7 July 2007 to 1 September 2007

1 September 2007

Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
- Hermann Goering

No time for clever banter! I'm off to get my hairs cut.

Karla K. Morton and Howard Baer join forces to supply both the words and music of a Scottish epic poem. "The story, titled Wee Cowrin' Timorous Beastie, draws its name from the Bard of Scotland himself, Robert Burns, and this original poem of a Scottish pirate and his lady love smacks of ancient gatherings and stories told over a tankard of ale and a groaning table," Tom Knapp says. "So build up the fire on a cold or stormy night, wrap the children in a blanket and your fingers around a mug, and listen to the lyrical lilt of Karla's voice as she creates magic in sound."

Anwyn and George Leverett push the harp to the forefront on Altar Wind. "The wire- and gut-strung harps on Anwyn and George Leverett's fourth recording Altar Wind sing out with an unusual clarity and strength," says Jennifer Mo. "As they should: harpist and harp-maker George Leverett seems to possess a special empathy with his handcrafted instruments."

Nerissa and Katryna Nields promote recycling (of music) on Sister Holler -- a detour from their usual practice of recording only original material. "If you're looking for the more rock-oriented Nields' sound from Gotta Get Over Greta, this release may not be for you," Ellen Rawson says. "However, it's an album that has allowed the sisters to get back to various roots. If nothing else, it's given Nerissa a chance to adapt various musical standards and give them the magical Nields' treatment."

Al Stewart flashes back to 1967 with this rerelease of The First Album. "The album is retro in the best possible way. His influences from the folk scene of the 1960s like Donovan and Sandy Denny are clear, as is the influence of the pop music of the period," Nicky Rossiter says. "It is actually like a breath of fresh air to be able to time shift back to 1967 in song and realize the power of some of the material that was being written and recorded four decades ago. Even if you never experienced the '60s you will enjoy this album."

Elana Arian mixes styles on How to Stand in the Rain. "There's no rule that says an album must be stylistically unified," states Michael Scott Cain. "Simply because most CDs remain in one genre or another -- we speak of them as folk albums, or rock or jazz offerings -- well, that doesn't mean it has to be that way, does it?"

Sandy Dennison is Jazzed about her latest release. "This CD sounds like a release of a 1950s singer updated with modern production values and a high degree of jazz sensibility," Dave Howell remarks. "It seems to me that Dennison has more of a feel for these songs than nearly all the singers who are turning to standards to revive their careers, and her interpretive skills are far superior. In other words, this CD is the real thing."

Mahanada has combined jazz with world music on Taranta's Circles. "Some of the 16 tracks are original compositions, while others are traditional tarantellas from southern Italy," Dave Howell says. "This is a fascinating and absorbing CD, which should appeal to listeners of jazz, folk and world music, or anyone looking to hear something different and imaginative."

Michael Powers is back like the Prodigal Son with this folk 'n' blues recording. "Influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, the Yardbirds and Jimi Hendrix, Michael Powers combines the American and British tinges in his blues performances," Nicky Rossiter says. "Playing guitar since the age of 7, he has amassed a style that is powerful and compassionate."

Lantana's music is Unbridled -- but this album favors listeners "who prefer looks over talent," Wil Owen says. "These ladies were blessed with beauty, but only one of the three has even a halfway decent voice."

Old 97s are getting it done with Fight Songs. "For moody, naval-gazing indulgence, Fight Songs simply cannot be beat," says Katie Knapp. "Oh, we all want to think we're mature and above self-pity, but these guys manage to be mature and self-pitying, too. I love it."

Jonas Simonson leads a merry Crane Dance from Northern Europe. "Spare and evocative, Swedish flautist Jonas Simonson's Crane Dance is the perfect antidote to the sort of blandly overproduced 'ethnic' music that tends to make it to the mainstream," says Jennifer Mo. "Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with, say, Celtic Woman, but this is the real thing: folk music, no bells and whistles, just solid musicianship and an audible timelessness."

Keola Beamer's new release is a departure from his other works, so be forewarned," John Cross notes in his review of Ka Hikina o Ka Hau (The Coming of the Snow). "You may think you're going to hear Hawaiian music. ... Instead, Beamer has opted to bring us an opus consisting of recognizable classical and modern music and his own compositions."

The City Rhythm Orchestra made itself heard in Lancaster last weekend, and Tom Knapp has the news to share. "The question wasn't if, but when people would start dancing," he says.

Dave Duncan seeks answers from The Alchemist's Apprentice in this entertaining story set in Venice in the time of Nostradamus. "The Alchemist's Apprentice is a fun murder-mystery and historical fantasy all rolled into one," says Laurie Thayer. "Duncan's descriptions of the City of Bridges bring Venice brilliantly to life, almost as though the city were another character in the mystery."

Tate Hallaway's heroine Garnet Lacey is Dead Sexy -- despite the dead stack of Vatican witch hunters pointing accusing fingers at her door. "I wasn't that crazy about the zombie portion of this story, as it seemed a little far-fetched to me (yeah, I know this is a vampire book!) and I had a really hard time buying into it," Cherise Everhard says. "Otherwise, I think Hallaway really wrote a tale with a lot of feeling this time around."

Erin McCarthy begins the Vegas Vampires series with High Stakes on the table. "Even if you don't like vampire fiction, you will like this book, which has Erin's typical laugh-out-loud humor, with fun and intriguing characters that make this book a real page-turner," Cherise says. "I didn't want to set it down."

Jenna Black redefines the modern vampire with Watchers in the Night. "Black has dispensed with a few of the traditional trappings of vampires, giving us a new take on the same old undead creatures," says Laurie Thayer. "Black also treats us to a well-plotted mystery. ... Watchers in the Night is marketed as part of Tor's paranormal romance line, but the mystery is more to the forefront of the story."

Craig Alan Johnson made his first splash as a novelist with Wave Watcher. "Johnson is able to craft a lovely tale with moving character sketches and deep insights into the human condition," Jim Curtiss says. "Moreover, his ample referencing of modern classics will help broaden his readership's literary vista if they are keen enough to follow them up."

Mark Twain is an American classic, and Daniel Jolley (a Rambles.NET classic) takes a look at Twain's most enduring work with this review of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. "The more outrageous the hissy fits thrown over the 'dangers' of Huck Finn, the more important it is for everyone, young and old alike, to go out and read Twain's novel," Daniel says. "Whenever someone tells you not to read something, it's important that you go out there and read it -- and discover whatever it is the book-banning loonies don't want you to know."

Marvel's Moon Knight gets poor service with this new collection, which Tom Knapp found at The Bottom of the barrel. "After a few years on Marvel's back shelf, Moon Knight is back -- without any of the things that made him cool. Charlie Huston, a best-selling novelist but comic-book novice, has apparently decided that a morose, Batman-like character is the way to go -- even as Batman's writers are taking him away from the whole grim and depressed motif," Tom says. "The story is a little confusing and a lot violent. By the end, I'm not sure I really like the character any more."

Tom was feeling a little nostalgic when he picked up a copy of Meanwhile..., a Gen 13 book written by Adam Warren. "Say what you will, but these scantily clad, superpowered teens are a pretty reliable source of fun in an often grim comics world," he explains. "Yeah, OK, sometimes I feel a guilty need to dip myself into mindless fluff. Meanwhile... satisfied that yen for a while, I hope. I don't want to put myself through this more often than necessary."

The war stretches back long before Luke Skywalker was born, as is shown in Jedi vs. Sith. "This book, written by Darco Makan, is a very different perspective on the Jedi and Sith philosophies," Tom says. "Coupled with fine -- if not outstanding -- art by Ramon F. Bachs, Jedi vs. Sith is an interesting look backwards in the Star Wars universe. Still, I can't help but feel it might have been so much more."

Mark Allen says Blaze of Glory is an unusually successful Western comic from Marvel. "Written by well-known comics scribe John Ostrander, with artwork by uber-talented Leonardo Manco, it may not be the comic book equivalent of Lonesome Dove, but it's well worth rifling through the bargain boxes," he says. "Securely based in realism, with an amazing attention to detail, this highly evocative style can be habit-forming. It's one of the reasons why Manco is one of my all-time favorite artists in the industry."

Liz Greene and Juliet Sharman-Burke link lore to living in The Mythic Journey: The Meaning of Myth as a Guide for Life. "Ancient peoples told stories of gods and heroes to explain the workings of the world, from great disasters to interpersonal relationships," Laurie Thayer explains. "According to the authors, those same stories can still be applied to our modern lives."

Ted and James Baehr delve into the complexities of the man and his work in Narnia Beckons: C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe & Beyond, in which they "have woven together a collection of essays from distinguished scholars and biographers in such a way that Lewis's complexities are easily grasped," says Jim Curtiss. "Indeed, after reading this book, one might even feel kinship with Lewis and the characters that he created."

Erich Hughes takes a look at The Truman Show and finds it somewhat lacking. "Is The Truman Show a good film? Yeah, it's good -- but I wouldn't rate it any higher than that," he says. "What hurts it the most is its concept, which quite frankly is too unbelievable. But if you can look beyond that, you're in for a good ride."

Daniel Jolley cools off with Ice Age: The Meltdown. "On paper, it's all pretty formulaic, but the winsome depth of the characters and of course the extraordinary animation make for a consistently funny, exciting adventure," he says. "The climax is actually pretty exciting and heart-warming, helping make this a film you can't help but enjoy immensely."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

25 August 2007

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

Did ya miss us? Sorry for the one-week hiatus, but sometimes even a Rambles.NET editor needs to walk the sands of Cape Cod and bask in the sun for a while. But we're back, tanned and ready for business!

John Munro is Plying My Trade on this new release from Greentrax. "The album is a heady mixture of personal and more universal songs, but all arrest our attention," Nicky Rossiter says. "This is a great addition to the Scottish, Australian and, indeed, world canon of good folk music."

Kevin Collins invites us to visit Newfoundland and Labrador "in a magical combination of music, interviews and stunning scenery" on Full Circle: From an Island to an Island, Volume 2, Nicky informs. "Collins has a beautifully modulated voice, making him an ideal host on this journey that has special significance for Irish people and in particular those from my own southeast corner, but it will enthral anyone who enjoys wild untamed lands and good country/folk music."

Tia McGraff wants her fans to spend a Day in My Shoes. "When I first listened to Day in My Shoes, I thought all the critics and fans who predicted great things for her were, maybe just a little, in exaggeration mode," Michael Scott Cain admits. "After several hearings, though, I'm not so sure. With luck, promotion and heavy touring, this could be the CD that puts her over the top."

A selection of Modern Day Troubadours make themselves heard on this collection from Nettwerk America. "In my experience until now, anthologies with the word 'troubadours' in their titles tend to be assembled recordings of 1960s folk artists or their latter-day equivalents," Jerome Clark says. "Folk music, however, is at best a distant inspiration for most of the young artists of Modern Day Troubadours, fewer than half of whose names I recognize."

Hamilton Loomis makes the blues sing on Ain't Just Temporary. "The man knows his blues," says Michael Scott Cain. "Loomis is young, not much more than 30, but he's already a mature performer. It might take a while but, rather than being confined to blues crowds, he will cross over to a wide popular audience. This guy's going to be big."

Cowboy Roy Brown "was one of this nation's most fabulous musical eccentrics," says Michael Scott Cain. "A street singer and one-man band, he played a guitar named Baby and a kazoo called Leon. He occasionally beat a rhythm on the face of his guitar with what sounds like a pencil, but there's no evidence that he gave it a name. Although he called himself a cowboy singer, he performed any type of song he liked and his tastes roamed all over the musical landscape." Learn more with this review of Brown's recording Street Singer.

The Al Maniscalco Quartet has One Blessed Day of jazz music to share. "The fact that the CD relies on tradition is not to say it is weak in any way, though; after all, you don't say that a Mercedes is a bad car because it shares some features with a Buick, do you?" Michael Scott Cain opines. "Maniscalco has a way of taking the familiar and bringing his own style to it, so that instead of recreating the original songs, he works changes upon them."

Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo share a jazzy Brazilian beat with Movimento. "Though it never demands full attention, Movimento is nothing if not wholly listenable," says Jennifer Mo. "Ed Johnson has a pleasant, unfussy voice with good range, and the lyrics, if occasionally banal in English..., sound better in Portuguese."

L.A. Meyer sails down the river with Mississippi Jack, the latest in his Bloody Jack saga. "I was a little worried at the onset of Mississippi Jack that a journey down a river wouldn't afford our plucky young heroine with enough opportunities for mischief and adventure. But not to worry," Tom Knapp says. "Jacky, for all the many years of experience under her petticoats -- when she wears them, the scamp -- has grown no wiser nor more sedate. She is an endless source of entertainment; she is brassy, clever, immodest, bold, flighty, romantic, impulsive, loyal, commanding and downright fun."

John Maddox Roberts mounts The Seven Hills for another look at an alternate history based on the resurgence of the Roman Empire. "The Seven Hills struck me as a 700-page epic squeezed into half the space required to make it a completely satisfying novel," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "The plot is certainly all there, but it hasn't been fleshed out with characters that fully engage the reader. And with so little time devoted to character development, the action scenes pile up, one against the next, with a corresponding lessening of the emotional impact of each successive battle."

Joan Aiken begins her Felix Brooke trilogy with Go Saddle the Sea, a classic young-adult novel newly reprinted for the 21st century. "This first installment of Felix's bildungsroman is a solidly written adventure story with plenty of intelligence and excitement," says Jennifer Mo. "However, the writing style may put off young readers who would otherwise find Felix an appealing protagonist: mimicking the writing conventions of 19th-century literature, Go Saddle the Sea is light on dialogue and heavily narrated by Felix himself, who sounds just a bit too formal and sophisticated for a preteen."

Naomi Novik is set for adventure with His Majesty's Dragon. "Novik may overuse semi-colons sometimes, but once the egg shows up, I was caught up in the story and never looked back," Gloria Oliver says. "Novik totally catches the wonderful flavor of the era she is covering and beautifully integrates the concept of dragons into the woven tapestry of the world."

Charles Coleman Finlay tells the story of Maggot in The Prodigal Troll. "Think Tarzan of the Apes, if Tarzan was named Maggot and was raised by trolls," says Gloria. "Told from different points of view, the reader gets a full sense of where Maggot came from, even if he doesn't know the details himself."

Don McGraw gets into the nittygritty of crime in Sins of a Nation. "One of the joys of modern crime fiction is the fact that society is open enough to accept all manner of speculation without fear of censorship or legal action," Nicky Rossiter says. "This novel certainly makes good use of this openness and provides the reader with a fast-paced story that just begs to be filmed. The premise and storyline, the characters and plot all combine to cinematic effect as you read this compulsive page-turner."

Aleksandar Zograf sends his Regards from Serbia in this graphic package. "Part visual storytelling and part e-mail journal, Zograf relates his life during a time of crisis," C. Nathan Coyle explains. "Regards from Serbia is truly imbedded journalism without the commercial breaks, flashy-themed graphics or press sensibilities. It's an artist's story of living and surviving when the world around him goes absolutely insane."

Ms. Marvel makes her entry into Marvel Comics' Civil War storyline. Tom Knapp says the book "is by no means a vital chapter" in the saga, but it does include two additional stories of interest. "The ongoing Ms. Marvel series still has not entirely won me over," he says, "but I am still intrigued by this flagship character who has incredible powers and the finest of intentions, but remains deeply flawed in her ability to do the job right."

It's just like Old Times with Buffy bad boy Spike in this IDW production from the fertile mind of Peter David. "Old Times is a great almost-episode of the late, lamented series, in which Spike -- introduced to be a brief-lived villain -- captured the public's attention and became one of its best-loved stars," Tom says. "The moody art by Fernando Goni never lets you forget you're reading a comic book, but it's realistic enough that you never have a problem identifying the characters; Spike, Halfrek and the hapless Lenny Wexler are remarkably expressive."

Biggs Darklighter, a minor character in Star Wars: A New Hope, finally gets his due in Star Wars Empire: Darklighter. "Fans will remember that Biggs left Tatooine to attend the Imperial Academy and later turned up among the Rebel pilots; his death bought Luke time to fire the shot that took down the Death Star," Tom says. "But there's a lot more to it than that, and writer Paul Chadwick lets it all unfold at a brisk pace. You get to know the character well, respect his ideals and enjoy his company, and so his sacrifice at Yavin suddenly means more than it did before."

J.B. Orly is not writing for casual readers in The Fullness of Time: The Truth About What's Coming & When. "Not to say Orly's prose isn't readable -- in fact, just the opposite," Jim Curtiss says. "Orly writes with a clarity that allows the deeply philosophical topics addressed in Fullness to be delivered to a broader audience."

Janet Ruth Heller teaches lessons on lunar science and good behavior in her modern folktale, How The Moon Regained Her Shape. "How The Moon Regained Her Shape is the kind of book I wish I had in my possession as a child," says Risa Duff. "Heller is using her initiative by making her book not only visual, but also one containing kinaesthetic tasks that children can tackle hands on."

Michael Powell recalls the way things were Back in the Day, when everyone knew how to do pretty much everything for themselves. "OK, so browsing through this 191-page book is not going to make you an expert of -- well, anything," Tom Knapp says. "But it does give you the information you need to get started on a whole host of satisfying hands-on activities. I mean, sure, ice cream is readily available at every corner convenience store, but it must taste so much sweeter when it's made by your own hand."

Karen Armstrong supplies the basic 411 in Islam: A Short History. "At a time when the most powerful man in the world frequently uses the compound word 'Islamofascist,' this book aims to demonstrate that, contrary to nationalistic media coverage, Islam and fascism are not one and the same," new staffer James Weikert reveals. "I knew nothing at all about Islam before reading this book, but I found it both accessible and fascinating. This is clearly written, narrative history."

The Neil Gaiman novel Stardust makes a successful leap to the silver screen, Tom Knapp says. "Despite initial trepidations, Stardust the movie is all I could hope for," he says. "Gaiman is a brilliant writer, a man with an imagination like no other. Fortunately, director Matthew Vaughn bucked the Hollywood trend by respecting the source material, creating a splendid film, one that will surely become a classic for generations to come."

Eric Hughes may loose his lunch after watching SiCKO, the latest docu-offering from Michael Moore. "Even if his argument exposes half-truths here or there, Moore still convincingly argues the benefits of a universal system, and the release of the film is likely to open healthy discussions about America's current system. And who knows, maybe change a few things," Eric says. "By far, SiCKO is Moore's most focused, most tightly edited and most hilarious documentary to date. And unlike Fahrenheit 9/11, which brought Moore both friends and enemies, SiCKO is a bit different. Because in this one, we're all in the same boat."

Daniel Jolley believes The Black Dahlia could have been a killer of a film -- but ended up dead on arrival. "Rarely indeed do so many movie stars (and an acclaimed director) come together to make a movie as atrociously bad as The Black Dahlia," he laments. "As if Elizabeth Short didn't suffer enough in life and death, now Hollywood comes along and exploits her memory as a hook to draw viewers in to a laughably awful film that, on its own, doesn't even have a single leg to stand on."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

11 August 2007

I love you as deeply as many years could make me,
but less deeply than many years will make me.
- Christopher Fry

Happy anniversary (belated) to still-blushing bride Katie and, of course, me! Also, while I'm salutating, happy birthday (tomorrow), Mom!

This week's edition of Rambles.NET is a little larger than usual because there will not be an update next weekend. Sorry about that, but the editor and his family needs some sand betwixt their toes! We'll be back with another banner edition the following week; we hope this one tides you over 'til then. Be well, smile and do good things!

The Finlay MacDonald Band heeds the Re-Echo of its music. "Take jazz, traditional and contemporary music, mix them enthusiastically and deliver with gusto, and you have a rough idea of what this CD has to offer," Nicky Rossiter says. "On Re-Echo you will experience guitar, fiddle, bass drums, flute, whistles and various pipes as Finlay MacDonald leads his excellent band through nine tracks that will have you breathless."

Grant-Lee Phillips redefines the word Strangelet with a, um, weeping sheep. "Strangelet is the third Grant-Lee Phillips release I've reviewed for Rambles.NET and while it's the most aggressive disc of the bunch it's still a tight, controlled, intimate album," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Strangelet is a solid album, one that reveals its strengths slowly, over repeated listens. Expect to play it frequently."

Bethany & Rufus walk 900 Miles for their music. "As I listen to this album -- as I have quite a few times by now -- my imagination carries me to a 1950s nightclub, to a performance venue where folk performers played before there were folk clubs and festivals to sustain their careers," Jerome Clark says. "Bethany & Rufus -- Bethany Yarrow and Rufus Cappadocia -- don't sound like any folk musicians you've heard recently. But if you know something about the burgeoning revival of five decades ago, you'll get something of a sense of how they could have come upon the idea of a kind of chamber-jazz-classical approach to traditional standards."

Jimmy LaFave speaks his mind through the Cimarron Manifesto. "When Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave comes to mind," Jerome opines, "so does a maxim made famous by the political philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), citing Archilochus (7th century B.C.E.): 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.' LaFave, whose music is built around his wistful tenor, is a hedgehog."

The Uncle Brothers are a Monkey's Uncle on their third recording. "Each song has an inherent message or lesson, or 'character education traits' (as the Uncle Brothers put it)," says C. Nathan Coyle. "This is not only an album that entertains, it also educates."

Bruce Springsteen is Live in Dublin. "This album should have a very strong health warning. If you have a condition that needs you to avoid excitement, please read no further," Nicky Rossiter warns. "If there has ever been an adrenalin rush available on a silver disc, this is it. I am writing this review in July, and I seriously doubt any release will preclude this as my album of 2007."

Red Rooster offers a hearty Dose of good music straight from the Big Apple. "The band offers roots music -- bluegrass, folk and blues -- with a decidedly urban edge and with a little hip-hop (not your brother's hip-hop) thrown in for good measure," John Lindermuth says. "Dose, their latest offering, is unique, both for the quality of the music and for the listening experience it has to offer."

Barrelhouse Buck McFarland plays the Alton Blues to Michael Scott Cain's satisfaction. "Alton Blues is not only a very good album, it's an important piece of cultural history," Michael says. "It's fine music and it's a wonderful musician's legacy; right after it was issued, Barrelhouse Buck McFarland died. Pick it up and he'll live a little longer."

Country singer Liz Carlisle has Big Dreams for her music. "She has the voice for country music," says Michael Scott Cain. "It is good, solid and has strength and character. She's capable of making a standard ballad sound like an unexpected phone call from an old friend."

The good people at Putumayo celebrate the feminine with Women of the World: Acoustic. "Colorful, upbeat and consistently enjoyable, Putumayo's world music compilations have an impressively solid track record," says Jennifer Mo. "The prolific world music label doesn't put a foot wrong in its latest release, ... which has now been in my CD player for two weeks straight and shows every sign of staying there for a few more."

The tunes comprising The Celtic Lounge II are "neither really Celtic nor lounge," Jennifer reports. "Those looking for Celtic-flavored electronica may well be disappointed by this collection of soft-spoken new age. ... To be fair, Celtic Lounge II is pleasantly ambient (in a psychic fair sort of way) and makes for fairly unintrusive background music. It's unlikely to win any converts to new age music, but is well suited for those who already enjoy it."

John Cipolla and Doc Livingston are Misbehavin' in their jazz. "What happens when a New York clarinetist meets a Kentucky pianist?" asks C. Nathan Coyle. "Yes, I'm sure it sounds like an eye-rolling type of city mouse/country mouse joke; however, what happens in this instance is Misbehavin', a wonderful collaboration and an amazing instrumental album."

A short while back, Virginia MacIsaac shared her impressions of The Unusual Suspects, a big stage show that filled the room at Celtic Colours. Now, Kaitlin Hahn offers up her impressions of The Unusual Suspects Encore, a blockbuster event featuring some of the festival's top talent. Check out her review!

Len Bailey's young rodeo hero must battle Fantasms in his fantasy realm. "Cowboys, pirates, and chess may sound like an unlikely combination, but Len Bailey makes it work in his offbeat fantasy for the middle school crowd," Jennifer Mo says. "Although it's a sequel to Clabbernappers, Fantasms -- unlike so many other fantasy books -- stands well on its own and leaves just enough open for further adventures. It's wacky, it's over-the-top -- it might even qualify as a 'hoot-hollerin' fun time,' to borrow our young hero's turn of phrase."

Kai Meyer continues the young-adult Wave Walkers saga with Pirate Emperor. "From the race across a burning bridge that opens the book, to an unscheduled trip inside a giant whale's belly, to a gladiatorial contest between pirates, Pirate Emperor is breathlessly paced and often cinematically described," says Jennifer. "At the same time, the book is marred by occasionally awkward translations and jarring jumps between stories in which, by the end of the book, little has been resolved."

Ted Chiang's The Merchant & the Alchemist's Gate is "a charming novella composed of a series of Arabian Nights-style stories-within-the-story," Laurie Thayer states. "The Merchant & the Alchemist's Gate is a pleasant fable, but I'm not sure, at a mere 64 pages, that it's worth the price."

Jennifer Roberson recaptures the glory of Tiger and Del in Sword-Breaker, the fourth book in her popular series. "Sword-Breaker is the best of the bunch, with no slow spots, great writing, lots of action, many interesting characters and situations, and plenty of magic," says Chris McCallister. "Instead of just wrapping up all the loose ends and resolving the problems, Jennifer Roberson elevated the series with a stunning finale."

Charlaine Harris is back with vampires, snipers and werepanthers, oh my, in Dead as a Doornail, fourth in her series starring telepathic diner waitress Stookie Stackhouse. "The plot is exciting and the characters are engaging," Cherise Everhard says. "Harris has a wonderful imagination and she has completely captivated mine."

Thomas Harris explores the history of a killer in Hannibal Rising. "Although this book is about Hannibal Lecter, the terror and horrors portrayed within are different from those covered in the others books -- so if you are looking for more of the same found in previous Lecter novels, you might be disappointed," says Gloria Oliver. "But keeping that in mind, it is well worth reading!"

Carole Nelson Douglas brings into play the Red Hat Sisterhood in Cat in a Red Hot Rage, the 19th book in the Midnight Louie Mystery series. "Douglas once more takes us on a fun ride of all that is Las Vegas and sets us up nicely for what else is soon to come," Gloria says, but warns: "For those of you still screaming from the cliffhanger in book 18, you will still be screaming."

Beverly Lewis wraps up her trilogy on Annie's People with The Brethren. "Those who read all three books in their proper order will be rewarded with a satisfying experience," says Corinne H. Smith. "Every loose end is tied up, the characters grow from their experiences, and goodness prevails. In other words, fiction is much tidier than real life."

The fallout from Marvel's Civil War gets personal in Peter Parker, Spider-Man. "While other volumes deal with the drama, the climactic battles and haymaker punches that could take out a city block, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has focused on Peter Parker through the eyes of the women -- and one young boy -- around him," Tom Knapp says. "Civil War may have been about big choices and even bigger battles, but Peter Parker, Spider-Man quietly ignores the hoopla and plumbs new depths of Marvel's most complex and interesting character. Even if you ignore the rest of the hype, this book is a must for all Spider-Man fans."

The Rann-Thanagar War is, for all its spectacle, a let-down. "Billed as part of DC's Countdown to Infinite Crisis event, this massive space war really has little or nothing to do with it," Tom says. "It is a self-contained story (although apparently I would have benefited by reading an Adam Strange miniseries to set the stage) that accomplishes very little despite all the pyrotechnics."

Peter David left Supergirl behind and created a new heroine called Fallen Angel. "What we have now is a mysterious woman whose powers are varied but never clearly defined, who helps only those whom she deems worthy and who finds herself battling an ancient enemy who explodes its victims from within," Tom says. "Fallen Angel is a new kind of character in a strange kind of place, all drawn from a very fertile and quirky creative mind."

Tom witnesses a pivotal meeting in the Star Wars universe in Boba Fett: Enemy of the Empire. "The first meeting between Darth Vader and Boba Fett should be fraught with danger and darkness," Tom says. "But writer John Wagner instead filled Boba Fett: Enemy of the Empire with whimsy and chuckles, so a potentially powerful book just sort of sits there and fizzles." Hey, Boba, that's Tom's 1,800th review!

James Kochalka is presented for your entertainment in American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries of James Kochalka. "We get to see arbitrary snippets of Kolchaka's life, some rather uncomfortable and abrupt, while other instances are of a more tender and loving nature," says C. Nathan Coyle. "The artwork is intentionally crude and cartoony, and fits the kind of story Kolchaka tells."

Darlene and Steven Manchester's book Whispers of Inspiration "is an uplifting collection of spiritually oriented writings," Jim Curtiss says. "Intended to be a compilation of today's finest writers and poets, authors of all levels were invited to share their tales and poems to illustrate the myriad aspects of the human condition, including love, family and hope."

Tom Knapp swings along with Spider-Man 3 -- despite some misgivings. "When I look back over this review, I see lots of little character problems that detracted from the overall movie experience," Tom concludes. "And this movie attempts to do far too much with too many villains and too many romantic twists and triangles. But when the credits roll, it's still a solid truth that Tobey Maguire is the perfect man to play Spider-Man, and Sam Raimi is the perfect man to direct him."

Miles O'Dometer is heading down Glory Road for the big game. "When Don Haskins took his team to the NCAA Division I basketball finals in 1966, he had something no other coach in his position had: seven black players. While nowadays that number might seem a bit low, remember, those were the LBJ days," Miles says. "There's plenty that's old, borrowed and blue in Glory Road, plenty of good game footage and sing-alongable tunes. But there's little that's new, little that's going to take us to the next level. And even if there were, at this pace we wouldn't have time to think about it."

Daniel Jolley takes us back to the bosom of the Bard for a little Richard III -- in this case, the 1912 version. "It is, among other things, the oldest surviving American feature film, with the original five-reel production running just under a full hour. Not only that, the quality of this restored edition is absolutely amazing -- much better than even most 1930s silent films I've seen," he says. "Basically, this is an American treasure, and you can't help but be blown away by the remarkable clarity of such an early, feature-length film."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

4 August 2007

Superstition brings bad luck.
- Saul Gorn

It is never wise to pick up your young daughter and hurl her into the deep end of the pool when you are recovering from a badly sprained wrist. Words to live by.

Tommy Makem, one of the most recognized and influential names in Irish folk music history, died Wednesday at the ripe old age of 74. Best known for his landmark work with the Clancy Brothers (of whom only Liam Clancy now remains), Makem was sometimes referred to as the Godfather of Irish Music. His voice and presence in the world will be missed.

Chris Knight gets the folk spotlight with The Trailer Tapes. "Next to Knight's, Bob Dylan's vocal style is as tranquil as Bing Crosby's. Even so, this album compares favorably to Dylan's early work," Jerome Clark says. "OK, there are Dylans and Prines and Springsteens out there, and God bless 'em every one. But Knight can stare any one of them straight in the eye, and I'll bet you a good chunk of change that he won't blink first." Hey, hey, Jerome, that's review #250!!

Neko Case "is amazing" on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Katie Knapp opines. "I love a voice that sucks you up in a whirlwind of feeling, and she's got one. She's completely stripped clean, like the chimed sound of true crystal. She's conversational, but so tuneful you have to hang on each phrasing. Her lyrics often make no sense, but they make poetry...."

Laura Wolfe has a Siren's call for music lovers. "Siren was produced by Steve Addabbo, who is best known for his work with Shawn Colvin and Suzanne Vega," Dave Townsend says. "His production really allows Laura to showcase her strong voice, which in her case is a very good thing. While Laura is part of a fairly large group of female singer-songwriters who write personal lyrics while experimenting with different musical influences, her music is quite enjoyable and well worth a listen."

Mark McKay is ready to Shimmer with this follow-up album to the acclaimed Live From the Memory Hotel," says C. Nathan Coyle. "With his ear-catching vocals and vigorous rock style, McKay continues to prove he's a consistently entertaining and engaging musician."

Donna Marie is ready to Paint the Sky with her songs. "Donna Marie is a rootsy singer with a strong voice and wide vocal range," Andy Jurgis says. "Her songs are appealing and accessible with an uncluttered funky vibe."

Watermelon Slim & the Workers are riding the blues with The Wheel Man. "When 'more of the same' is about the toughest criticism one can level at a new release by an artist as entertaining as Watermelon Slim, one can safely assume the album is pretty darned good," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But pretty darned good isn't exceptional and that, in itself, is a bit of a disappointment."

Soul Providers offer their Smooth Urban Grooves for the jazz-lover's enjoyment. "Smooth Urban Grooves is a New York-centric compilation of jazz arrangements/interpretations of R&B and hip-hop hits by Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Usher, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent, Nelly and many others," C. Nathan Coyle says. "Each track was picked not only for its musical qualities, but also the original artists' connection to New York City. You'll be surprised how good some of those songs are when taken away from the context of the original artist/performer."

Joe Beck, Santi Debriano and Thierry Arpino get their jazz groove flowing on Tri07. "Most of the tunes on Tri07 are from the great American songbook," Michael Scott Cain remarks. "Much of his material may be rooted in the past but his playing is not. ... In all, Beck is a gifted jazz guitarist and Tri07 shows his talents off very well indeed."

Rumen and Angel Shopov sing to the Soul of the Mahala. This, says John Lindermuth, "is a CD of remarkable music played by superb musicians. ... This isn't commercial music. It's culturally deep-rooted and soulful. You may not understand the language of the singers but -- trust me -- the music has a universal appeal bound to move the listeners."

Jennifer Mo pays her respects to a favorite author in Lloyd Alexander: A Tribute to the High King of Children's Fantasy. "I read The Book of Three when I was 8," she recalls. "As my first taste of fantasy fiction, it really did change my life: I have been hooked ever since."

David Zindell retreads old paths seeking The Lightstone. "The story is well written, flowing rapidly and smoothly, and the settings are described in enough detail to create strong mental imagery. I like the characters, although they fit well-used archetypes and resemble, for the most part, characters in other, well-known epic fantasies," Chris McCallister says. "If I had not read The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, the legends of King Arthur or ... many other epic fantasies, I would be saying, 'Wow! What a great idea!'"

Alan J. Levine expounds on The Adventures of Short Stubbly Brownbeard. "This here be a thrilling tale of unequalled derring-do, timber-shivering adventure, rapacious skullduggery, etc.," Daniel Jolley growls. "Basically, what I'm saying is that an enjoyable pirating adventure is had by all -- and only the scurviest of scalawags would want to miss out on all the fun."

Gary Alan Wassner continues his GemQuest line with The Twins. "One cannot read this first book in the GemQuest series without being reminded of Tolkien's immortal Lord of the Rings, but this epic fantasy quickly succeeds in taking on a vibrant life of its own," Daniel says. "Wassner constructs this tale around a significant number of characters, but he describes each of them so intimately that you feel as if you know them."

Sheree Fitch lends a hand to The Gravesavers, a young-adult novel aimed at mid-grade readers. "With its blend of romance, mystery and creepy ghost story, The Gravesavers should appeal to the target age group," Laurie Thayer says.

Jack Priest locks horns with the Night Witch in this contemporary fantasy. "Night Witch was fun and interesting to read, and I ran through it like a 50-yard dash, but it also left me only partially satisfied," Chris McCallister says. "Too fast, too light, too much left unanswered."

In the graphic novels department today, Mary Harvey and Tom Knapp offer up a quartet of diverse selections.

The new Fantagraphics release La Perdida "is based on the adventures of writer and artist Jessica Abel (author of Artbabe and Mirror, Window) during her stay in Mexico City," Mary Harvey reports. "Using the character of Carla Olivares as her mouthpiece, Abel weaves a tale as colorful and rich as a Mexican blanket as Carla, driven by a sense of urgency, travels to Mexico City to find her roots, her way, something, anything, that will connect her to whatever is missing in her life."

The Atom disappeared during DC Comics' Identity Crisis event, but never let it be said DC let a good name or costume stand idle for long. My Life in Miniature introduces the new Atom, but Tom Knapp said they should have thought a bit longer on this one. "My Life in Miniature," he says, "is not a very good story. ... DC probably would have been wiser to let the Atom costume sit in the closet for a few months. Instead, they hurried this anemic replacement along and tarnished the Atom's good name."

Marvel's adult-line release Zombie disappoints, Tom Knapp moans. "The story quickly becomes a fairly mundane, typical zombie gorefest," he says. "The story by Mike Raicht offers a few surprises, but not enough to sell me on this book. Zombie does nothing to elevate it above the rest of the shambling crowd."

Boba's dad gets his own brief spotlight in Jango Fett. "But for those of us who saw the movies, Jango doesn't tell us much we didn't already know," Tom says. "The art, too, is pretty bad, making Jango Fett a must-have only for the staunchest of Star Wars completists."

Chris Tusa's poetry is just a little disturbing, Virginia MacIsaac warns. "Have you ever been haunted by a face, an idea, a place or an image that is disturbing yet beautiful? Haunted Bones is like that. It tackles the big fears of our lives -- our cancers, our worries, our children, our selves -- and slices them up and serves them on a platter of beautiful words and phrases."

Steve Weber encourages the sale of readables with The Home-Based Bookstore. "This book answers all the obvious questions," says John R. Lindermuth. "So, if you've ever entertained the idea of going into the used book business, this is one of the best sources of information you'll find to get you started and keep you going."

Tom Knapp is not a fan of the books in J.K. Rowling's bestselling series, but he does like the movies -- and today, it's time to look at the fifth of seven, Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. "There is no lack of spectacular imagery and wonderful special effects, but there's no question Order of the Phoenix lacks much of the joy and wonder of earlier films in the series," Tom says. "Order of the Phoenix is, despite all its darkness, an excellent and exciting chapter in Potter's life -- and there are, after all, only two more to go."

Miles O'Dometer trots the globe with Syriana. "Syriana is based on the book See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism. Just how much of the movie is fact and how much is fiction -- well, given both the CIA's and Hollywood's penchant for toying with the truth, that's impossible to say," Miles says. "But there's no question it was framed to deliver a message."

Daniel Jolley is ready to end this edition with a jolly good Beerfest. "You have to love any comedy that throws up a warning screen before the opening credits -- in this case, it's a warning to leave the serious beer-drinking to the professionals (or else you will die)," he says. "I thought this movie was pretty hilarious."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

28 July 2007

Patriotism is the conviction that your country is better than all the others because you were born in it.
- George Bernard Shaw

Hello! We've got reviews! Right here, right now -- read 'em!

The concept album Wilderness Plots is "a hybrid CD of sorts. Its genesis is a same-named book written by Scott Russell Sanders detailing the settlement of southern Indiana, roughly between 1770 and 1860," Kevin McCarthy relates. "This musical release is composed of songs written and sung by Indiana residents Carrie Newcomer, Tim Grimm, Krista Detor, Tom Roznowski and Michael White, all based on direct and indirect inspiration from the pages of Sanders' book."

Grant-Lee Phillips marks the Nineteeneighties with an album of folky covers from the new wave/electropop era. "This is not an overly reverential album," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Phillips isn't afraid to put his own stamp on another artist's work and, in fact, the best tracks on this release are the ones that do stray from the original artist's arrangements."

Peggy Seeger celebrates Three Score & Ten, a span of years that encompasses a host of fine music. "Three Score & Ten represents a collection of music that may not be to the taste of everyone; being honest, it wouldn't really by my preference," Mike Wilson says. "However, one can't deny the impact that the Seeger family has had on shaping music and politics, and as a celebration of the work of the youngest Seeger sibling, this stands as a remarkable document of her life in music and an enjoyable celebration of her undeniable talent and commitment. Just sit back and enjoy the bonhomie of the occasion!"

Eric Andersen summons the Blue Rain from Appleseed. "In the wake of his two previous Appleseed releases, which paid tribute to his fellow neofolk songwriters from the mid-'60s Village scene, veteran Eric Andersen returns (at least for eight of the 11 cuts here) to his own material on the live recording Blue Rain," Jerome Clark announces. "The Great American Song Series set material originally recorded in straightforward acoustic fashion -- by Dylan, Ochs, Paxton and other folk giants -- into textured electric arrangements, but the new disc, recorded in Oslo in June 2006 with members of Norway's Spoonful of Blues, captures a moodier, more oblique, more skeletal ambience."

We look back for Alaska-based singer-songwriter Mike Campbell in the High Country. "It is a collection of original songs by Mike celebrating life in the snowy state," Sean Walsh says. "Throughout the record, Mike's words and voice combine to create a rich, diverse batch of songs, all imbued with a warm campfire-glow and a good honest-to-God morality."

Lackawanna Rail travels the nostalgia line with I Think You Should Know. "All too often, the use of nostalgia implies an absence of originality. While a valid critique for some, it certainly doesn't apply in Lackawanna Rail's case," C. Nathan Coyle says. "Lackawanna Rail deserves praise for this debut album. I Think You Should Know is indubitably a strong start, and has just the right approach to nostalgia."

Dale Watson brand of hard-country music runs From the Cradle to the Grave. "Watson has evolved into a songwriter of formidable expressive skills," Jerome Clark says. "Cradle makes clear Watson's devotion to his muse is continuing and as uncompromising as ever. Though I can't claim to have listened to all of his albums, this is the most consistently satisfying one of the several I've heard to date."

Paul Tynan leads a jazz trio on Radio Infrequency. "The stark CD sleeve and the names of the tracks look avant-garde," Dave Howell says. "However, Radio Infrequency is a particularly mellow affair, which explains why Tynan uses a flugelhorn instead of a trumpet."

The Maxwell Project is feeling just a little Jamaphonic today. "Jamophonic is feel-good dance music: horn-driven, old-school R&B," Dave remarks. "I immediately thought the Maxwell Project sounded like Earth, Wind & Fire, with their bright sound and melodies."

Watch for more on Celtic Colours, coming right up!

Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss are co-editors of Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing. What does that mean? Ask Robert Tilendis! "Goss and Sherman call it 'interstitial fiction' (a somewhat stilted sobriquet, in my opinion), the premise being that the stories exist outside the bounds of any particular genre," Robert says. "Surrealism -- or perhaps I should call it 'surreality' -- of one sort or another is also an element that permeates this collection. It seems sometimes to be a matter of style more than substance, seemingly mismatched images veering close to word salad (and also close to preciosity), but never quite going over the edge."

J.K. Rowling conjures the end of a literary era with Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. "Unfortunately, Deathly Hallows is Harry's final tale. But fortunately for readers, Rowling ended the series on the highest of notes," says Eric Hughes. "Sure, not every one of its 759 pages is necessary. Some scenes could have been cut altogether, really. But in the end, the redundancies only forced me to finish the book -- and series -- a bit later than I should have. And any extra time with Harry is fine by me."

Jack Campbell takes The Lost Fleet out for a second cruise with Fearless. "This is good military science fiction," Chris McCallister says. "It's a good read, although not quite on a par with John Scalzi's Old Man's War or The Ghost Brigades."

Speaking of ... John Scalzi returns to familiar science-fiction stomping grounds for The Sagan Diary. "This novelette is set in the fictive universe of John Scalzi's Old Man's War, Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony, and the story will mean less to anyone who has not read at least the first two books," Chris says. "The book is short, but was meant to be, and makes no pretense at being anything beyond what it is."

John Pelan brings together a selection of disparate works for A Walk on the Darkside: Visions of Horror. "If you are looking for extreme gore and truly horrifying works of fiction, keep on looking," C. Nathan Coyle says. "However, if you are a fan of (mostly) mellow horror of a subdued natue, then this anthology will suit."

J.R. Lindermuth finds Something in Common with the characters of this murder-mystery. "The plot, setting and characters are ripe and wonderful," Virginia MacIsaac says. "They just need a little pectin to hold them all together. I would really like to read this book again after it's been given a thorough editing to remove a series of minor irritants that distract a reader."

The Civil War continues over at Marvel Comics, and this collections takes readers to the Front Line for the story. "This book presents a more oblique view of the big events of Civil War," Tom Knapp says. "Front Line doesn't carry the flash and drama of some other books in the Civil War package, but it does provide interesting and vital pieces of the overall picture."

The short-lived Plastic Man series got off on a goofy foot with On the Lam. The book by Kyle Baker "plays to the strengths of the character. In other words, the story is goofy. The action is slapstick. The art is loose, comical and brightly cartoony," Tom says. "Kids in particular will love this, but anyone who wants a break from grim storylines and cataclysmic events might enjoy a sidetrip with Plastic Man, too. On the Lam will tickle your ribs without stretching your imagination."

Daniel Clowes "may be one of the few writers in the business -- perhaps one of the few writers, period -- who is able to capture a young girl's perspective so accurately it's almost spooky," Mary Harvey says. "It could be that I was more or less very much like one of the two girls in this book; it could be that Clowes is telepathic; or it could be, plain and simple, just damn good writing." The title in question is Ghostworld; check out Mary's review for more.

The notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett gets a workout in Star Wars: Death, Lies & Treachery. "I can be pretty forgiving where Star Wars is concerned," Tom warns. "But the Boba Fett spotlight book Death, Lies & Treachery is just plain awful."

Chris Lawrence pays homage to a comics great in George Perez: Storyteller. "There is a reason why Perez engenders heartfelt enthusiasm from so many fans. The man is an extremely talented creator," Mark Allen says. "More than celebrating just that, however, Storyteller gives readers a peak at the whys and wherefores of his assignments to the many projects for which he is so fondly remembered, garnered from a very long and involved interview with the man, himself."

Don McKay offers "lifetimes of mind-expanders" in his poetry collection Deactivated West 100, says Virginia MacIsaac. "He travels from sea to sky and everywhere in between -- all from the site of a deactivated logging road," she says. "What is the difference between a rock and a stone? It's worth getting this book just to read McKay's idea of the answer."

Linda Greenlaw admits that All Fishermen are Liars in her third collection of memoirs from the Maine coast. "Linda's book is populated, as usual, by an assortment of characters, most of whom would be equally fun to meet over a pint and chowder," Tom Knapp says. "But the meat of Liars is the collection of sea stories, some harrowing, some funny, some sad, some inspiring."

Miles O'Dometer spells out his review for V for Vendetta, set in near-future England. "Ultimately, it's the screenwriting that puts Vendetta over the top," Miles says. "Artistic differences aside, however, there's no arguing that Vendetta is an intricately plotted vehicle that turns up one surprise after another."

Eric Hughes is happy to see Katherine Heigl get Knocked Up in this new film. "Without a doubt, Knocked Up made me laugh louder, harder and more frequently than any movie in recent memory," Eric says. "There are one-liners that will make the rounds around the water cooler, and entire scenes that are both outrageous and hysterical."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

22 July 2007

Three score and 10 years ago today, my father arrived in the world and made it possible for, well, me. He then had the good sense to have two "practice" sons so he was ready and able to be perfect at the daddying thing by the time I came along. Happy birthday, Pop!

21 July 2007

If you don't believe that the world has a heart, then you won't hear it beating, you won't think it's alive and you won't consider what you're doing to it.
- Charles de Lint

Sigh. It's time to mow the lawn. (Actually, my neighbors might say it's past time.) OK, while I do that, you sit in your nice, comfortable chairs and read reviews. Sure, that sounds fair.

Comas is a four-piece traditional band hailing from various corners of the world, Mike Wilson tells us. On the band's self-titled recording, "their overall sound is predominantly Celtic, though the influences of other traditions inevitably add to their eclectic flavour," he says. "Comas excels on this exuberant and committed collection of tunes and songs, of both contemporary and traditional origin. You will not be able to keep still for a minute once you hear their electrifying sound -- I guarantee!"

Mountain Thyme is waiting with A Smile at the Door. "My only complaint about Mountain Thyme is the length between their recordings," John R. Lindermuth says. "Though the band has been performing Appalachian Celtic music together since 1983, A Smile at the Door is only their fourth album. Admitedly, they do have a busy performance schedule that takes them all over their native West Virginia and into surrounding states. So, perhaps it's well that they pace out their recordings and avoid the possibility of becoming commonplace."

Jeff Woodell wants to share Pictures of Nothing with his audience. "Although he oddly describes himself as 'Elliot Smith meets Enya,' there's a lot more to Jeff Woodell and his debut album," says C. Nathan Coyle. "The lyrics alone would make for very nice poetry, each having a great depth of feeling. The instrumental work is pleasant, keeping an amiable tempo and consistent flow. And the vocal style is where the Enya reference becomes clear. But it's the combination, the merger of all of these elements into a cohesive inseparable whole, that is the remarkable task in which many musical artists can fall short."

Joni Laurence sings With No Apology on her fourth full-length CD. "Her brand of folk is occasionally touched by the blues or a little country," Wil Owen says. "This one has kept growing on me, and I will keep listening even though it's time to move on to the next review."

Muriel Anderson "is best known as being one of the finest country and bluegrass guitarists in the United States, if not the world," Sean Walsh enthuses. "Wildcat is perhaps her best album to date. A collection of self-penned songs in a variety of styles -- jazz, bossa nova, country, folk -- it is a beautiful companion of a record."

The Mayflies are playing tunes up on Jerusalem Ridge. "They're a fusion roots band, uncovering the common language that unites old-time folk, country and bluegrass," Jerome Clark reveals. "One imagines the Mayflies are best experienced live. Still, Jerusalem Ridge is a supremely good-natured album that even those with the most narrow, crabbed vision of how bluegrass ought to sound will have to struggle to dislike."

The New Orleans Jazz Vipers Hope You're Comin' Back to the Big Easy, where life goes on despite catastrophic floods in recent years. "The CD itself is a joy to listen to, with a big band sound and the ready thrill of believing you are sitting in a juke joint, sipping your favorite beverage and thinking that life can go on forever," Ann Flynt says. "And like a neighborhood band in any place in America or elsewhere that jazz rules, this group relies upon the tunes, the tones, and the music, baby, to sell its audience the sounds and feelings that almost died in the late summer of 2005."

Jon Faddis shows off his jazz chops on Teranga. "Faddis was born a few years too late to have the large audience he deserves. He honed his skills as the best of Dizzy Gillespie's many proteges at a time when rock was already selling out stadiums and even college students were losing interest in jazz," Ron Bierman says. "He remains an extraordinary player, however, and Teranga includes some of his best recorded work."

Bob Margolin is In North Carolina for a little bit o' blues. "If you haven't heard him before -- and if you haven't, I'd encourage you to stretch your listening to encompass at least a few of the many worthwhile albums he's cut under his own name or as a sideman on others' -- be advised that Margolin's music is firmly based in post-war blues," Jerome Clark says. "He is no annoying, effectively rootless blues-rock wanker. His natural compatriots are the Waters-generation African-American bluesmen who in the 1950s and '60s electrified and expanded the Deep South's downhome sounds."

Eric Tingstad ventures into new territory in the American Southwest. "He keeps his ultra-peaceful style, however, so listeners who enjoy Tingstad & Rumbel will surely like this CD," Dave Howell says. "The desert is known as a place for peaceful meditation, and the same can be said for this thoughtful CD."

The Carnivaleros are Lost in the Graveyard with this amalgam of Tex-Mex, Zydeco, Western Film music and Eastern European motifs. "Lost in the Graveyard is as good as it is crazy," Dave says. "The songs are not parodies, but are perfectly executed with rhythm and swing. The musicians seem to love whatever form of music they take on."

The soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine "comfortably complements the easygoing nature of the film's family, a unit endlessly trying to break free of the constant cycle of defeat," says Eric Hughes. "Danna and Devotchka were a wonderful choice chosen to capture the essence of the family's dysfunction, troubles and especially urgency."

Virginia MacIsaac takes us back to Celtic Colours with The Unusual Suspects. "It felt like this was going to be one of the luckiest Friday the 13ths we'd ever had in Cape Breton," Virginia recalls. "Strong and melodic were the key words of the night and the directors were exuberant when the pieces were pulled off. A cast of talented musicians given a chance to exercise and stretch their usual limits in a structure like this group must have had a tense and yet exhilarating experience."

Melanie Rawn casts a spell of her own in Spellbinder. "It's a nice departure to see a paranormal romance that doesn't involve vampires (though one does make an appearance in a flashback), werewolves or other supernatural beasties," Laurie Thayer remarks. "Instead, Rawn gives us human beings with very human frailties, despite their supernatural abilities. It's easy to imagine Rawn's witches walking down the city streets."

James Futch and James Newman don't let the boundaries of common sense or decency get in their way on the Night of the Loving Dead. The novel, Tom Knapp says, "could have been a clever twist on the zombie genre. But no, Futch and Newman take the concept entirely too far, coating themselves and their readers in blood, bile and other bodily fluids. ... Don't be fooled by the hype that makes Night of the Loving Dead sound like a comic horror romp. It's vile."

Robert Weinberg follows the clues with The Occult Detective. "The Occult Detective is a barn-burner of a good read," Daniel Jolley says. "Robert Weinberg's storytelling prowess is exceeded only by his creativity. While Taine's adventures will appeal more directly to fans of horror, detective fiction and fantasy/science fiction, anyone who enjoys good writing is almost guaranteed to come away from The Occult Detective wanting more of the same." Three cheers for Daniel and his 300th review!!!

Janet Evanovich runs off at the Motor Mouth for the start of a new series. "Don't look for Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich's popular bond enforcement agent, and her alpha males, Morelli and Ranger, in Motor Mouth," Jean Marchand says. "This is new territory, and a new cast, in Florida, and it's NASCAR racing and a whole new vocabulary."

It turns out that Empathy is the Enemy in this recent addition to the Hellblazer library. "British crime writer Denise Mina has a knack for atmosphere, easily matched in the sullen, washed-out art produced by illustrator Leonardo Manco and colorist Lee Loughridge," Tom Knapp says. "Empathy is the Enemy is a dark piece of work, but no one opens a Hellblazer book looking for tinsel and bunnies."

The big Marvel event of the past year was without question Civil War, the central story of which is collected here. "Art by Steve McNiven is astounding. The story by Mark Millar is powerful, sometimes surprising and often cataclysmic, although some heroes do seem to act at times out of character. The pace is also uneven and there are some gaps in the progression of events; Civil War is only the basic skeleton of this far-reaching Marvel event. For the full story, you'll need to buy this book and several others that fill in the details," Tom opines. "Fortunately, this time it's worth it."

Hawkgirl is flying solo now that Hawkman is missing, and her first collection without him is The Maw. "The story didn't really hold my interest -- but that's no reflection on the character," Tom says. "Walter Simonson's writing here is convoluted, but not excessively so. More problematic for me is Howard Chaykin's art, which makes everyone look like they have an uncomfortable dental appliance in their mouths at all times. Also, if Hawkgirl is that freakin' cold in every single panel, maybe Chaykin could sketch in a sweater."

Will Robinson is once again warned of danger in Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul. "The campiness that so many viewers found distasteful in the original series is gone," says Michael Vance. "Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul is a well-written, serious adventure full of plot twists, lots of characterization and action that will entertain most readers. The occasional nod to the cheesy stuff in the old show even made this callous reviewer smile."

Harry Thurston "skillfully uses a contemporary tone for poetry of exquisite historic flavour and detail" in A Ship Portrait, Virginia MacIsaac relates. "By combining poetry, history, art, romanticism from the Age of Sail and practicalities of life in that age through solid research, he provides us with an imaginative look at an artist's life, adding a vantage point from the present."

Roni Stoneman and Ellen Wright tell Roni's musical tale in Pressing On. "Roni Stoneman is a member of the remarkable family that emerged out of grinding poverty in the Appalachian region to become perhaps the most recorded group in the history of traditional music," says new Rambles.NET team member Barbara Bamberger Scott. "Roni spent hours telling all, and then some, to Ellen's tape recorder. Ellen cut the resulting verbiage down to size for Pressing On -- without sacrificing its toothsome Southern flavor."

Edward Mendelson injects a little life into literature with The Things That Matter: What 7 Classic Novels Have to Say about the Stages of Life. "This book could have been deadly dull, almost as dull as those English classes that you slept through in high school and college, but it isn't," Laurie Thayer says. "Mendelson's writing is easily accessible. He does a good job of summarizing all seven novels under discussion, making it not necessary to have read all of them to follow along."

Daniel Jolley is all at sea with Open Water 2: Adrift. "After reading the premise of this movie, I just had to see it. Six friends jump off a yacht to take a swim in the ocean, only to realize that they are royally screwed because nobody thought to let the ladder down," he says. "Not surprisingly, I think this is a great, underrated movie; it certainly exceeded my somewhat low expectations by leaps and bounds."

Miles O'Dometer redefines the modern western up on Brokeback Mountain. "Brokeback Mountain has everything a good western needs: cows, cowboys, tough terrain, alliteration," Miles says. "But it has something else, too. Like many of the great westerns that came before it, it has a powerful theme."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

14 July 2007

That man's best works should be such bungling imitations of Nature's infinite perfection, matters not much; but that he should make himself an imitation, this is the fact which Nature moans over, and deprecates beseechingly. Be spontaneous, be truthful, be free, and thus be individuals! is the song she sings through warbling birds, and whispering pines, and roaring waves, and screeching winds.
- Lydia M. Child

Today's update comes a little early -- and with great haste! -- because the best daughter in the world is waiting impatiently to see the sharks in Baltimore. (See the Benchley book below for more on sharks!) Now, must get going, before this feisty 9-year-old tries to start the car without me. Cheers!

Kirkmount, named for a former village in Nova Scotia, celebrates their music with The Robin. "Introduced to Celtic music by their Grandpa Bud, the boys play the same style of Scottish music that could be heard in Kirkmount when the village was in its heyday," Sherrill Fulghum explains. "The Robin is a lively CD that will please any Celtic music fan and have them begging for more."

Mike Younger brings Americana spirit from Nova Scotia with Every Stone You Throw. "This is a strong writer with strong views that he is not afraid to express through his music," Nicky Rossiter says. "If we are looking for the spirit of the 1960s in the 21st century, Younger could be the name to seek out."

Kevin Kane sings American Songs. "Kane shows a love for the music he plays -- mostly traditional, as the title implies -- and he plays it with enthusiasm," Michael Cain remarks. "Kane deserves credit for unusual touches -- a trumpet here and there, and a kid's chorus on some songs -- but to my mind, the album always remains pleasant without ever becoming essential."

The Miller Brothers Band shares its Tales from Foundry Town on this recent recording. "The Miller Brothers Band brings us the raw sounds and emotions of the 'blue collar' belt, not just of America but of any country in the world," Nicky Rossiter says. "They are a natural progression from early Springsteen, when singing about everyday life of the working class to a belting rock beat became cool. The band -- not all of them are Millers -- bring us face to face with life as it is lived by the majority of people but they do it with musical class."

SONiA does not disappoint with her release, No Bomb is Smart. "I recommend it, but that recommendation comes with a warning: SONiA definitely has a political bent," Wil Owen says. "There are songs that deal with the terrorist attacks that occurred at the beginning of the decade. She also makes her displeasure with the president known in the title track. So, depending upon your feelings towards Bush, you may want to factor that in to your decision on whether or not to give this CD a chance."

Rob Lutes is ready to Ride the Shadows for a little folk 'n' blues. "Built on a foundation of acoustic lead and rhythm guitars laid over solid but subdued bass and drums, Lutes' songs are always delivered with an attention to vocal clarity and emotional resonance," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Lutes has a low, gravelly, Joe Cocker-ish voice ideally suited to the quieter moments in his songs, but he knows how to push into his upper register with power and control. He also recognizes that, unlike Cocker, he's best served by keeping that power on a short leash."

Big Country Bluegrass is On Fire with this new release. "Formed in January 1987, the three-men, two-women Big Country Bluegrass champions a hard-driving traditional form of bluegrass characteristic of the area from which it hails: the North Carolina-Virginia border, specifically the towns of Mount Airy in the former and Galax in the latter," Jerome Clark says. "All in all, this is the sort of thing I listen to bluegrass for, and if like me you insist that it be pure and unadulterated, Big Country has the good stuff."

Mac Martin & the Dixie Travelers are Travelin' On with their music. "Mac Martin, guitarist and vocalist, has been performing bluegrass in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania since the mid-1950s. He and his band, who do not in point of fact travel Dixie, are known for their straightforward traditional approach and well-chosen material," Jerome says. "Most band members have been with Martin for years, in some cases decades, and the result is a tight yet easygoing approach that recalls Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys in their peak period."

Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil blend jazz with Scandinavian traditions on Askur. "These two CDs are excerpts of live performances from 1982 to 2006," Dave Howell says. "With 29 pieces on the two CDs, this retrospective is just a sampler. ... It just begins to show what these musicians can do."

Danaj brings music from the Eastern part of Czechoslovakia on Janicku nas, Janku. " is called a dulcimer band, but there is only one dulcimer, along with violins, cello, standup bass and clarinet. There are male and female vocals, sometimes in a male or female chorus," Dave says. "Danaj is a good introduction to a rich legacy of Eastern European music that is not often heard in the U.S."

We're resuming our coverage of last year's Celtic Colours festival to coincide with the announcement of this year's lineup! If you haven't heard who'll be performing in Cape Breton this year, please visit the festival website and check out the news! Meanwhile, here's Virginia MacIsaac's report on The Original Guitar Summit, featuring J.P. Cormier, John Doyle, Dave MacIsaac, Scott MacMillan and Gordie Sampson.

Jackie Kessler exposes the truth of Hell's Belles, in which a demon flees for the relative safety of a New York City strip club. "All in all, Hell's Belles is an entertaining book that manages to be both raunchy and thought-provoking, and at times even a little sweet -- and that's no mean feat," Tom Knapp says. "Let's hope Kessler plans on plumbing the depths of her imagination again -- and soon."

Mario Acevedo takes on The Nymphos of Rocky Flats in this new vampire novel. "I'm afraid the 'nymphos' in the title, coupled with the leering face on the cover, my harm more than help Acevedo's sales," Tom Knapp says. "That's too bad, because Rocky Flats -- which had to be declassified by the Department of Energy before its release -- is a pretty good first novel and a solid addition to modern vampire lore."

Josepha Sherman writes a pleasant tale in Windleaf. "Its plot strongly resembles Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter, but the writing is much more accessible for younger fantasy readers," says Jennifer Mo.

Lorene Robbins is in cahoots with The Dead Detective in this murder-mystery. "The writing style is such that a middle school child should have no trouble with it," Wil Owen says. "However, I wouldn't recommend this book for that grade level since the subject matter deals with murder and one attempted rape scene. Still, whatever the age of the reader, this light novel can be enjoyed effortlessly without much thinking necessary. The plot is simple, the twists are few, and the dialogue is often witty without being too silly."

Beverly Lewis continues the story of Annie's People in The Englisher. "Beverly Lewis is a master of the Christian fiction genre, and she weaves an ever-increasingly intricate plot here," says Corinne H. Smith. "As with many three-part series, though, this second episode is a mixture of threads that aren't as tightly woven as the first book was."

Ms. Marvel is back on the scene with The Best of the Best. "The book has great art by Robert de la Torre, and writer Brian Reed seems to have a good handle on Marvel's new direction," Tom Knapp says. "But the book lacks cohesiveness, seeking to establish a solid footing for Marvel's future without filling newcomers in on much of her past."

Mark Allen is out for a hoot 'n' a holler with Gunpowder Girl & the Outlaw Squaw, the brainchild of writer and artist Don Hudson. "His artwork is crisp and expressive, with clear, bold lines. No characters look alike, each retaining her own identity," Mark says. "What's more, Hudson is a wonderful storyteller, the word balloons simply adding to what I believe would already be a well-presented story."

Mark Allen has some advice for the creater of Robotika. "Don't make your readers work to understand what you are doing. That work shatters the suspension of disbelief and weakens or even destroys a story," he says. "Weakened by this mistake, but in no way destroyed, Robotika is still recommended."

Tom groans aloud at The Infinite Destruction, a crossover adventure between Superman and the Fantastic Four. "Every now and again, the Powers That Be at the DC Comics and Marvel Comics offices decide they must come up with a new crossover event no matter what the cost," he says. "Quality, it seems, is not always an issue."

John Ralston Saul has much to say about Joseph Howe & the Battle for Freedom of Speech. "Odds are good that anyone coming across this booklet will want to learn more about Joseph Howe and rediscover the history of Canada referred to here," says Corinne H. Smith. "Saul's words also cause us to think about recent incidents where the boundaries of political correctness and freedom of speech overlapped or collided. Do we still even have freedom of speech?"

Peter Benchley shares the benefit of his experience in Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks & the Sea. "Anyone who loves or fears the ocean should read this book; only the indifferent landlubber should ignore it," Tom Knapp says. "Benchley had a casual, comfortable style of writing that presents these facts and figures in an easily digestible form -- and some of his personal stories are, frankly, heart-stopping. I can't wait to share this book with my kids."

Miles O'Dometer takes a look at current events through the eyes of documentary director Eugene Jarecki in Why We Fight. "Jarecki took it upon himself to ask why we -- the U.S. -- seem to be frequently, if not constantly, at war with someone, from the Cold War to the war in Iraq. His conclusions seem disquieting, to say the least," Miles says. "Why We Fight has its flaws. ... And yet it's hard to fault a man who's willing to take his cameras not only to the streets of America, where he lets men, women and children have their say, but to the streets of Baghdad, where he finds voices that rarely if ever make it to American TV or movie screens."

Daniel Jolley says M. Night Shyamalan's is Lady in the Water is, frankly, all wet. "In the end, I'm afraid I have to agree with those who see Lady in the Water as a misguided product of Shyamalan's ego and filmmaking arrogance," he says. "Talk about metaphors all you like, but the film's plot is basically nonsense."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)

7 July 2007

The distorted shapes and unexpected colors of mushrooms fascinated me. ... They were ancient, wild things. No two were ever alike, and they had no roots to tie them to one place; like curiosity, they wandered everywhere.
- Patricia A. McKillip


Juniper is Looking for a Rock on this album of Celtic music from Florida. "Even the original pieces sound like authentic traditional tunes and fit in very well with the rest of the album," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Looking for a Rock is a good album for anyone wanting to pick up some of the tunes since the girls perform the pieces at a slower pace than many traditional players. With that said, it is still an album with a nice collection of tunes that is slightly different from the usual fair."

Sue Richards is waking up to a Grey Eyed Morn with her Scottish harp. "The harp in one form or another has been around since music began," Sherrill says. "With eight albums, four National Scottish Harp Championships and a command performance for President Bill Clinton at the White House, virtuoso harpist Sue Richards has assured her spot as a part of that history."

Strawbs carry their sound forward on a pair of recent albums, Deja Fou and Painted Sky. "Deja Fou (full electric band) and Painted Sky (acoustic trio) are folk-rock albums by any definition," Jerome Clark says. "Not electric folk like Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span, but folk-rock as the Band might have sounded if it had grown on British soil. In other words, the 'folk' is in the structure of the songs and in the melodies, less so in their lyrical content, and the "rock" is the modern, not-so-traditional rhythm-and-reference that drives it all."

Jed & Lucia burn Candles in Daylight to bring their music to light. "This is a fusion of Sweden and the USA, with Lucia bringing Stockholm to the mix and Jed infusing the Pacific Northwest and bringing them to the musical boil in California," Nicky Rossiter says. "The result is an eclectic mix of styles, tunes, sounds and effects."

James Velvet "has a nice, uncomplicated approach to his music that is ideally suited to Just Plain Jane & Other Modest Proposals, a collection of songs that range from the simple and straightforward to the quietly humorous," Nicky says. "Like all the best writing, when he is being funny he is also teasing our consciences."

Ed Pettersen misdirects just a bit with the title of The New Punk Blues of Ed Pettersen. "There may be such a thing as 'punk blues,' and it may even be worth hearing, but this isn't a blues album, much less a punk one. It's decent enough, though," Jerome Clark says. "Pettersen may cause you to think of what Bruce Springsteen and Richard Thompson would sound like if they were one artist."

Gigi Denisco's playing isn't Too Close for Comfort for seekers of rockin' blues, Wil Owen says. "Gigi's musical style and vocals are very reminiscent of songs I've heard on the radio by Raitt and Etheridge," he says. "If you like the older, adult-contemporary style of rock of the artists mentioned previously, I would think that you would like most, if not all, of the nine tracks you'll find here."

Barry Hertz offers up A Cowboy's Prayer. "Possibly, I suppose, some listeners might object that the songs and melodies feel too much alike," Jerome Clark says. "I don't think they do, but the larger point, it seems to me, is that Clark was writing to an era rapidly passing, Hertz singing to one virtually gone. The consistency is in the elegiac tone, and that's as it should be. Surely, in Barry Hertz, Charles Badger Clark has found a worthy receiver of the music that was always waiting inside his words."

Lino is making with some Miami Jam to spotlight the work of this classically trained smooth-jazz guitarist. "The album is smooth jazz, but it also hints at Lino's classical music training," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Miami Jam not only displays Lino's talents and passion for the music in his original pieces, but it also comes through in Lino's cover of the Mason Williams classic 'Classical Gas.' And just to make sure his classical background isn't neglected, ... he plays 'Turkish March' by Mozart on the disc."

Bart Stewart collects nine short stories in Tales of Real & Dream Worlds. "Straddling the line between horror and comic storytelling can be a difficult position to hold and, for the most part, Stewart keeps to the darker side of that border," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Given a little more time, a little better ear for conversation and a little more attention to the minutiae of his stories, Stewart will undoubtedly be captivating readers with the kinds of stories that terrify and tickle, often at the same time."

Paul Di Filippo scatters some gems in his latest collection, Shuteye for the Timebroker. "Di Filippo fans will likely be pleased to have access to some of his most obscure pieces of fiction, but Shuteye for the Timebroker is really geared to the author's most dedicated readers," Gregg says. "For the rest, taking the time to search out and read The Emperor of Gondwanaland & Other Stories will be a much more rewarding experience."

Chet Williamson attempts to pull the wool over our eyes with The Story of Noichi the Blind. "Some readers might argue this book is grist for a psychologist's mill, and that Williamson might best serve society under some form of professional observation," Tom Knapp says. "Others will take delight in the author's sense of ghoulish glee, which takes his imagination to places far darker than the Grimm brothers ever dreamed of visiting."

Brian Keene describes a new sort of zombie in The Rising. "Zombie fiction is often repetitive and redundant, treading over well-worn paths about mindless and shambling creatires who exist solely to eat brains," Tom says. "Not so for Brian Keene, whose first novel, The Rising, is a nonstop, tension-filled ride through an America overrun by the slavering dead."

Christopher Priest's The Prestige, newly made into a movie, "is a strange book," Laurie Thayer confides. "The story seems like a nice historical novel with just a touch of mystery at the beginning, but as it progresses, and the rivalry between Borden and Angier heats up, it takes a dark turn, with an ending not likely to be forgotten."

C. Nathan Coyle says Please Release is "a brief but interesting autobiographical graphic novel about a self-admitted stereotypical 20-something artist on a quest of self-realization. ... Powell's somewhat stream-of-consciousness format of storytelling doesn't quite work. However, while words don't work for Powell, other inkforms do. The strength in Powell's visual storytelling (the linework, the pacing, the transition from panel to panel and even the hand-lettering) almost makes up for the lack of comprehensive storytelling."

The Star Wars legacy jumps forward a few generations for volume one of the new Legacy series, Broken. "Broken ... has plenty of action and has built the framework for an interesting storyline," Tom Knapp says. "It hasn't grabbed me yet, but I hope to see it develop into something exciting."

Tom takes a sample of Rare Cuts from the Hellblazer line. "Rare Cuts isn't for the Hellblazer novice; it fills in the gaps for readers who know the story already and will only confuse those who don't," he says. "But for those of us who've loved a good Constantine tale since long before Keanu emasculated the man, this is a valuable book to have."

The Superman Monster lacks luster, Tom says. "If you have even a passing familiarity with the lore of both Superman and Frankenstein, you can pretty much predict what will happen. It's interesting enough for a passing read, but it's lacking in original thought."

Mark Allen has a hoot with What If? Classic, Vol. 1. "Within its pages are tales that thrill the reader, tickle the imagination and show off some impressive work by creators who helped write a very important chapter in comics history," he says. "Even those who aren't strict comics fans but are familiar with Marvel's heavily optioned-out properties could find this collection entertaining."

Former swordboat captain Linda Greenlaw changes careers for The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island. "This is Linda's second book, and I've enjoyed it every bit as much as the first," Tom Knapp says. "There's no plot and little action, but Linda's autobiographical ramblings and poetic musings are interesting, informative and just plain entertaining."

Paula Morin deromanticizes the West with Honest Horses: Wild Horses in the Great Basin. "Morin has assembled 62 narratives from the individuals who are most familiar with the Great Basin area, home to the greatest number of our country's wild horses," Corinne Smith says. "Honest Horses is valuable reading for all of us here in the United States, especially since other books about wild horses, especially those for children, never mention the questions and problems they present."

Kat Ricker finds Something Familiar in her poetry, but Michael Cain finds plenty bad. "There are two major problems with Something Familiar: the structure and the content," he says. "I can't recommend this book."

Miles O'Dometer wants a front-row seat for Mrs. Henderson Presents, which features Judi Dench in an unusual role. "Mrs. Henderson has history on its side. And great dialogue. And wonderful costumes. And ultimately, Dench," Miles says. "A great film, no. But a very, very, very, very, very good film? You betcha."

Tom Knapp crosses The Bridge to Terabithia and finds unexpected treasures on the other side. "Far from a fantasy blockbuster, this is a deep and thoughtful movie that places substance over sparkle -- a rare treat in the sprawling field of youth-oriented theater," he says. "It ranks up there with one of my favorites, The Secret of Roan Inish, which accomplished more with no special effects than most family-friendly movies could with a billion-dollar budget."

More's on the way! (Meanwhile, take a peek at the archives of past editions, below.)