditional tunes are played using predominately the harp and fiddle, with the occasional additional instrument," says Sherrill Fulghum. "It is very much like being transported back to a simpler time. All that is missing is a fire burning in the hearth and perhaps some close friends or family to share in the music -- dancing and pints are optional."

Kelly Flint is ready to Drive All Night for her music, and reviewer Michael Scott Cain sounds ready to drive all night just to hear her sing. "Flint is a strong, aggressive and upfront performer who truly believes in using her voice to bring a song to life," he says. "The arrangements frame her distinctive alto voice beautifully. You'd want to listen even if the songs were bad."

The Sisters Euclid provide a tribute to Neil Young on Run Neil Run. "The Sisters Euclid have created something wonderful here with an entirely instrumental recording," says Paul de Bruijn. "The music carries the songs, and at times almost echoes the words that were written."

Billy Caldwell feels Out of My League with this country/folk offering from Vermont. "Out of My League brings to mind men basking in the blue neon glow of the bar, gathering after their weekly game of hardball, all still clothed in smelly uniforms and dusty sneakers," Kevin Shlosberg says. "We've all heard these tunes many times before -- in one way or another -- and nothing new is offered here. Though (and there's that question I can't help but ask) if you like its flow and it makes you whistle or dance or even smile, then what difference does it make how many times it's been done?"

Oh Susanna, a.k.a. Susanna Ungerleider, caught reviewer Gregg Thurlbeck's ear with a single track on a bluegrass compilation disc. That led him to track down two of the singer's CDs, Sleepy Little Sailor and Oh Susanna. Read Gregg's review of both albums before rushing out to buy her latest release, due to hit stores in May.

Michael Hurwitz & the Aimless Drifters target a Blue Coyote for the blues. "I would be tempted to call Michael Hurwitz a sort of Wyoming answer to Tom Rush, except for the fact that Tom Rush has lived in Wyoming for some while now," Jerome Clark says. "Hurwitz, who is a native, can claim authentic Wyoming roots. His baritone sounds a bit more weathered -- in a good way, let us be clear -- than Rush's, but he has Rush's way of finding the emotional and melodic core of a song."

Kenny Carr has scheduled some jazz and blues for Friday at Five. "It is easy to see why guitarist Carr played with the legendary blues man Ray Charles for more than 10 years," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Kenny has mastered his craft well."

Pieces of a Dream share a little Pillow Talk with jazz fans. "Pieces of a Dream continues the Philadelphia funky jazz style they created 29 years ago," Sherrill says. "Pillow Talk is a mix of high-energy tunes, slow chill-out pieces, instrumentals and songs. The contemporary jazz band shows why it can maintain a signature style while sounding fresh and new after 30 years -- a feat not often repeated in today's musical scene."

Gentle Thunder joins forces with Will Clipman & AmoChip Dabney on Beyond Words, an improvisational new-age recording featuring the dulcimer and Native American flute. "The music is transcendental," Wil Owen says. "You might think it slips in to the background as muzak, but it almost induces you in to a meditative state if you are not careful!"

Tomas Kocko & Orchestr have their sound in Czech for Poplor. "Poplor adds modern recording to the liveliness of folk," Dave Howell says. "Each of the nine tracks is carefully layered. The sound is much smoother than you would probably hear in a live performance, with some of the qualities of electronica. This highlights the beautiful melodies."

Elizabeth Bear is off to New Amsterdam with a vampire detective and an investigating sorceror. "While New Amsterdam has a lot of the ambience of Conan Doyle's stories of Sherlock Holmes, what it reminds me of most is Randall Garrett's stories of Lord D'Arcy," says Robert M. Tilendis. "In that case, we have a universe in which the British Empire has remained under Plantagenet rule, the great political rivalry is with the Kingdom of Poland, and Mechicoe is a British duchy under the rule of a native duke. The murders, however, are similarly arcane and the methods used to solve them equally so, although the emotional tone of Bear's book is rather darker -- what we are pleased to call 'more realistic.'"

Kai Meyer unveils The Stone Light in the second novel from Dark Reflections. "Although one of the more original YA fantasy writers to emerge in the past few years, German author Kai Meyer is proving to be a mixed bag, and only so much can be blamed upon translation," says Jennifer Mo. "Thus far, the Dark Reflections Trilogy has featured startlingly innovative ideas, action galore and everything a fantasy should have -- except decent characterization and emotional resonance."

Mary Rosenblum sets her sights on the far Horizons. "Ahni Huang, the young protagonist of Horizons, manages to fight, navigate and negotiate her way around a point in her life where her cultural and personal landscape appears to rupture and tear," says Conor O'Connor. "Her success in bringing about change, in herself and others, without destroying or cutting free completely from what is of value in tradition, makes for an exhilarating story -- a story that, in the best traditions of genre science fiction, offers good measures of breathlessly paced action, romance and scientific extrapolation and speculation."

Anne Rice took a few risks with her career by writing Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt -- and beat the odds. "You really have to admire Rice's chutzpah," says Laurie Thayer. "There aren't too many writers out there who would take on a project like this, to bring to life the early years of Jesus Christ. But you have to admire her even more for making Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt a readable, even compelling novel."

Tess Gerritsen injects a Body Double into this thrilling murder-mystery. "The story proceeds with more twists and turns than a country road to unravel a complicated plot full of surprises and with a nail-biting conclusion," says John Lindermuth. "Gerritsen writes the kind of thriller that keeps you up at night, both because you're compelled to keep turning pages and because it's bound to give you goose-bumps and make you start at sudden noises."

The Star Wars saga continues with My Brother, My Enemy, the first volume in the new Rebellion line set just after the action of the original movie. "Rob Williams has scripted a brilliant new chapter," Tom Knapp says. "He has a firm grasp on the central characters from the legendary first film, and his new creations fit into the story like old friends. The tale itself is exciting, a page-turner that will only disappoint you when it ends."

John Constantine has nothing but Good Intentions when he saunters into Doglick, W. Va. But this Hellblazer tale takes a dark turn quickly. "Good Intentions is a disturbing read, with no end of unsettling moments," Tom says. "Of course, that tells you the book is working properly, and writer Brian Azzarello and artist Marcelo Frusin should be commended for making my reading experience this evening just a little darker."

Tom takes in a Blockbuster with the Ultimate X-Men, guest-starring Spider-Man, Nick Fury and Daredevil. "It's fast-paced action from the first hail of bullets to the final gunshot, and (writer Brian Michael) Bendis definitely has the varied voices and character traits of these heroes down cold. This book is a pleasure for anyone who enjoys the superhero genre."

Tom is not impressed by The Earth Stealers, a Superman tale from the late 1980s. "Following hard on the heels of John Byrne's revamp of Superman, The Earth Stealers is -- well, it's not very good," Tom says. "Bad villain characterizations and improbable plotlines aside, Byrne seems unable to decide exactly how powerful Superman is in this post-Crisis universe. Consequently, this story is flat and uninteresting, best to avoid by everyone but the most diehard Superman (or Byrne) completists."

The second volume in Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis the Menace, 1953-1954 earns high marks from Michael Vance. "Ketchum was master of the punchline without a set-up, better known as the single-panel cartoon, and Dennis the Menace was his masterpiece," Michael says. "Every Dennis panel is meticulously staged; everything needed to accomplish his punchline is included and nothing more."

Orson Scott Card leads the pack in examining a TV phenomenon in Getting Lost: Survival, Baggage & Starting Over in J.J. Abrams' Lost. "If there is any show on TV that needs a book telling readers what may be going on, it's Lost," says Carole McDonnell. "These 16 essays, which includes Card's introduction exploring what makes a successful TV series, range in style and success."

Stephen Dunford addresses a slice of Irish history with In Humbert's Footsteps: Mayo 1798. "Historical writing is a difficult genre to tackle, laden as it is with a requirement for intensive research, painstaking presentation and the problem of making it all readable and enjoyable," Sean Walsh says. "Dunford has certainly achieved this with Humbert's Footsteps. The end result is a wonderful package, offering us a fascinating glimpse into the past."

K.I. Press presents an interesting brand of poetry in Types of Canadian Women & of Women Who Are or Have Been Connected with Canada, Vol. 2. "Press creates fictional biographies mostly in the form of prose poems. These are accompanied by old-time black-and-white photos of women, the kind labeled as 'instant ancestors' at antique shops," Karen Trimbath explains. "The juxtaposition of the images of these often dour women in their high-necked blouses and poems -- which purport to reveal their secret thoughts and adventures -- create a dissonance that never fails to delight."

Miles O'Dometer is rolling a Lucky Number Slevin with this highly recommended film that's "a weird combination of quirky characters, insanely funny dialogue and plot twists designed to give you back spasms -- but all adding up to some very serious business. ... The ending -- OK, that's a bit of a letdown, Hollywood-style. But the trip there? Confusion has never been this much fun."

Jen Kopf is ready to take a ride on The World's Fastest Indian. "The World's Fastest Indian is about motorcycles, New Zealand, speed and older people pursuing the dreams of youth. And it doesn't matter a bit if not one of those topics interests you," she says. "It's a universal story of one person's willingness to create something amazing, a labor of love."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

7 April 2007

Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.
- Terry Pratchett

Augh! What happened?! It's winter again!

Blackmore's Night lights The Village Lanterne for some serious renaissance folk-pop. "Ritchie Blackmore, better known for his work with Deep Purple and Rainbow, is a masterful composer and musician," Tom Knapp says. "Candice Night, a delicately beautiful maiden in full skirt and bodice, has a voice to make the angels weep; her vocals have certainly matured, adding just a bit of grit and fire, since Under a Violet Moon, the duo's 1999 release."

The Feathermerchants single out the Last Man on Earth for their third CD, which Wil Owen warns takes "another step away from folk-rock" into full-on rock. "The playing is a little tighter, the music a little darker," Wil says. "I like it. I just was not grabbed immediately like I was with the prior CD -- although I am warming up a little more each time I play it."

The Possum Trot Orchestra is moving on the Harbor Road. "Harbor Road is the second album by this outstanding Fort Wayne, Indiana-based four-piece band, a vehicle for the literate (non-collaborative) songwriting of members John Minton and Susie Suraci," Jerome Clark says. "The Possum Trot Orchestra, which defines itself as a modern folk outfit, fashions its personality out of tradition-inspired ideas set in pop and rock structures."

David Bromberg wants you to Try Me One More Time. "Though not a naturally gifted singer, Bromberg is a natural performer, and he uses his voice to remarkable effect," Jerome says. "I have listened to it again and again, and the pleasure only expands. I expect that once you've heard it, you will try Try Me One More Time more than one more time."

Mark Hummel says the blues harp just Ain't Easy No More. "Hummel, like all great harpists, concentrates more on tone than speed. His solos are tuneful and not screechy, bringing out a full, rounded sound to the instrument," Dave Howell says. "If you are looking for some solid blues harmonica playing, it ain't hard to decide on this CD."

Cowboy Jack Clement creates a new music legend on Guess Things Happen That Way. "This CD is magic," says Michelle Doyle. "With 25 listens, I'm still finding something new each time. ... It's a must-have disc in nearly any collection."

Martha Scanlan, once of the Reeltime Travelers, was singing while The West Was Burning. "Her songs feel breathed as much as sung, but never hint at a distracting, self-conscious artiness," Jerome Clark says. "At her most evocative, Scanlan creates a universe out of fleeting shadows and ballad fragments."

Bill Kirchen, sometimes known as the "King of Dieselbilly," is the Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods. "To both fellow musicians and an international assemblage of civilians with ears tuned to roots rock and hard country -- not to mention Western swing, r&b and '50s pop -- he stands as one of the last of the ol' five-and-dimer honkytonk heroes," Jerome says. "Five of the 11 songs are Kirchen originals or co-writes, effectively indistinguishable from the mid-century barroom rave-ups and beery weepers that provided their inspiration. Neither the originals nor his arrangements feel anemically revivalist, however. Like a radiantly natural artist so consumed in his subject that no distinction between him and it is visible or, arguably, conceivable, the music defines itself on its -- his -- own terms."

Joe McBride plays a round of Texas Hold 'Em with a bit of jazz up his sleeve. "As the album title might suggest, each piece has a poker theme," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Fans of David Sanborn, George Benson, Bob James and Four Play will want to add it to their musical collections."

Catherine Duc shares her Visions & Dreams in this relaxing offering. "Duc has molded new age forms and numerous musical styles from around the world -- Middle and Far Eastern, Celtic, Native American, etc. -- with ambient sounds to create some beautiful melodies with flawless perfection," Sherrill Fulghum says.

A Native American celebration of nature awaits in Sacred Ground: A Tribute to Mother Earth, produced by Jim Wilson. "Sacred Ground is a perfect introduction to this fascinating world," Adolf Goriup says. "All in all, Wilson has gathered some brilliant musicians who manage to carry you off."

David Krakauer and Socalled join with Klezmer Madness on Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me. "Krakauer is meshugeh (that's 'crazy' in Yiddish). But he had a great chochmeh (idea) with this CD," Dave Howell says. "Bubbemeises combines the traditional world of klezmer with the modern one of beats and samples. Despite the use of electronics, the music here never loses its roots."

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro stretches back through the years to the Roman Dusk. "Don't be afraid to pick up Roman Dusk even if you've never read a Saint-Germain novel before; no previous knowledge of the series is necessary to thoroughly enjoy this novel," says Laurie Thayer. "History buffs will no doubt find this just as entertaining as vampire fans."

Karen Chance's protagonist is in danger of being Claimed by Shadow in this follow-up novel to Touch the Dark. "Like the previous novel, Claimed by Shadow is a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, a wildly entertaining romp with a strong, likeable heroine," says Laurie. "The story is fast-paced and barely lets up from the word 'go,' lightened with plenty of wry humor and more than a dash of romance."

Robert Love Taylor drops a note or two for Blind Singer Joe's Blues. "Taylor skillfully moves each character toward the epiphanies and the fates that await them," says Michael Scott Cain. "Blind Singer Joe's Blues is the real thing. It's a book that goes deep and continues to send back reverberations."

Liam Jackson evokes a war among angels and demons in Offspring. "Jackson writes well, and this story is action-packed and flows rapidly. The nature of the characters emerges realistically, and the characters are three-dimensional. The story is complex, with many factions involved and hidden agendas," says Chris McCallister. "This is a fast-paced thriller about characters who are very interesting, if not always likeable, centered around the Christian view of the nature of reality."

James Patterson pits bird-people against wolf-people in his audionovel Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment. "I realize there is not much depth to this novel compared to the adult books in the series, but I personally enjoyed it a little more," Wil Owen says. "I wonder, though, is that because of the plot this time around, or because of the narrator?"

The legendary Jack of Fables gets his own collection titled The (Nearly) Great Escape, in which stories are held captive in hopes of a public lapse of memory. "Anyone who enjoys the Fables series will love this," Tom Knapp says. "And since everyone should enjoy Fables, you might as well pick up your copy now."

Tom takes a look at the early years of Emma "White Queen" Frost in Higher Learning, a Marvel Comics digest. "Emma Frost is best known to Marvel Comics readers as the White Queen, a busty telepath, a member of the Hellfire Club, and a frequent bane and occasional ally to the X-Men," Tom explains. "But in the days before her cocky self-assuredness made her a force to be reckoned with, she was a mousy little schoolgirl who was no one's idea of a threat. ... Karl Bollers' richly layered storytelling and Randy Green's solid art make for an attractive package that any comics reader can enjoy."

Tom witnesses once again the The Death of Buffy -- and comes away unsatisfied. "Unfortunately, the story is less than inspired," he says. "One senses the story was written less to tell a vital chapter in the ongoing adventures of the Buffy mythos and more because someone thought there should be a story filling in the gaps from the summer rerun season. Just what was everyone doing while Buffy was rotting away in her casket? Someone wondered, and this book was born."

The plot of the Powers collection Supergroup "may seem at first like the death of just one member of a popular team of superheroes. But the threads of this plot go much deeper," Tom says. "It's dark and sometimes a little bit frantic, but it never stops entertaining."

Tom takes a sideline view for The Doomsday Wars, in which a resurrected hero battles against a resurrected villain, again. "The story boils down to a big slugfest, with JLA heroes sadly ineffective and Superman mostly distracted," he says. "And somehow it all hinges on a bunch of cows that died on Pa Kent's farm when Superman was an unpowered teen."

Michael Vance casts his dreamy eye on volume one of The Dreamland Chronicles. "The storytelling, both through words and pictures, is entertaining and flawless, but it is Scott Sava's art that is unique in comics, and stunning," Michael says. "It is computer-generated, looks almost three-dimensional and is guaranteed to glue the attention of readers of all ages to every page. In fact, the art is so riveting that it initially distracts from the story."

Touré asserts he Never Drank the Kool-Aid in his collection of essays and interviews, and Laurie Thayer is convinced. "When I first read the introduction to this book, I was positive there was no way that I could even finish it because the subjects were so foreign," Laurie says. "But Touré's writing is utterly compelling and I found myself, instead, unable to put it down."

The flags are waving for The Internationale, a short documentary about the power of a song. "The Internationale may get you raising your fist in the air, singing the words (in whichever language you choose) to this 136-year-old international rallying song for socialists, communists, anarchists and who knows what other -ists besides," Kevin Shlosberg warns. "Be careful not to sing too loudly, though; the neighbors may complain."

Jen Kopf says The Ringer is just hopping to be the year's most tasteless flick. "Mix the Farrelly brothers of There's Something About Mary with Johnny Knoxville of television's Jackass fame. Now, as producers and star, give them a film about people with developmental disabilities and the Special Olympics," she says. "It ends up being kind of sweet, mildly humored (with a few Farrelly-touch exceptions) and, most of all, respectful of the Special Olympians who share the screen with Knoxville (and often steal it, too)."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

31 March 2007

Great art is as irrational as great music. It is mad with its own loveliness.
- George Jean Nathan

Fire in the Glen wrapped up its St. Patrick's Month schedule with a rockin' good time at a local library this week. With one busy season past for another year, it's time to rest up our fingers and throats, restring the bows and "regoat" the bodhran before the summer season gets underway. Meanwhile, here's a few CDs, books and movies to keep everyone occupied 'til then.

Druzina could spark an interest in Czech folk music with Tragare. "All the 15 tracks on Tragare are at least based on traditional folk songs," says Dave Howell. "But they have a smooth pop sound, and the two female vocalists often harmonize or trade lead vocals on beautiful melodies. They also use a trendy modern technique, where four of the tracks are snatches of songs that are only 30 or so seconds long."

The fine folks at Putumayo are throwing an Afro-Latin Party to shake us out of our winter doldrums. "Putamayo has a history of putting out a jumbalaya of excellent CDs, with a talented bunch of artists from all over the world," Ann Flynt says. "On Afro-Latin Party the music has the feel of pre-revolution Cuba, where people could dance and sing with just a beaten-up radio and a dusty floor as the dance hall."

Kalle Almlof and Jonny Soling sing from the Ost och Vast of Sweden. "The album features 24 dance tunes like polskas, waltzes and marches, self-crafted or learned from other fiddlers," Adolf Goriup says. "The album is an interesting collection of classic old tunes and new compositions by a pair of brilliant fiddlers."

Annie Gallup is ready to confess to Half of My Crime. "Listening to Annie Gallup is a pleasure if you are someone who enjoys songwriting with imaginative storytelling," Dave Townsend says. "While many people focus on songs about relationships, Annie does a great job giving us a very introspective look about a variety of characters. And her songs range from quirky to sensual."

The Swing States Road Show wants to see a little Housecleaning in Washington, D.C. "A fair warning to Republicans, sensitive moderates and those who believe politics is something best not discussed in polite company: Housecleaning isn't polite," Sarah Meador warns. "This is political music on the attack, with no holds barred and no quarter given. In other words, Housecleaning is vicious, cathartic fun. And it is, if you can avoid being offended, really genuinely funny."

Leerone echoes the sound of Milla Jovovich with Hail to the Queen, Wil Owen says. "Both singers have a lilting quality to their vocals, and the music in their songs tends to sound discordant at first, but there is something about it that draws you in," Wil Owen says. "I could see how this style either turns you off completely or solidly grabs your attention. I don't think there is much middle ground."

Mary Abraham blends folk, rock and country in her EP, The First Five. "If there is one issue I have with this CD, it is that it is short by five to seven songs," Wil says. "Mary knows how to sing a catchy tune. She will undoubtedly make most listeners fans rather quickly. Unfortunately, at less than 19 minutes, this EP is simply way too short."

Johnny Bush makes a welcome return to music on Kashmere Gardens Mud. "While often adventurous, the sound is still never less than confidently rooted and emotionally authentic," Jerome Clark says. "Wherever the recording goes, it remains, somehow, Texas country, which means that as often as not swing and shuffle are part of the bargain. A singer of rare power, Bush tells his tales of heartbreak, alcohol, loss, betrayal, faith and hope in an honest, endearing, worldly-wise baritone."

The Hacienda Brothers have made reviewer Jerome smile. "What's Wrong with Right, "an almost absurdly enjoyable album, does nothing wrong and everything right," he says. Read his review for more detail on "the album's many pleasures, large and small."

Orpheus Supertones packed Bound to Have a Little Fun with "21 foot-tapping tunes with roots firmly in the hills of Pennsylvania, specifically the Appalachian 'old-timer' style of fiddling," says Jenny Ivor. "This is a fine collection of traditional songs, lovingly collated and expertly played."

Sonny Landreth is playing live on Grant Street, and anyone who likes blues guitar should hurry in for the show. "Landreth's studio work has always been impeccable and he has a great track record as a songwriter, but it is in live performance that the sheer mastery of his guitar becomes evident," says William Kates. "It doesn't get any better than this."

Bruce A. Henry makes his Connections as a composer, lyricist and singer. "He's working with some of the best musicians from the land of Lakes, Minnesota, interpreting self-crafted songs as well as compositions from some of the most important jazz composers of all time," says Adolf Goriup. "Henry is a wonderful singer and with the help of these first-class musicians he has produced a great album."

Castles in Spain are at it Again, but the album doesn't live up to its ambient hype. "Again is just workmanlike rock music, on the softer side," Dave Howell says. "There is very little of the Middle East influence that the band's name and the CD's Moorish design cover promise."

Michelle Doyle was lucky enough to catch Solas in concert in Portland, Maine, last month. Here's her report on the band's exciting performance!

Jeanne Treat draws a dim comparison to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series with her novel, Dark Birthright. "Treat has inserted randomly 'wee' and 'ye' and the occasional 'bairn' in place of authentic research, leading to a tone more akin to modern romance than historic fiction," says Katie Knapp. "Whereas Gabaldon exceeds her reader's hopes again and again, Treat has created a flat world of repeating characters lacking definition."

Tate Hallaway (a.k.a. Lyda Morehouse ) is looking for a man who's Tall, Dark & Dead for her novel of witches, vampires and the love that comes between them. Tom Knapp has some problems with the story, including Hallaway's portrayal of pagan witchcraft, the Catholic Church and protagonist Garnet Lacey's fickle heart. "Problems aside, I enjoyed Tall, Dark & Dead much more than I expected," he says. "Even the problems mentioned above were amusing in a good-natured but exasperating kind of way."

Kristopher Reisz is Tripping to Somewhere -- but Michael Scott Cain he gets where he wanted to go. "To my mind, what Reisz seems to be trying to do is ground a fantasy in a heavy dose of mundane reality," he says. "I'm afraid that grounding grounds his imagination as well. Tripping to Somewhere never quite soars the way the author wants it to."

Hilari Bell continues the Farsala saga with Forging the Sword. "Sword and sorcery fans beware: Hilari Bell's ambitious young-adult fantasy trilogy doesn't contain any of the flashy magic, slick heroism or over-the-top villainy usually associated with the genre," says Jennifer Mo. "Ignore the cover art. The Farsala Trilogy has no shortage of swords or sorcery, but neither proves capable of singlehandedly solving problems in a world in which there are no moral certainties. This is epic fantasy on a human level."

Ria Dimitra unveils The Visconti Devils to her fans. "The Visconti Devils is a romance novel with a hint of mystery and a paranormal twist," says Laurie Thayer. "The story is well-paced, and not predictable unless you're paying strict attention."

Tim Green is off to Kingdom Come with this audionovel. "Like his previous novel, Exact Revenge, this novel is full of despicable characters you would hate to run across in real life," Wil Owen says. "Unlike the prior book, however, the main character in Kingdom Come is not a likable character in any respect and you will not root for him as he gets closer to his goal of attaining the wealth and power he and his wife so desperately covet."

The Star Wars universe was an exciting place to be "long before Jar-Jar Binks and baby Anakin made their annoying entries into the saga," Tom Knapp says. That's why he's particularly interested in Commencement, the first volume of the new Knights of the Old Republic series from Dark Horse. "I certainly hope Dark Horse sends volume 2 of the series along soon! I'm eager to know what happens next." Woohoo! That's Tom's 1700th review!

Tom flies back to the 1940s with Airboy and Valkyrie in this collection of World War II-era comics reprinted by Glenn Danzig and Verotik. "While it's true Valkyrie was coerced from the Nazi cause by the power of Airboy's kiss, their relationship from then on is equal parts ally and adversary," Tom says. "While there's no doubt she gave up her allegiance to Der Fuhrer, Valkyrie certainly retained some darkness in her soul."

Marvel dips into a different well for Ultimate Adventures: One Tin Soldier, with a character pairing remarkably similar to Batman and Robin. "Sure, Batman belongs to the Other Guys, but Marvel got around that by transforming the bat motif into owls," Tom says. "I was prepared to hate this book. The Ultimate line is one of the best things going down on the Marvel side of town, and I hated to see the company dilute its success by bastardizing DC's top product. But writer Ron Zimmerman proved his potential by writing an entertaining, occasionally challenging story without turning it into the wink-and-grin Batman spoof I expected."

Tom doesn't love the D&D aspects of the Elseworlds story League of Justice. "The story is hokey," he says. "By the end, I had to wonder how many plot points were resolved by the roll of a 20-sided die."

How did we go so long without posting a review of Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire? Well, Jen Kopf is here to fill the void. "Our little wizards are growing up -- and their world is turning more threatening by the minute," she says. "Now, though, the Potter film series finally rings true for me. If it's going to threaten not only Harry's life, but the presence of any good in the world, then the menace better be palpable. Now, with Harry and his audience all getting older, better able to face the danger and to do battle, it is."

Miles O'Dometer makes the introductions to Edmond, as created by David Mamet and played by William H. Macy. "You do want to keep watching, in spite of the escalating violence that makes Edmond almost unwatchable," Miles says. "Edmond is an acting tour-de-force for Macy, who does his Fargo best to create a character it's hard to take your eyes off of."

Check back soon, more's on the way! (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

24 March 2007

The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to. As an artist, I feel that we must try many things -- but above all we must dare to fail. You must have the courage to be bad -- to be willing to risk everything to really express it all.
- John Cassavetes

My courageous admission for today: I wish I didn't have to go to work!!

Alaria Taylor has a bit of Unfinished Business with her 2004 release, which reviewer Jenny Ivor calls "a phenomenal collection of songs and display of sheer talent. ... As I listened to the songs, I was reminded sometimes of Thea Gilmore, sometimes of Janis Ian, but Alaria holds her own individuality up high."

Simplicity can be a wonderful thing when it works," Paul de Bruijn says, "and the music in Gabriel James' In the Hands of Fools proves that point. There are only four other musicians whose talents are used on the CD, and they keep the music feeling real."

Arby DeCamp (who is better known by another name) targets a younger audience with Sleep by Numbers: Lullabies for Children of All Ages. "The music ranges from folksy to jazzy to a touch of the blues, depending on the track," Wil Owen says. "The lyrics are generally very simple and repetitive -- all the better to help one drift off, perhaps."

Judith Owen is both Lost & Found with this inspiring selection of music. "The 10 originals are well written and Owen's voice has a nice appealing quality," says William Kates. "The recording and production are first rate and Owen's piano work is so accomplished that some of the songs seem austere at times; all the better perhaps to serve as counterpoint to that effervescent stage persona. ... If you've never seen Judith Owen in concert you can still enjoy Lost & Found for the music it contains, but for those who have, this record makes a whole heck of lot more sense."

J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton are taking The Road to Escondido in new directions. "'Better than it sounds' is the oldest music critic's joke in the language, but it surely applies to The Road to Escondido, whose pleasures wait to be unearthed beneath what an inattentive, initial observation may mistake -- foolishly -- for blandness," says Jerome Clark. "Put the disc on the player a few times, listen better than casually, and the music starts to emerge as richly various, witty and warm, exposing itself as a textured modern blues with rock, folk and jazz accents.

The Infamous Stringdusters are taking the Fork in the Road from Nashville. "The Stringdusters sing and pick their own material, mostly," Jerome says. "There are no bluegrass chestnuts or even -- perhaps a rare enough circumstance to warrant comment -- a Dixie & Tom T. Hall composition, without which virtually no roots-bluegrass outfit leaves the recording studio anymore. Slickly and ably performed, the music boasts as many jazz as trad-bluegrass touches. Perhaps it is meant to be more admired than loved."

The Greencards channel bluegrass -- and other styles, too -- on Viridian. "Depending on your taste, you're almost certain to find something here that pleases you," Jerome says. "But if taste and talent are in abundance all over Viridian, one wishes that such were employed to more consistently wakeful effect. Some of this feels like the musical equivalent of sleepwalking."

Riley Baugus "picks and sings old-timey tunes that bring to mind barn dances and front porch music" on Long Steel Rail, says Barbara Spring. "These ballads run deep in the psyche of people who grew up in country byways or learned some of the traditional songs in school."

Michael Mucklow's music is Clearly a winner for reviewer Jennifer Mo. "I first listened to it on a quiet weekend afternoon at home and was immediately drawn to the wonderfully clear and resonant notes of the acoustic guitar that poured out. I turned the volume up, which is always a good sign, and hit repeat when the CD had finished, which is an even better one," she says. "Whether played quietly or loudly, on good speakers or mediocre ones, these 12 instrumental guitar tracks, united by Mucklow's supple fingerstyle guitar and attention to melody and mood, are easy to like."

Pirritx eta Porrotx, a lively pair of Basque clowns, "continue to break new ground in children's recording with this new CD that centers on the adventures of Mari Motots, a little girl with pigtails they meet playing in a local park," says David Cox. "It is, quite simply, among the very best music available today for children, in any language."

Oscar Reynolds sails on a Rio de Luz (River of Light) for this recording of tranquil South American music. "The tracks are a mix of Reynolds' native Bolivian music with Afro and Flamenco influences," John R. Lindermuth says. "There's an effortless quality to the music that reflects the professionalism of the group."

Charles de Lint has Promises to Keep -- and fortunately for us, one of them involves another Jilly Coppercorn story for Subterranean Press. "Jilly has an incredible, perhaps endless number of layers, and each is fresh and exciting," Tom Knapp says. "Thank you, Charles, for another excursion with Jilly into the fey wonders of the world and the wild places of your imagination."

Ilona Andrews brings her imagination to life with Magic Bites. "Andrews gives us a tough, gutsy heroine as capable with a sword as she is with a spell, but whose personal life is a mess," Laurie Thayer says. "Magic Bites is a perfectly-paced supernatural mystery with bits of dark humor and -- if you'll forgive the pun -- a fair amount of bite."

D.L. Wilson seeks the Unholy Grail in a novel that, some might say, borrows riffs from The Da Vinci Code. "Is Unholy Grail a Da Vinci Code clone?" asks Michael Scott Cain. "Readers will probably have to determine that for themselves. Does the question of its antecedents really matter? No. This book stands up on its own."

Jon Clinch offers a new perspective on an old character with Finn. "Huck's Pap is one of Twain's most interesting, if unlovable, creations; a loathsome, illiterate, unwashed drunk who could probably be smelled 10 miles downwind. Clinch's Pap, the subject of this excellent first novel, is James Finn, the older son and black sheep of an upper-middle-class Southern family," explains Judy Lind. "Clinch has sense enough not to try to out-Twain Twain (only Twain could so brilliantly have caught the inflections of Huck's, Jim's and Pap's speech patterns), but in spare, concise, eloquent prose, he's given us some unforgettable characters that are totally believable."

Rebecca K. Rowe shoots us forward to the year 2110 in Forbidden Cargo, in which scientists have illegally mixed nanotechnology with genetic engineering to create the next step in human evolution. Chris McCallister warns the plot is "potentially confusing," but urges you to read it anyway. "If you are starting to want to flee this world of chaos, please don't, as you would be doing yourself, and the author, a disservice. Despite the strange, dreamlike quality that often reigns in this tale, it is very well written, the pace is just fast enough so you teeter on the edge of wanting to flee, but you never slip over that edge into chaos, and the characters are powerfully written."

Amber Benson and Christopher Golden go from screen to script with Ghosts of Albion: Initiation, a collection of three adventures from the series. "Zombies, necromancers, a quest for a mystical relic and dragons combine for a rousing tale," says Laurie Thayer. "Amber Benson and Christopher Golden are a talented writing team, and bring Victorian demons -- as well as Protectors of Albion -- to vivid life."

Tilly Bagshawe, perhaps, just wants to be Adored. "Readers who like peeking in at the lives of the dysfunctional 'rich and famous' will love this novel. Most of the characters are despicable and sleazy," Wil Owen says. "For those who enjoy audiobooks, the narration makes up for the subject if that is not your typical cup of tea. I honestly do not know how much I would have enjoyed this book if I had been reading it instead of listening to it. My guess, is not anywhere near as much."

Mary Harvey offers high praise for Pyongyang, Guy Delisle's account of his time spent in North Korea. "It is, at one and the same time, a portrait of near complete despair and a warmly humanistic look at a culture that seems to have come from another planet entirely," Mary says. "Pyongyang is as timely as it is important. It's not only a damn good read: in a world of Patriot Acts and uncurbed governmental excess, it may even be a necessary one."

Tom Knapp sees a return to greatness for the Ultimate Fantastic Four with book 5, Crossover. "They think they'll fool you with a ho-hum lead-in about a parallel dimension with a parallel Earth and, apparently, the mainstream Marvel Comics version of the Fantastic Four," Tom says. "Forget that parallel dimension crap. This book is actually about zombies. Not only that, but super-powered zombies, featuring the rotting features of everyone's favorite Marvel heroes. Hooray!"

The Hawks can make for some confusing continuity. "You just have to accept the fact that the dichotomy between Hawkman (a reincarnated Egyptian prince) and Hawkman (an alien police officer) will always be just a little bewildering no matter how many DC writers try to sort it out," Tom says. "But that doesn't mean there's not a good story or two still buried amid the confusion. Case in point, Wings of Fury, in which Hawkwoman (also an alien police officer) attacks Hawkgirl (a reincarnated Egyptian princess) to find out where Hawkman (the alien) has gone, despite claims by Hawkman (the prince) that Hawkman (the alien) is dead."

Tom takes a look at the first two collections from Dark Horse's Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, both written by Andi Watson -- and realizes the series needed a little more time to hit its stride. "Unfortunately, Watson -- who I already know did better work further along in the series -- had not yet hit her stride with these books," he says. "The dialogue fizzles, sounding little like the characters we know and love from TV. Pacing is awkward and plots are dull. And the action scenes, which look so effortless on the TV screen, are uninspired and unexciting."

Chris Turner tackles two decades of animated culture with Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation. "This is a true tome with a scholarly bent," Laurie Thayer says. "But before the word 'scholarly' turns you off, let me add that the language is anything but. By turns entertaining and informative, Planet Simpson is a perfect introduction to the show for the neophyte (like me) and a wonderful companion for the fan who has seen every episode 20 times."

Jen Kopf has seen all the Proof director John Madden has to offer. "David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play ... won a Tony for Mary-Louise Parker as Catherine. In his adaptation of Proof to film, the role's taken over by Gwyneth Paltrow -- and, while she's strong, it makes me wish all the more I'd seen Parker on stage. Because it's hard to forget that this is Gwyneth Paltrow. Not an overwrought, tormented soul, but a luminous muse for the Bard, as in Shakespeare in Love," Jen says. "I should be grateful, though. In a film about mathematical proofs, theories and a bit of physics, luminosity can be welcome for those of us who are math-anxious."

Check back soon, more's on the way! (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

17 March 2007

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- William Butler Yeats

Celebrate your Irish on St. Patrick's Day -- but please, that does not mean drinking green beer or getting all soppy over "Danny Boy" (the words of which were penned by an Englishman, by the way). Hoist a pint of Guinness with your friends and indulge in some Irish music. Wear green, if you must. But, most of all, consider the Irish example and pray for an end to violence caused by religious and political differences.

If you're looking for some music to go along with the celebration, look here. If books and movies are more appealing today, browse this little section. Above all, enjoy yourself and be well.

You are very welcome here. Slainte!

Little Windows makes a little magic with Just Beyond Me. "Little Windows' debut CD of traditional Irish, Appalachian and old-time gospel songs is stunningly beautiful and one of the best recordings I've heard in years," says Erika S. Rabideau. "This is a vocal lover's dream come true."

Avalon Rising is Storming Heaven with the magic of Ireland and the traditional tunes of Scotland and England, Barbara Spring exults. "As I listen to this CD, I imagine leprechauns, green hills and lads and lasses dancing. With Celtic harp, drums, pipes, flutes, fiddles and acoustic guitar, Avalon Rising plays lively traditional jigs and reels."

Neil Young & Crazy Horse were captured Live at the Filmore East in 1970, and now Reprise is letting everyone into the show. "As a historical record of its time, Live at the Filmore East makes for an interesting listen," Mike Wilson says. "As a stand-alone live recording of these notorious and influential musicians, it is an absolute must-have!"

Ronee Blakley's music is rescued from the 1970s, but Jerome Clark isn't thrilled with its new release. "Blakley's singing grates Baezically, and the production is intrusive, bombastic and dated in an irritatingly LA-pop sort of way. Her songs don't seem to be going anywhere," he explains. "The arrangements and melodies are an uneasy, unconvincing, ill-conceived mishmash of folk, gospel, pop and art song."

Fruit of Choice's new Vow "boasts influences ranging from Joni Mitchell to Led Zepplin, with some Segovia on the side," Nicky Rossiter says. "It certainly lives up to that hype with a diverse collection of songs that have an exceptional quality of writing that is underscored by a spare delivery."

Paul Mills, a.k.a. Curly Boy Stubbs, sings from The Other Side of the Glass. "It is a mixture of old and new music, and it is all very good," Paul de Bruijn says. "Mills has crafted a wonderful CD that's marked by passion in the songs."

Eric Bibb is sailing on A Ship Called Love, but he might be charting the wrong course. "To my mind the blues requires a bit of grit. It's a passionate music and the sterility of the recording studio can impair the transmission of that raw feeling," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Such is too often the case here."

The JW-Jones Blues Band is kickin', inexplicable hyphen notwithstanding. "On Kissing in 29 Days, the fourth of the JW-Jones Blues Band's releases (if the first I've heard), the Ottawa-based group pumps up its sound with a fat, swinging horn section, integrating jump blues, r&b, rock 'n' roll, saloon songs and jazz into the mix with deceptive ease," Jerome Clark says. "Along with his playing and singing talents, Jones, who also produces, knows how to work a studio to shake out a vibe which conjures up the deeply pleasant illusion that the very tight yet loose-jointed band you're hearing is live on an especially fine night."

Michael Franks is up for a Rendezvous in Rio for Brazilian jazz-pop. "It's a very tasty album. As expected, many of the 10 songs have the beat of a samba, or a close relative," Ron Bierman says. "It has the delightful, carefree feel of the best of Brazilian pop, and Franks' voice is a perfect match for the mood."

Alaitz eta Maider caught David Cox's attention with Auskalo. "This, the third disc for the duo, brims with optimism, energy and style, a mix of pop, light reggae and Celtic with a Basque folk style called trikitixa," David says. "I highly recommend this CD for anyone interested in finding out about the Basque sound without stepping too far off familiar territory. It's music that will put you in a good mood."

Alex Archer takes us along on a quest with archeologist Annja Creed in Solomon's Jar, book two of the Rogue Angel series. "This is a very good action-adventure novel, with supernatural and religious components," says Chris McCallister. "This is a rousing adventure tale, with a plot full of twists, lots of action and many interesting characters. It was definitely an enjoyable reading experience."

John Crowley looks back with The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines, a novella set in the aftermath of a summer spent at the Indiana Shakespeare Festival. "This is a fascinating, moving story about how one magical summer changed two lives and how a free spirit struggles to remain a free spirit in the aftermath of a life-altering event," Laurie Thayer says.

Steve Aylett has reviewer Laurie a bit befuddled and bemused with Lint. "Lint has got to be one of the oddest books I've read in quite some time," Laurie confesses. "It really has to be read to be believed."

Cheryl Gray is sailing in turbulent waters with Barefootin': A Caribbean Tale of the Paranormal. "While the narrative voice is engaging enough, Barefootin' never really succeeds at being either a mystery or a paranormal adventure," says Laurie. "I'm afraid I'd have to recommend giving it a miss."

Chris Bunch isn't at the top of his game with The Double-Cross Program, the third novel featuring Star Risk Ltd. "Go ahead and read it to keep up with what is happening in the series and make your own judgment," says Jenny Ivor. "My lukewarm response won't prevent me seeking out and reading the fourth adventure, which I hope is imbued with a bit more personality and a tad less war on a major scale."

Jennifer Roberson continues the saga of Del and the Tiger in Sword-Singer. "Roberson writes quite well, but I think readers might be lost if they do not read Sword-Dancer before Sword-Singer, as most of the character development takes place in the first book," Chris McCallister says. "There is a lot of action and drama in Sword-Singer, once it gets warmed up. I definitely plan to continue reading the series, with Sword-Maker next on the list."

Tom Knapp reconnects with The American Way, 1960s-style, in a graphic novel that isn't exactly what it first seems to be. "The American Way is a tense, gripping story set in a volatile time," he says. "Following in the gilded footsteps of Alan Moore's classic The Watchmen, writer John Ridley gives us heroes who suffer the same failings and bigotries as the 'normal' people around them. ... Destined to be a classic, The American Way is an exciting, sometimes heartbreaking tale."

Tom was never fond of New Coke, and he doesn't care for the new Catwoman in The Replacements, either. "With a baby on the way, Selina decides it's time to give up her roof-hopping and crook-kicking ways, and she passes the costume and whip on to an unlikely successor: Holly, former-prostitute-turned-lesbian sidekick," he explains. "But New Coke never satisfied the thirst like Classic Coke does, and Holly as Catwoman is equally unsatisfying. She lacks both skill and motivation, and it appears her future must involve either an unrealistic upgrade in abilities or her constant use as a foil to bring Selina back into action and save her."

Tom looks both to the future and the past surrounding the popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Fray, a miniseries written by Joss Whedon about a successor to the role, and Tales of the Slayers, a collection of stories about those who came before her. Read about both books right here!

Tom watches the Ultimate War between the Ultimates and the Ultimate X-Men from the sidelines. "Unfortunately, the story has its problems, particularly when key battles -- Iron Man vs. Colossus, Thor vs. Storm -- are left unresolved for no good purpose," Tom says. "Important combat scenes are brief, although the short match between Wolverine and Captain America takes a surprising turn."

Gregg Winkler has a few problems with Underlords. "Underlords (written by Rick Beckley and illustrated by Abdul Rashid) is a conglomeration of science fiction, fantasy and the superhero genres," he says. "Unfortunately, this particular graphic novel sets the bar pretty low."

J. Randy Taraborrelli explores the life of Liz Taylor with Elizabeth. "Elizabeth, the person, has lived a fascinating life. It is interesting to think that she feels she never had a childhood, yet it took her more than 50 years to grow up," Wil Owen says. "Elizabeth, the book, is filled with details that the audiobook jacket claims avoid the tabloid versions of her life. ... I felt I was listening to a long book report."

Rick Wren makes his Rambles.NET debut with some TV Heroes. "The art direction makes the viewer feel the comic setting, the stories are so full of twists that one never knows what's coming next but one is always sure that there is going to be a good-versus-evil struggle and that those forces are destined to meet," he says. "For the first time in years, I'm willing to watch network television and suffer through the commercials just to see an episode when it first airs."

Judy Lind scares up some Big Trouble in Little China. "For nonstop action and slambang entertainment, you can't beat this movie," she proclaims. "From beginning to end, it's a pure funride, exploding on the screen like a Chinese firecracker. There's no way any of it could happen in this world, and probably not in the next, but it's so much fun we just suspend belief and go along for the ride. And what a ride this movie is!"

Check back soon, more's on the way! (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

10 March 2007

Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.
- Dave Barry

Great. Peak season for Irish musicians, and I've got the sniffles. Is life fair? No. No, it's not.

Nic Jones' heyday is recalled in Game Set Match. "This album owes its existence to the recovery of fans' tapings of various Nic Jones concerts from the late 1970s," Jerome Clark says. "This is a brilliant and thrilling recording, one of those rare albums one expects to return to again and again over the years and to hear something new and surprising each time. The very fact that we have it at all is a miracle in itself, and an occasion for real gratitude. Pass it by at your loss."

Steve Wildey "is an accomplished guitarist and composer," Nicky Rossiter says. "Ranging over 14 tracks on Along the Way, he displays his undoubted talent for playing. This is a tour de force of the guitar in all its moods."

Jean Ritchie and Paul Clayton are recollected on American Folk Tales & Songs, a Tradition release from 1956 that's been brought back by Empire Musicwerks for a modern audience. "Separately or together, Ritchie and Clayton, with simple guitar accompaniment, wrap their voices around old-time tunes that would become revival staples for a short time a few years later before sinking back into obscurity and neglect," Jerome Clark says. "What's not to like?"

Angela McKenzie rates a Nine for her music. "McKenzie has a voice ideally suited to the material presented here," Nicky Rossiter says. "Listening to Nine makes you long for a live performance."

Linda Draper just doesn't give enough of herself on Traces Of. "Simple, unadorned folk-style arrangements showcase Draper's voice, which is sometimes breathy and little-girlish, sometimes delicate and pure," says Laurie Thayer. "My only complaint about this CD is that it's just too darned short!"

Beth Amsel won over reviewer Dave Townsend with The Reverie. "Beth's musical influences include a wide range of artists ranging from Led Zeppelin to Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt to Fleetwood Mac," he says. "Her music is a very pleasing blend of folk, country, blues and pop. Beth combines a very beautiful voice with some excellent songwriting talents."

Jim Smoak & the L.A. Honeydrippers are up next with Carolina Boy. "The man knows his stuff, and he carries that knowledge with a charming ease and naturalness," Jerome Clark says of Smoak. "I don't see how any musician could fail to envy it or any listener resist it."

Wilton Felder "deserves a fair amount of credit, or blame, for soft jazz," says Ron Bierman. "So I was curious to hear what Felder would do in a contemporary setting. Would his gutsier roots add some substance to soft jazz or would he disappear in bland, syrupy clouds of soporific fluff?" Let's Spend Some Time was the proving ground, and Ron has this to say: "Wilton is still Wilton. The man can swing and has an authentic bluesy sound that raises Let's Spend Some Time above most efforts of the softer persuasion."

Grayson Capps is ready to Wail & Ride on his second solo blues outing. "Capps's own material is -- one infers -- at least partially autobiographical, but it's too literate and witty to be irritatingly introspective," Jerome Clark says, "and Capps is a keen observer, not a tiresome narcissist, who is as drawn to the social as to the personal."

Erramun Martikorena exposes the French side of Basque music on Elorrietan Loreak. "The songs are a mix of topics, hymns to the beauty of nature, songs of loss, songs of hope," says David Cox. "This is a nice introduction to some of the best folk songs of the French Basque region, presented by a fine singer."

Hesperus dips into history for Neo-Medieval: Medieval Improvisations for a Postmodern Age. "The title ... may well divide would-be listeners into two camps: those immediately intrigued by the name and its implications about historicity and intellectualism and what 'neo-medieval' might be, and those who find the whole idea pretentious, fussily academic and pointless," says Jennifer Mo. "Perhaps surprisingly, then, Neo-Medieval is over an hour of lively and enjoyable instrumental music -- paired with intellectual yet intelligible liner notes for those interested in its more theoretical aspects."

Bantu and Ayuba collaborate on Fuji Satisfaction: Soundclash in Lagos. "'Fuji,' for those who have not been following the club scenes in Germany or Nigeria, is an AfroPean fusion style blending Western hip hop with traditional African -- specifically Yoruba -- rhythms, and also sharing influences from the Islamic traditions of sub-Saharan Africa," Robert Tilendis explains. "This is a refreshing collection, and well worth a listen, although I'm not too sure at this point about its staying power."

Cory Doctorow triggers a wave of science-fiction nostalgia for reviewer Gregg Thurlbeck -- who "knew him when..." -- with Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present. "Overclocked is a very good book by a vibrant young author obviously enjoying himself in his fiction," Gregg says.

C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp awaken a Touch of Evil in a world populated by vampires, werewolves and zombies -- that are different from the ones we know and love. "However, I had trouble finding a character here I liked or even found realistic," Chris McCallister says. "Most characters come off as extreme examples of their various types, instead of three-dimensional people who happen to have supernatural aspects."

Carlton Mellick III is adrift in the Sea of the Patchwork Cats, a 106-page novella in which nearly everyone in the whole world dies. "This is one of the strangest stories that I have ever read," Chris says. "It flows rapidly and well, especially as its 106 pages are divided into almost 100 chapters. I am not sure I can say I enjoyed this book, but I did find it extremely interesting and hard to put down, and I expect I will never forget it."

Kim Harrison adds a Dead Witch Walking to the mix of modern supernatural characters on the market. "Harrison takes a few chances with her take on the world, and it works extremely well," Tom Knapp says. "Dead Witch Walking is an entertaining and intriguing debut."

Peter Watts's novel Blindsight "is a first-contact story whereby the narrative hinges on humankind's first encounter with something truly alien," Conor O'Connor reports. "Blindsight is a tremendously entertaining sf novel, encompassing fast, razor-sharp action with thought-provoking characters and situations."

Debra Tash's Masters of the Air "is a 'dynastic epic' historical novel, the story of Michael Ryan and his descendants and the tragedies they build into their lives," Robert Tilendis says. "I did not find it easy to get involved with Ryan. The story starts off slowly and he didn't seem to be terribly involved himself. The book does wake up, but it takes a while. And it wasn't until a good third of the way through that I really started caring one way or the other."

Tom Knapp approaches Superman & Batman vs. Aliens & Predator with a mixture of high hopes and trepidation. "But it was not to be," he says. "This is a weak, weak story by a writer, Mark Schultz, who should know better. Art by Ariel Olivetti is better, but his characters seem oddly stiff and out of joint. All in all, and with regret, I'd call this money wasted."

Tom visits the London Underground with Mike Carey and Glenn Fabry in a comic-book adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. "Carey successfully boiled the novel down to its most necessary elements, retaining the flavor and flow of the story with far fewer pages to work with," Tom says. "A lot has been lost, sure, but he's retained the essence of Gaiman's narrative."

Tom is all keyed in to Survival in volume 3 of Girls. "This is certainly a quirky book, beginning with the basic plot in which a host of egg-laying naked ladies are sacking a small American town -- to say nothing of their 'mothership,' if that term even applies, which looks like nothing so much as a giant glowing sperm," he says. "But, while that sentence might convince many potential readers to avoid Girls like the plague, it's not at all hokey or crude. This is fine storytelling, suspenseful and dramatic, bolstered by excellent, imaginative art."

Next, Tom witnesses The End of the X-Men in this three-part story from Chris Claremont and Sean Chen. "With The End, an occasional series of spotlight storylines, Marvel writers get the chance to bring about a dramatic conclusion for their favorite characters in an outside-of-continuity, 'What If?' style," Tom says. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. For the X-Men, who extended their final chapter into a triple miniseries extravaganza that was packed into three separate graphic-novel collections, the result is a mixed bag of good, bad and ugly."

Gregg Winkler is ready to Cry Wolf for this book by Doug Crill and Daniel J. Frey. "Cry Wolf is an amalgamation of horror-genre werewolves and noir detective novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep," he says. "I guess when it's all said and done, I liked Cry Wolf, but I don't think it's going to win a lot of awards. It does, however, show the work of two gentlemen who I believe will produce better work in the future, and I'd be very interested in seeing what things they have in store."

Jen Kopf spends her holidays with Sarah Jessica Parker and The Family Stone. "It all seems to be in the service of a tidily wrapped present of a plot, all loose ends perfectly paired by the end. And the way the chaos of the Stones resolves into that neat package will have you wondering if everyone's failures in love resolve that way, without rancor or shouting matches or grudges," Jen says. "Only in the movies."

Meanwhile, Miles O'Dometer finds himself -- and writer-director Chris Paine -- wondering Who Killed the Electric Car? "Part of his problem, of course, is that most people didn't even know there was an electric car, much less that it had met an allegedly untimely end," Miles says. "This is a fascinating look at a piece of history that's been kept from our eyes for too long as it is. I'm sold."

Check back soon, more's on the way! (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)