17 April 2010 to 12 June 2010

12 June 2010

On this date in 1543, King Henry VIII of England married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr. In 1562, Fray Diego de Landa, acting Bishop of Yucatan, burned the sacred books of the Maya (possibly ensuring that we'd never understand why that pesky calendar expires in 2012). In 1804, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton died after being shot in a duel with Aaron Burr. In 1920, the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty was signed, signifying Soviet Russia's recognition of independent Lithuania. In 1962, the Rolling Stones performed their first concert at the Marquee Club in London.

This date gave us the likes of Henry David Thoreau, George Washington Carver, Milton Berle, Andrew Wyeth, Bill Cosby and, um, Richard Simmons.

There are 172 days remaining until the end of the year.

Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.

- Dr. Seuss

The thing with pretending you're in a good mood is that sometimes you can actually trick yourself into feeling better.

- Charles de Lint

Joy is not in things, it is in us.

- Benjamin Franklin

• • • MUSIC

Jess Klein is Bound to Love. "The last few years have been a real quest for Jess Klein to find her real life roots and, since her move to Austin, Texas, I believe she has finally found that panacea," Risa Duff remarks.

"Although I am a big fan of Klein's earlier work, I can feel a more settled artist here in a state of homeostasis. There is a more relaxed and polished performer oozing with confidence, and I am looking forward to her progression in the world of country music and Americana."

Kevin Welch has staked out A Patch of Blue Sky. "He has assembled a group of deeply felt songs that capture the way we live today. Welch speaks to our hopes and desires, catches our many moods from loving to lonely, and shows us who we are holding up a mirror to our illusions, making us see them as they are. It's a fine piece of work," says Michael Scott Cain.

"With rich arrangements that meld banjos with cellos, electric guitars with harmoniums and Wurlitzer organs, the songs are perfectly framed. Welch's mournful and rich singing keeps not just the lyrics but the mood of the lyrics in the forefront; he has a way of delivering a line that sounds casual, half-spoken, half-sung but always enhances the song."

The Snyder Family Band is Comin' on Strong with this new release. "Though like one in a broad sense, the Snyder Family Band is not, in fact, a bluegrass outfit. Banjo appears only once on Comin' on Strong's dozen cuts, and even then it's not picked in the Scruggs style that has defined the genre from the beginning. The Snyders are an acoustic trio -- guitar, fiddle, upright bass -- and their approach might be characterized as neo-traditional in the folk sense," Jerome Clark explains.

"If not for the cover photos and Samantha's voice, you wouldn't suspect how young this band is. Miraculously, this is not a novelty record. At the same time, if you're concerned about the future of traditional music, well, it's here, and the Snyder Family Band is just getting started."

John Mayer "is evolving into some different genres, shifting into folk and blues. I'd consider this album an interim effort and I'm expecting a masterwork the next CD," Becky Kyle states, regarding Battle Studies.

"The CD is hit or miss. Other fans may like what I do not."

Peter Madsen invites listeners to a Carnival of Rags. "Over an album spanning 17 tracks, Madsen proves his versatility and genuine talent on both guitar and vocals," Nicky Rossiter says.

"His liner notes indicate a natural showman and seem to promise an unbelievable live show for anyone who might happen upon this particular musical carnival."

• • • FICTION

Kate Milford shakes things up with The Boneshaker. "Arcane, Missouri, is at a crossroads where, if Natalie Minks' mother is correct, a local musician fought the Devil for his soul. The town's aptly named, because odd things happen there," Becky Kyle says.

"Kate Milford does an amazing job of crafting deep characters with fascinating twists. Paired with Andrea Offerman's deft illustrations, The Boneshaker's not just a book you want to read -- it's a keeper."

Laurence Gonzales gets a little wild with Lucy. "Lucy is the product of of an ingenious, if mad, experiment. A cross between a human and a bonobo ape, she exemplifies the best traits of both. Like a bonobo, she is peace-loving and community-minded; like a human, she is smart and resourceful," Katie Knapp explains.

"Lucy becomes only more enchanting as the book goes along, The characters are well developed and the relationships ring achingly true. I found myself looking forward to going to bed just to get back to her story."

David J. Schow gets hard-boiled in Gun Work. "You just gotta love that cover. Be sure to read this in public so others can admire your fine taste in literature," Dave Sturm suggests.

"I've read about 20 books in the Hard Case Crime series and Gun Work by David J. Schow is far and away the most violent. Like gunfights? You've come to the right place. Like femme fatales? This one's a doozy. Curious about guns? You'll learn a lot."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

Tom watches in horror as Buffy the Vampire Slayer calls a Retreat. "When your Scottish castle full of super-powered girls is attacked by an army led by, among others, a skinless guy, a witch and some dude in a ski mask, the best thing you can do is hop aboard your submarine and teleport to Tibet," he says.

"This all might seem to boil down into yet another good-humored romp in Buffyville, but the viciousness of the battle and sheer number of deaths on both sides of the field make aspects of this tale downright serious. It's certainly not a story that could have been told within the budgetary confines of a weekly television series, that's for sure. And, while some critics complain the series is now spinning wildly out of control, I have faith that the Buffy team, led by the careful hand of series creator Joss Whedon, will point it in the right direction."

Mary Harvey takes a look at Matt Phelan's The Storm in the Barn. "The story seems simple but is quite layered, referencing three well-known narratives, with Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Jack the Giant Killer from Jack & the Beanstalk forming the framework, and Kansas' most famous hero, Superman, providing the foundation," Mary says.

"Plot and characters alike are complex. Matt Phelan's expert pacing keeps the narrative going at a perfect clip. There is a very Gothic, foreboding quality to the despair that is undermining reality for everyone."


• • • FOLKLORE/RELIGION

Galina Krasskova delves into ancient beliefs in Runes: Theory & Practice. "As a priestess of the Northern tradition and an Odin's woman, Krasskova gives her readers an understanding of who the runes are, rather than where they came from. The story of the runes' grand entrance into human knowledge through the torment of Odin is dealt with in detail, but apart from this readers are on their own concerning the mythology behind the runes," Whitney Mallenby says.

"With her strong voice and great knowledge of her subject, Krasskova fulfills the role of the mutual friend encouraging others to meet and get along well admirably, and her readers will go away intrigued. However, those seriously considering taking up the runes will need other books as well as the more supplemental Runes: Theory & Practice."

• • • MOVIES

Tom Knapp examines the Blood Ties between an excellent set of novels by Tanya Huff and a short-lived television series. "There are a lot of vampire options out there these days, and you might be excused for overlooking this brief foray by, oddly, the Lifetime Network. Your loss, because Blood Ties is an excellent series that deserved more attention and air time than it got," Tom says.

"Too many shows fall to the network axe long before they have time to develop and find their audience. (Yes, FOX, I'm still bitter about Firefly.) Fortunately, cliffhanger finale notwithstanding, Blood Ties didn't disappear into the ether; this brief but high-quality production is available to own and enjoy. I know I'll be watching it again."

Daniel Jolley is on the prowl with The Prowler. "If you're making a list of must-see '80s slashers, The Prowler should definitely be one of them. Yeah, the plot isn't all that great, the pace of the movie drags in places and several questions ultimately go unanswered -- but I was genuinely surprised at the identity of the killer (who is pretty intimidating in his killing garb), the lead actress is fairly cute and -- as is always important for us gorehounds -- I was absolutely delighted at the spectacle of blood and gore on display. The filmmakers really let makeup/special effects genius Tom Savini go hog wild," Daniel says.

"Unlike many slasher films, The Prowler actually tries to scare you a little bit, and it does succeed in generating a certain amount of tension in places. Still, the basic storyline isn't particularly noteworthy."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

5 June 2010

Today is World Environment Day. Plant a tree, pick up some litter, do your part in reducing pollution!

On this date in the year 70, Titus and his Roman legions breached the middle wall of Jerusalem in the Siege of Jerusalem. In 1798, an attempt to spread United Irish Rebellion into Munster was defeated at the Battle of New Ross. The first Great Lakes steamer, Frontenac, was launched in 1817. In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery serial, Uncle Tom's Cabin, began a 10-month run in the National Era, an abolitionist newspaper. In 1944, more than 1,000 British bombers dropped 5,000 tons of bombs on German gun batteries on the Normandy coast in preparation for D-Day. Elvis Presley in 1956 introduced his new single, "Hound Dog," on The Milton Berle Show, scandalizing the audience with his suggestive hip movements. U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was in 1968 shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan.

Brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier on this date in 1783 succeeded in launching a 33-foot-diameter globe aerostatique (hot-air balloon) in Annonay, France,. The unmanned balloon rose an estimated 1,500 feet and traveled about 7,500 feet in about 10 minutes -- the first sustained flight of any object achieved by man.

On this date in 1977, the Apple II computer, with a whopping (for its time) 4K of memory, went on sale for $1,298.

The Centers for Disease Control first described a new illness striking gay men in a newsletter on June 5, 1981; Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was adopted as its name a year later and, to date, more than 22 million people worldwide have died from the disease.

It's Constitution Day in Denmark, Horseradish Day in Collinsville, Illinois, and the Chicken & Egg Festival in Prescott, Arizona. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, today marks the 29th annual Do-Dah Parade, a salute to silliness.

Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune.

- Thomas Fuller

Stone walls confine a tinker; cold iron binds a witch; but a musician's music can never be fettered, for it lives first in her heart and mind.

- Charles de Lint

Music is an expression of sound that reflects the beauty of life.

- Paul Winter

• • • MUSIC

The Umnachter Project -- actually, vocalist Robert Polsterer -- plays his voice like an instrument on Schall & Rauch. "Polsterer is a gifted musician, having a voice with an enormous acoustic spectrum, from growling bass to archaical overtone singing," Adolf Goriup says.

"The album is an outstanding conceptual work that offers poetic echoism, melancholic airs and fiery rhythms. Polsterer cannot be compared or put in a certain frame. It's world music, classic guitar playing, vocal artistry with a whiff of folk and experimental music. I just loved it."

Steve Earle and Dave Alvin "both debuted as recording artists in the early 1980s. Earle attracted notice first as a country artist working out of Nashville, during a short period when Music City was open to non-formulaic approaches. Alvin and his brother Phil, working out of Los Angeles, participated in another lamentably brief popular-music moment, the rockabilly revival, as leaders of the fondly remembered Blasters," Jerome Clark relates.

Now, Jerome takes a look at two new recordings: Alvin's Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women and Earle's Townes.

"Earle and Alvin are hard-working pros who, years down the road, still love the music and keep finding innovative ways to express it," Jerome says. "These guys have always had it, but as time goes by, they just have more of it."

The Chicago Bluesmasters offer up the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project: More Rare Gems for your consideration, and Steve Guyger spins a little Radio Blues. Jerome takes a look at both recent releases. "These are two exceptionally fine albums, steeped in the tradition of 1960s-style Chicago blues. In that golden era, echoes of the music's Deep South roots still could be heard even as blues was evolving into a hard-edged big-city sound," he says.

"By the end of that decade, owing at least in part to the 'discovery' of electric blues by young English rock stars, blues-rock -- stressing technique over feeling -- would be born. It would not be a uniformly happy development."

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is traveling at the Speed of Life. "This CD, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's first in eight years, is a huge step forward ... which they took by looking backwards," explains Michael Scott Cain.

"In the 1970s, they made a series of classic albums that meshed their southern California hippie mentality with Nashville to come up with something brand new, a blend of folk, rock, country and bluegrass that was instantly identifiable as Dirt Band music. ... After a period spent successfully chasing hit singles on the country charts, the Dirt Band spears to be going back to what made the raw, enthusiastic, rough-hewn and down-home music that comes so beautifully to them."

• • • FICTION

Terry Pratchett brings chaos to Ankh-Morpork with a Thud! "Pratchett -- whose books have evolved from sword-and-sorcery satire to much heavier issues such as ethnic bias, racial tensions, law and order, conspiracy theories, war, justice and everything else human beings get up to -- gets right into it again. Thud! begins with a murder-mystery and ends with the Nightwatch crew desperately trying to prevent a war between two groups who are looking for any excuse to wipe each other out," Mary Harvey says.

"As well crafted as his plots can be, and they are normally sharp as well-cut jewels, there are times when it's a little bit difficult to sort out what's actually going on when the rollercoaster endings are in motion. This effect is created partly by trying to take on too much themewise, and partly by Pratchett's attempts to turn his endings into unifying lessons. It's not just a murder-mystery, it's also a Dark and Sinister Force in the Universe fantasy epic, which also happens to be tackling the subject of racism, not to mention the love story he touches on briefly. Mixing goofy fun, which Pratchett is famous for, with a more serious message, requires a very delicate touch."

Sherrilyn Kenyon is ready to Seize the Night with #7 in her ongoing Dark Hunter series. "The book is witty and interesting. Kenyon's characters are well-realized and her world is one I would want to visit again," says Becky Kyle.

"However, Seize the Night would have gotten a stronger rave from me save for two flaws."

Kassandra Sims is Falling Upwards with the Southern working girl, her protagonist in this recent novel. "While the paranormal aspect of Falling Upwards works well with Sims' disjointed writing style, only so many loose ends can be covered up by placing them in a less continuous world," Whitney Mallenby complains.

"Moreover, in keeping with her heroine's inconsistency, Sims often gets so caught up in her imaginative plot that several elements are poorly dealt with. Many details greatly emphasized at the start of the book fade to nothing without explanation, while certain essential plot twists happen abruptly, backed by vague or unsatisfying reasoning."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

The other Kryptonian, Power Girl, gets a fresh start in the aptly tightly collection, A New Beginning. "Given her standing as a not-quite Supergirl and also-ran Wonder Woman, some writers have simply gone for comedy and focused on Power Girl's prodigious cup size. Unfortunately, that joke wears thin after a while," Tom Knapp says.

"Now, writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti have launched a new Power Girl series, the first six issues of which are collected here. Their writing is strong and light-hearted. ... The true strength here is Amanda Conner, whose art is clean, clear and quirky. She definitely has a handle on PG's heroic stature; her delicate touch when it comes to postures and facial expressions is amazing."

Warren Ellis takes us to the end of the world and beyond in the first volume of FreakAngels. "The FreakAngels are a dozen young people who were born at the same moment 23 years ago. Although unrelated, they share physical characteristics and a psychic connection. About six years ago, they focused their energies on creating a better world, and instead destroyed it. Or a lot of it, anyway," Tom says.

"The story is confusing. The characters are enigmatic. But one read through this collection leaves you with a lot of questions that you hope will be answered soon. The people are well developed, if vague, with a strong sense of personality and nicely written dialogue."


• • • FOLKLORE

Amy Friedman, Jillian Gilliland and Laura Hall combine forces for Tell Me a Story 2: Animal Magic. "This CD contains seven stories that range from just over 5 minutes to nearly 12 minutes in length. Together, they add up to more than an hour's worth of storytelling," Wil Owen says.

"Some children are fine with audio while many, like my own kids, prefer pictures. Since I do not have an accompanying book to go along with the CD, I am afraid that I enjoy these stories more than my 5-year-olds currently do. I am hopeful that this will change as they get older as these CDs offer a rich change of pace. I certainly would not want one of the Tell Me a Story audiobooks to take the place of my reading to my kids, but the occasional break would certainly be appreciated."


• • • NON-FICTION

Robert Hilburn has made a mark on music, and he shares his recollections in Cornflakes with John Lennon. "Hilburn is a man who does not just review, but has such deep insight into the core of the music that John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and even Bob Dylan took his beneficial criticism and put it into their work," Risa Duff says.

"It is extremely rare when a rock critic is so admired by the artists themselves. The title of the book is an insight into just how much Hilburn was allowed to cross that professional to personal relationship. Indeed there were cornflakes with Lennon, cartoons with Michael Jackson, a prison visit with Cash and set-list alterations from Springsteen when Springsteen was accused by Hilburn of doing a set of greatest hits rather than nurturing his new material."

• • • MOVIES

Three top rock guitarists mix and match their abilities in It Might Get Loud, a music documentary best watched with the volume up. "Jimmy Page (The Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (White Stripes/Raconteurs) are not regularly mentioned in the same breath. Yet all three are ranked among the Top 25 'Greatest Guitarists of All Time,' according to a list recently compiled by Rolling Stone," Corinne Smith says.

"Archival footage and audio interviews provide background info on the three individual musical journeys. The stories are told by the men themselves. There are no dirt-dishing bandmates or girlfriends; and no reviewers or analysts to offer interpretations for us. We learn firsthand about their influences and about their first guitar encounters. And each man has a chance to examine his past."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

29 May 2010

May 29 is the 149th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 216 days remaining until the end of the year.

On May 29, 1453, the city of Constantinople was captured by the Turks, who renamed it Istanbul. This conquest marked the end of the Byzantine Empire; the city became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. It also inspired a catchy song.

Rhode Island, on this date in 1790, became the last of the original American colonies to ratify the Constitution and was admitted as the 13th state. In 1848, Wisconsin was admitted as the 30th U.S. state.

On May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation giving general amnesty to everyone who participated in rebelling against the United States (with the exception of high-ranking members of the Confederate government and military and those who owned more than $20,000 worth of property, all of whom had to apply individually to the president for a pardon). Once an oath of allegiance was taken, all former property rights, except those in slaves, were returned to the former owners.

And on this date in 1942, Bing Crosby, along with the Ken Darby Singers and the John Scott Trotter Orchestra, recorded Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," which went on to become the best-selling Christmas single in history, for Decca Records in Los Angeles.

People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

- Dave Barry

When humans speak for God in terms of rejection or condemnation, we may rest assured that dangerously narrow minds are at work.

- Rev. Webster "Kit" Howell

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

- Friedrich Nietzsche

• • • MUSIC

Nuala Kennedy wants you to Tune In and turn yourself on to her music. "Known as a cross-genre collaborator; Nuala Kennedy grew up in Ireland before moving to her adopted country, Scotland. Along the way she expanded her talent and abilities. Her biography reads like an international star among traditional performers and teachers," Louise Dunphy says.

"Kennedy's fantastic arrangements with such beautiful instruments as the flute, accordion, mandolin, viola, violin, piano and cello -- and even a hurdy gurdy on the wonderful traditional tune 'The Blooming Bright Star of Belle Isle,' for instance -- really elevate this production to world class."

Michelle Lewis's This Time Around "is an album of what sound like very personal songs. They are written with passion and a real depth of feeling, and they are performed in the same vein," Nicky Rossiter says.

"Listening closely to some of the lyrics, I was struck by the similarities to works we heard from Leonard Cohen in the 1960s, although Lewis seems to bring the emotions down to an even more personal level. The lyrics are raw and sometimes a bit despairing, but are very effective."

The Asylum Street Spankers is, apparently, God's Favorite Band. "God's Favorite Band? Well, presumably God loves unbelievers, too, so let us hope He doesn't take offense if this is, as advertised, "the world's first agnostic gospel album." If He has an easily tickled sense of humor, He and the Asylum Street Spankers will get on splendidly," Jerome Clark says.

"Beyond the wickedly over-the-top comedy lies pointed, left-leaning social commentary and superior musicianship. The Spankers -- there is a reason I do not refer to them by their acronym -- are in essence a jug band, an acoustic ensemble rooted, however irreverently, in the old-time sounds of hokum, country blues and early jazz."

Marcome sails the Seven Seas with this new age offering. "Marcome's debut re-release is an eclectic mix of new age music with jazz and world music influences," Adolf Goriup says.

"It slightly reminds of Enya and some other new age artists, though there's no copying at all. Her songs and tunes are original tracks clearly bearing Marcome's signature. I was impressed by her singing as well as by the brilliant arrangements."


• • • MUSIC INTERVIEW

Gary Mullen, once a low-key computer salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, now lights up the world as Freddie Mercury in "One Night of Queen." Tom Knapp chats with Mullen about the transition in a Queen at heart. "I've been a Queen fan since I was about 4 years old. I would sing along in my bedroom growing up," Mullen recalls.

"Then karaoke came along and I would sing -- well, the way I sing. People came up and said I sounded like Freddie. I never really got it. I still don't."

• • • FICTION

Dudley Pope keeps his hero in the thick of things in Ramage & the Drumbeat. "Historians will thrill at Dudley Pope's in-the-thick-of-it retelling of the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. And, while the actions of Kathleen and her crew aren't part of the official record, they certainly could help to explain the outcome," Tom Knapp says.

"Ramage & the Drumbeat is the second of Pope's 18-book series, and it does have flaws -- but the tale itself is so exciting, I feel highlighting them would be nitpicking. ... When Valentine's Day dawns and the British fleet sails into battle, you will read one of the most extraordinary naval narratives yet published. Bless McBooks for bringing this series back to light!!"

Jimmy Root Jr. begins The Lightning Chronicles with the sound of Distant Thunder. "I feel this book needs a disclaimer for anyone seeking to read it. It's unapologetically pro-Israel and pro-Christian. Now, that shouldn't negate any enjoyment factor or lead to a left vs. right kind of consideration, but anyone that would appreciate a more neutral stance in their fiction (especially when it comes to Muslims as anti-Western terrorist jihadists) should probably find another fiction/thriller with less of a particular bent," says C. Nathan Coyle.

"Regardless of its religious/political slant, the biggest problem with this book is that it's obviously the first book in a continuing series. Sure, the cover plainly tells us that it is the first book of The Lightning Chronicles, but there's a LOT of build-up to two significant events, and very little payoff/resolution to one of the events. The second event is a straight-up cliffhanger, so be forewarned that you're going to get only a semblance of a complete story."

Charlie Stella takes a hard-boiled slant on mob-controlled pornography in Johnny Porno. "Charlie Stella, who has been compared to the masters Elmore Leonard, George V. Higgins and Donald E. Westlake, is fast on the colorful dialogue. In fact, readers who need a fast-moving plot are going to have to adjust their expectations to appreciate Stella. The action builds slowly as the conflicts rise and become more and more complicated. Finally, the complications resolve themselves in furious bursts of action near the end of the book," Michael Scott Cain reports.

"What Stella does best is move you into the center of a world, in this case, the outer boroughs of New York City in the early '70s, introduce you to a subculture, minor-league mobsters and the cops who either profit off of them or try to shut them down, and let you experience what it must have been like in there. It's a trip worth taking."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

Richard Moore's Boneyard continues in its second volume. "It had a cute beginning. But could the self-contained story in Boneyard, in which young Michael Paris inherited a monster-infested cemetery surrounded by hostile townsfolk and their demonic mayor, continue to score once that initial arc was resolved?" Tom Knapp asks.

"Yup. The second book in the series, published in 2003 and reissued with color in 2006, is every bit as fun as the first."

The initial run of the Hack/Slash saga is gathered together in Omnibus form. Tom tells you what's inside -- including a few features not present in previous books in the series.


• • • NON-FICTION

Julian Stockwin packs a bag full of nautical goodies in Stockwin's Maritime Miscellany. "This book, packed though it is with odd naval anecdotes, esoteric definitions and fascinating trivia, isn't really useful as an encyclopedic resource. Stockwin didn't organize his entries for people trying to look up a specific item. Rather, it's a mishmash, a loose collection of entries that flow more by whim than design," Tom Knapp says.

"That doesn't make this book any less fun to read, however. I've kept it handy for those moments when I have a few minutes to kill, and I've also picked it up when I had more time for some serious reading. Either way, I've come away entertained and a little more knowledgeable about naval life."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley spends a few hours with A Good Woman ... and comes away from the experience dissatisfied. "I really went back and forth with this film. In the end, though, I just couldn't get past the fact that even a good script based on the work of a literary genius like Oscar Wilde just can't overcome the deleterious effects of problematic acting," he says.

"I can't bring myself to say bad acting because I think Scarlett Johansson is a very good actress and -- while I don't really care for her -- Helen Hunt is as well. Neither was very good in A Good Woman, however. The blame must really fall on the director and casting director, though, as neither actress really belonged in this film."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

22 May 2010

On May 22, 1859, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born. Laurience Oliver followed in 1907. On this date in 1967, Fred Rogers welcomed us for the first time into his Land of Make-Believe ... and his neighborhood. On this date in 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the last time.

May 22 is National Maritime Day, marking the anniversary of the departure for the first steamship crossing of the Atlantic Ocean from Savannah, Georgia, to Liverpool, England, in 1819. It arrived at its destination on June 20.

On this date in 334 BCE, the Macedonian army led by Alexander the Great defeated Darius III of Persia in the Battle of the Granicus. In 1455, at the First Battle of St. Albans, Richard, Duke of York, defeated and captured King Henry VI of England. In 1807, a grand jury indicted former vice president of the United States Aaron Burr on a charge of treason. In 1826, HMS Beagle departed on its first voyage. In 1843, thousands of people (and cattle) departed Independence, Missouri, on the Great Migration west on what is now called the Oregon Trail. During the Reconstruction period following the American Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Amnesty Act of 1872, restoring full civil rights to all but about 500 Confederate sympathizers.

The Wright brothers in 1906 were granted U.S. patent number 821,393 for their "Flying-Machine." In 1960, an earthquake measuring 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale, now known as the Great Chilean Earthquake, hit southern Chile -- the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. In 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the goals of his Great Society social reforms to bring an "end to poverty and racial injustice" in America. In 1980, Namco released the highly influential arcade game Pac-Man.

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

- Erica Jong

There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dullness.

- Henry David Thoreau

Keep an open mind, I always say. Drives sensible people mad, I know, but what did we ever get from sensible people? Not poetry or art or music, that's for sure.

- Charles de Lint

• • • MUSIC

Carmel Mikol produces her first full-length album, titled In My Bones. "Cape Breton singer-songwriter Carmel Mikol has only been on the music scene for a few years, but she's already generated a small fan base amongst folk-country enthusiasts in Canada and the United States," Elizabeth Delaquess says.

"Her songwriting and lovely voice show potential, but folk and country music fans looking for something interesting should wait and see how Mikol's music develops. In My Bones is disappointingly cliched, but if she works at it, Carmel Mikol's future albums could be anything but."

Megan King has some Pretty Songs to share. "On Pretty Songs, her first collection, King has written all of the music and lyrics, does all the vocals, plays all of the instruments and has produced and mixed the album. She even did the artwork, photos and layout. The result shows her strengths: good voice, sincerity and a passion for her music. Unfortunately, it doesn't show off her talents as strongly as it could," Michael Scott Cain opines.

"King could benefit from having a producer. Not because she's made a bad album; she has not. Pretty Songs is very listenable and displays an imagination and a talent that should be nurtured. Having another intelligence that she trusts and responds to would have helped King reach beyond the potential that Pretty Songs shows."

The Brothers Comatose have Songs from the Stoop to share. "Their last name is not Comatose, nor is their behavior, which seems spirited enough," Jerome Clark says.

"The brothers in the Brothers Comatose are Ben (guitar, vocals) and Alex (banjo, vocals) Morrison. Brother acts have a long history in hillbilly music, but Brothers Comatose are a long way from the Monroes, the Delmores, the Stanleys, the Osbornes and the rest, though the just-mentioned are influences, if distant ones."

Jerome also takes a look at a pair of recent country CDs, Ethyl & The Regulars' Fill 'Er Up and Not That Lucky by Two Tons of Steel. "Neo-traditional country flourishes particularly in regional scenes, most visibly and audibly in Texas, which is where the San Antonio-based Two Tons of Steel, two decades old now, plays the bars and dance halls when it's not out touring Europe, where they still like real American music," he says.

"Ethyl & the Regulars announce their presence, always a welcome one I have no doubt, on Denver's flashing neon signs. As carriers of hillbilly tradition, these two are far from alone, but they're the bands we happen to be heeding here."

• • • FICTION

Seth Hunter opens a window to The Time of Terror, when the French Revolution led to fear and violence in the streets of Paris and the British Navy -- here personified by Lt. Nathan Peake -- was gearing up for war. "It seems at first glance to be a nautical yarn in the tradition of Forester and O'Brian, but relatively little of the action takes place at sea," Tom Knapp remarks.

"Hunter's novel does an excellent job evoking the street-level terror that accompanied the French Revolution -- the mob violence, the volatile leadership and the steady chop of the guillotine -- and his land-based scenes are far more richly painted than the naval action. Peake himself is a little unusual as an action hero: his plans don't always come to fruition, and he's often simply swept along in the course of events around him. Still, he usually manages to land on his feet, and I believe the conclusion of this novel sets the stage for an exciting sequel featuring a wiser, more mature protagonist."

Terry Pratchett is Making Money with his 36th Discworld novel. "Prior to 2008, I would not have thought that a fantasy novel about banking would have been a very interesting one. In the last two years, after having seen the fantasy that passes for banking, I can honestly say that the subject matter couldn't be more timely," says Mary Harvey.

"Some fans may feel that Making Money is a bit of a retread. There is an undeniable sense of familiarity about the plot: sneaky, underhanded con man has a secret heart of gold that will see him through to doing the right thing, every time. Talking dogs, werewolves and vampires are in every subplot. And there are subplots aplenty, some almost too nebulous to follow, some placed at the beginning and not picked up until the very end when you've nearly forgotten they were even there, which dampens the typically compelling nature of Pratchett's stories. There aren't nearly as many laugh-out-loud moments as have been in previous Discworld novels. I can see where many fans might feel that these elements contribute to a sort of flatness that hangs up the plot, but I think there is more to the story than meets the eye."

Kevin Burton McGuire kicks things off with a frustrated reporter in Fire Gazer: Arson at the Wolfe House. "While the characters are intentionally outlandish/on the fringe, McGuire has a great grasp on character interaction, with believable back-and-forth dialogue," says C. Nathan Coyle.

"The biggest problem with this story is the Blair Witch format. The format itself isn't inherently flawed, but it lends itself to abrupt endings and little resolution for the characters. In less than 100 pages, McGuire manages to establish delightfully complex and interesting characters in a short, so it's jarring that the story jarringly ends with the fire at the Wolfe House. (It's not really a spoiler if it's the title of the book, is it?) Perhaps that is just the effect the author is intending. It's a testament to the character development that the reader is left wanting to know the rest of the story."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

The Mirror Universe made famous in the original Star Trek series is revisited, prequel-fashion, in Mirror Images. "When this story begins aboard the ISS Enterprise, James T. Kirk is an ambitious first officer under the command of Capt. Christopher Pike. The other familiar faces from the original series -- Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov -- are already on board, although their loyalties in this universe, where advancement is earned through assassination, are uncertain," Tom Knapp says.

"It's a good story. It's rare to see the focus of a story be so amoral, so vicious, so utterly without redeeming qualities, but the mirror Kirk is a brilliant combination of greed, ambition and cunning."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer's highly successful Season 8 series continues in volume 5, Predators & Prey. "Did you ever wonder how, given all of the very public vampire attacks on TV, they kept the general public ignorant of the existence of undead blood-suckers? Well, all that's about to change," Tom says.

"This collection makes several points very clear: Dawn is still a centaur. The demon Clem still has an excess of skin. There's a legion of Vampy Cat plush dolls shipping all over the world, but these hot items are sentient and bitey. Buffy still isn't gay. Andrew is still annoyingly chatty. Daniel Craig has across-the-aisle appeal. Dawn is now a porcelain doll. Veronica Mars DVDs should be handled with care. And even if she is of legal age, it's still awkward when Dawn pops up naked in this book."

David Bitterbaum enjoys a Black Summer, created by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. "So what is the comic about? It's about people, it's about ideas and it's about action -- lots of meticulously-drawn, gorgeous, exploding action. Juan Jose Ryp draws some of the most beautiful fire I have ever seen and this comic delivers plenty of it. Right when you start to get bored with the action, though, the thoughtfulness kicks back in," David Bitterbaum says.

"If you think Batman is a wimp for not hauling off and just killing people, or if you are tired of heroes with so much backstory you have no idea what's going on, I'd recommend you give Black Summer a shot, you'll probably enjoy it. And man, that fire."


• • • NON-FICTION

Paddy Woodworth explores a key region of Spain in The Basque Country: A Cultural History. "Woodworth is something of an expert tour guide, having spent time in Euskadi over the past 30 years covering it for the Irish Times. He wrote one of the best books in English about the state-sponsored terror campaign waged there in the 1970s and '80s (Dirty War, Clean Hands)," David Cox says.

"This book is a detailed guide: part travel book, part commentary and interpretation. The model is Mark Kurlansky's Basque History of the World, which Woodworth calls 'beautifully written but unreliable.' Both books purport to give a panoramic vision of that country, its history, its culture, its politics. ... There is plenty here to merit a read, for those with an interest in this fascinating corner of Europe."

• • • MOVIES

Diarmaid MacCoullough discusses A History of Christianity in this comprehensive, six-hour DVD series. "MacCullough, an affable and able host, literally walks us through Christianity's history, visiting all the important sites, interviewing most of the important figures and presenting us with a picture of what happened, why it happened and how it could have all been different. Even if you have no interest in religion, it is a fascinating story and MacCullough does a great job of telling it to us, while the visuals make it real," Michael Scott Cain says.

"It's important to note that MacCullough describes, rather than proselytizing. He does not advocate. Instead he is an excellent historian, presenting the facts, tracing the actions and the reasons behind them without ever suggesting that the Christian religion is any more than another organization to be examined and understood. Whatever your belief or lack of beliefs, you will not find them attacked or endorsed here."

A classic of horror cinema gets a second look when Dave Sturm relates his first time seeing Night of the Living Dead. "It all started here," he remembers.

"I was 19 years old when Night of the Living Dead first came out, and I was fortunate to see it in a downtown Baltimore theater with a packed audience that didn't know what to expect. When it ended, several people in the audience leaped out of their seats and shouted at the screen in outrage. Everyone else just sat there stunned, me included. I think most everyone there realized they had just seen something historic.

"They had."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

15 May 2010

We're on vacation! Please accept this brief update, with a baker's half-dozen reviews, to tide you over 'til next week.

Today is Mercuralia, a Roman celebration in honor of Mercury. It is Peace Officers Memorial Day in the United States, Teacher's Day in Mexico and South Korea, Independence Day in Paraguay and Nakba Day in Palestinian communities.

On this date in 1252, Pope Innocent IV issued the papal bull ad exstirpanda, which authorized, but also limited, the torture of heretics in the Medieval Inquisition. In 1536, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, stood trial in London on charges of treason, adultery and incest; the second wife of King Henry VIII, she was condemned to death by a specially selected jury. In 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots, married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, her third husband. In 1718, James Puckle, a London lawyer, patented the world's first machine gun. IN 1776, the Virginia Convention instructed its Continental Congress delegation to propose a resolution of independence from Great Britain, paving the way for the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In 1869, in New York, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman's Suffrage Association. In 1928, Mickey Mouse premiered in his first cartoon, "Plane Crazy." In 1940, McDonald's opened its first restaurant in San Bernardino, California. On this date in 1958, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 3 and, on this date in 1960, Sputnik 4. In 1972, the island of Okinawa, under U.S. military governance since its conquest in 1945, reverted to Japanese control. In 2008, California became the second U.S. state (after Massachusetts in 2004) to legalize same-sex marriage after the state's own Supreme Court ruled a previous ban unconstitutional.

This date begins Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season, which ends Nov. 30. It is the 70th anniversary of the introduction of nylon stockings to the public. It marks the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. There are 230 days remaining until the end of the year.

The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.

- Mark Twain

The writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master -- something that at times strangely wills and works for itself.

- Charlotte Bronte

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

- Maya Angelou

• • • MUSIC

Kieran Kane's new album lies Somewhere Beyond the Roses. "There are two kinds of folk/Americana fans: those who are crazy about Kieran Kane's music and those who haven't discovered it yet," Michael Scott Cain asserts.

"Kane's song are simple on the surface, often taking a blues form, sometimes being barely more than recitations, but inside that simplicity are deep insights into our common condition. Kane has a lot to say about the way we live today and he always says it in a fascinating and unique way."

Madison Violet is up next with No Fool for Trying. "On one level, Madison Violet is broadly reminiscent of another female roots group, the Wailin' Jennys. MV, however, is not a trio but a duo, made up of Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac," Jerome Clark says.

"If my own tastes run to grittier, more forceful approaches, Madison Violet satisfies my demanding ears for three reasons. One, MacEachern and MacIsaac are outstanding vocalists with harmony gifts that on occasion stir happy memories (gender differences notwithstanding) of the Everly Brothers. Two, while the songs are almost all about relationships -- in other words, not notably ambitious -- they are smart and capably crafted. And three, Les Cooper's acoustic production focuses on the unobtrusively supportive and the exquisitely restrained, its strengths sufficiently subtle that you may not catch them on first hearing. On the second and third, they will do nice things to your heart."

The Nighthawks are taking the Last Train to Bluesville with this new blues album. "Over three decades the Nighthawks have undergone a bewildering variety of personnel changes as they've traversed the nation playing blues and bluesy roots-rock, while taking time off to cut the periodic album. Last Train to Bluesville is something different from the usual: a purely acoustic disc that covers songs popularized in electric versions," Jerome says.

"While other blues artists have sometimes de-electrified blues standards, most of them have done it in a way intended to reassert the songs' rural references. Last Train has its more or less pure country-blues moments, and they're pleasurable ones. But overall, what the four members of the band in its present incarnation communicate is the feeling of electric music played on unamplified instruments, energetic and hard-driving, with some tasty jazz elements and hints of rock and rockabilly."

• • • FICTION

David Malouf is holding the Trojan War Ransom in this surreal novel set in the time of ancient Greece. "There is a certain beauty in the words, and at times they become meditative. The use of language alone would make this book worth reading, but that is not all you get," Paul de Bruijn remarks.

"Ransom is a very well-written book and both the way language is used and the story that is told in its pages will keep you engaged until the story's end. It may even quietly stay with you long after you put it down."

John F. Dobbyn makes the mystery stick in Frame Up. "Dobbyn's plotting is both the major strength and the weakness of the book. He keeps things moving so fast and in so many directions that other aspects of the novel are not fully developed," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Sure, Dobbyn's book has a couple of flaws but he keeps it moving, keeps you guessing, fakes you out a lot, and gives you a good time. It's a good read. After you finish it, you'll be looking for other Dobbyn titles."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

Tom Knapp spends a little downtime with Black Widow & the Marvel Girls. "Black Widow, the former Russian superspy turned Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, is an under-utilized character in the Marvel universe -- in part, I think, because creators can't settle on an origin story for her, nor can they decide if she should operate with or without gadgets. Heck, they aren't even sure what her name is," he says.

"I have enjoyed the Black Widow in many of her various presentations, and I long for the day she is put to good use by Marvel. This book, however, earns only a half-hearted yawn. C'mon, Marvel, you knew her appearance in Iron Man 2 movie was going to ramp up interest in the character among fans; you had plenty of time to invest in quality storytelling, not rushed, inadequate crap."

• • • MOVIES

Tom Knapp takes a peek at the latest Marvel Comics movie blockbuster, Iron Man 2. "This sequel, operating (as the climactic scene will attest) on the theory that more is always better, never finds its stride. The result is a bit of a mess, including some niggling details that don't sit well," Tom says.

"Bottom line, Iron Man 2 is a flashy, fun-filled movie that continues the excellence set by Iron Man without achieving the same level of success. Superhero fans will love it, endlessly debating its worth when compared to the original, as well as recent Spider-Man movies and, of course, the most recent Batman experience. Ultimately, the plot holes won't matter so long as people eat up the action and special effects."

By the way, this marks Tom Knapp's 2,300th review for Rambles.NET. Woohoo!

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

8 May 2010

It was 40 years ago today that the Beatles released their final album, Let It Be. May 8 is the 128th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 237 days remaining until the end of the year. May 8 is International Migratory Bird Day, Mother Ocean Day, No Socks Day and World Red Cross Day.

On this date in 1541, Hernando de Soto reached the Mississippi River and named it Rio de Espiritu Santo. In 1861, Richmond, Va. was named the capital of the Confederate States of America. In 1886, pharmacist John Styth Pemberton invented a carbonated beverage that would later be named Coca-Cola. In Martinique in 1902, Mount Pelee erupted, destroying the town of Saint-Pierre and killing more than 30,000 people. In 1933, Mohandas Gandhi began a 21-day fast to protest British oppression in India. May 8 is V-E Day, marking the date in 1945 when combat ended in Europe; German forces agreed in Rheims, France, to an unconditional surrender, ending Germany's part in World War II.

The rollercoaster Revolution, the first steel coaster with a vertical loop, opened on this date in 1976 at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

May 8 is also Stay Up All Night Night, when people are encouraged to stay awake through the night, reliving the excitement of staying up late as a child. It's a chance to catch up on chores, do some cleaning, watch films, read, cook, drink or chat with friends. There is something incredibly satisfying in staying up to see the sun rise -- and everyone should do it at least once a year.

Today is Mother's Day, so be nice to your mom.

Music is an expression of sound that reflects the beauty of life.

- Paul Winter

It was the music of hill and moon, a calling-down music, keening and wild. There was a stag's lowing in it, the murmur of sea against shore. There was moonlight in it and the slow grind of earth against stone. There was harping in it, and the sound of the wind as it sped across the gorse-backed hills.

- Charles de Lint

Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune.

- Thomas Fuller

• • • MUSIC

Deanta concluded its brief musical career with Whisper of a Secret. "Mary Dillon's is a voice straight from the angels, and the band supporting her -- Deirdre Havlin, Rosie Mulholland, Eoghan O'Brien, Katie O'Brien and Clodagh Warnock -- is about as cracking as you can find in all of Ireland," Tom Knapp says.

"Whisper of a Secret is not the best of Deanta's releases, but it's a fine album nonetheless -- and it's fair good enough to make many another band cry with shame and envy. Musicians as good as this are always a welcome find."

Leokane Pryor pays homage to home on Home Malanai, a dozen songs reflecting on his life in Hawaii. "Falsetto singing evolved over the years in Hawaii to the art form it is today, and tenor Pryor is quite an exponent of the style. His pure voice soars through the melodies, full-bodied and emotional, switching effortlessly between natural and falsetto, with a beautiful hop as he steps up from one to the other," says Jamie O'Brien.

"His singing and ukulele playing is supplemented by a handful of musicians on bass, guitar, ukulele and backup vocals. The accompaniment provides the perfect setting for his warm, emotional voice."

Not to be confused with the better-known Nashville (home of Music Row on the other side of the Cumberland River), East Nashville hosts a separate music scene. Music there is not "product," it's songs by artists "who write because they have something beyond greeting-card sentiments to express," Jerome Clark says.

"From the evidence of Red Beet's artists, 19 examples of whose work appear on East Nashville, Vol. 3, country music -- in either its honkytonk (traditional) or current (power pop) definition -- is a very small part of the dynamic. The sounds are mostly rock and folk, once in a while blues or pop."

Coco Montoya, Jerome says, "is a blues-circuit veteran who learned his trade in the bands of Albert Collins and John Mayall before going solo in the 1990s, cutting discs for Blind Pig and Alligator. I Want It All Back, his first for Ruf, is not a wildly ambitious album ablaze with hot licks and temple-thumping bombast. To the contrary, without ever falling into the banally mellow, it soothes and gratifies. It goes for the feeling, which is to say heartache over headache; the album is long on sagas of romantic disappointment.

"Though his skill as a guitarist is never in doubt, it's Montoya's warm, emotion-drenched vocals that do the captivating."

The Earl Brothers take a low-key tack on The Earl Brothers. "To the casual listener, the San Francisco-based Earl Brothers -- this is their fourth album -- sound like a hyper-traditional bluegrass band, with the high-atmospheric sound of the first Stanley Brothers records. In other words, before anybody had thought to call mid-century commercial Appalachian music 'bluegrass.' The Earls, however, manage to confound more experienced bluegrass listeners, who sense that something else is going on here," Jerome says.

"That something else, presumably, is an extraordinarily bleak -- and deeply modern -- sense of life, only expressed (pitch-perfectly, one might add) in the voice of what Greil Marcus famously called the Old, Weird America."

• • • FICTION

Charles de Lint returns to the American Southwest with The Painted Boy. "Working with a stable of all-new characters, de Lint has begun building an exciting new base for his stories. There are interesting, well-developed characters and a broad new mythology that is only tangentially related to Newford lore. And, perhaps in part because of that newness, I tore into The Painted Boy with extra enthusiasm," Tom Knapp says.

"Still, the ending to The Painted Boy caught me off guard."

Anthony R. Fanning sets sail in a new series with Natalie's Good Fortune. "I love a good pirate yarn. And Natalie's Good Fortune, by first-time author Anthony Fanning, is a good pirate yarn," Tom says. "But Fanning almost lost me in the beginning, long before a single pirate was seen.

"In the first few chapters especially, Fanning demonstrates a love for adjectives that far exceeds the demands of the story. His florid writing style is top-heavy, never sacrificing five words when a 20-word exposition would do. An editor could maybe have reined him in a bit, perhaps showed him the benefits of brevity."

Terry Pratchett returns to the Tiffany Aching subset of his wildly popular Discworld series in Wintersmith. "Pratchett does a fine job of fully exploring all the implications of an unending winter. Some of his best prose yet describes the mountain village and its occupants with Thomas Hardy accuracy," Mary Harvey says.

"Pratchett is similarly fascinated by the relationships between men and women; his plots containing explorations of the age old Mars-and-Venus dynamic. He places great faith in the power of the feminine (natural earth magic) as a balance to masculine warlike energy, which must be why he likes witches so much." She adds, "It's the laughing out loud in public places that makes this book so worthwhile. Who cares if people look at you strangely? You'll be in good company."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

Tom Knapp and Mark Allen have another trio of graphic-novel reviews to share for your reading pleasure.

Teenage superheroes take center stage in Super Teen*Topia: Invisible Touch. "Unlike the many teen-friendly super groups in mainstream comics, this book stands apart because this gang of kids ain't sidekick material," Tom says.

"In a world where superpowers are fairly common, these kids mostly just want to get through high school intact. A few are gung-ho to form a team and Fight Evil, but the others are only reluctantly drawn into using their powers and, gag, wearing costumes in public."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is oversold in Autumnal. "Autumnal, set in the early days of Buffy's college career, is described on the back cover as 'the darkest, scariest, and deadliest collection of Dark Horse Buffy stories ever, collecting two spine-chilling tales from the best-selling comic-book series.' Meh," Tom says.

"Perhaps they just shouldn't have sold it so big. Because, actually, these are both pretty good stories. But 'darkest, scariest, and deadliest'? I don't think so. 'Spine-chilling'? Maybe if you're already sitting with your back to a draft."

Mark pays an overdue visit to Planet Hulk. "Writer Greg Pak takes an uncomplicated premise and steps on the gas, infusing it with ground-shaking action and intriguing characterization, as the Hulk forms a bond with a wildly diverse group of warriors," he says.

"The Hulk appears as massive, ill-tempered and formidable as he ever has. Additionally, everything about this world is strange and alien, adding to the atmosphere of the story. And of course, the action breaks on the reader like a sequential tsunami."

• • • MOVIES

Becky Kyle and Tom Knapp both have opinions to share on Avatar. "Avatar is an experience you do not want to miss in the theaters if you are a fan of fantasy and love intense, gorgeous imagery. Director and writer James Cameron clearly spared no expense creating images that will stick with you long after you've left the theater," Becky says.

But Tom, who reviewed the movie after a small-screen viewing, was a little less impressed. "A good movie cannot stand on special effects alone, so I was curious to see if the movie I'd heard so much about would have much merit on a small, two-dimensional screen," he says. "Avatar is a visual treat. Most viewers won't care if the plot is derivative and simplistic, or if the dialogue is often laughably bad."

Daniel Jolley has the distinction of reviewing The Last Horror Movie. "I love this movie, but it's well-nigh impossible to review. If I even begin to describe this film in any way, I'm going to do the story a disservice -- and I'm going to rob you, the viewer, of a uniquely visceral horror experience," he warns.

"Under the right conditions (and of course I can't even tell you what those conditions are), The Last Horror Movie is capable of giving you the kind of thrills and chills all horror fans crave and so seldom experience."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

1 May 2010

May 1 marks the Big Ten Women's Rowing Championships and is the official day for a Bread Pudding Recipe Exchange. It is Mother Goose Day. It kicks off Creative Beginnings Month, Get Caught Reading Month, Gifts from the Garden Month, International Victorious Woman Month, National Egg Month, National Hamburger Month, National Meditation Month and Family Wellness Month. It is Join Hands Day, National Homebrew Day and National Dance Day. It is also Loyalty Day, Lei Day and Law Day USA.

On this date in 1328, the Wars of Scottish Independence came to an end with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, with which the Kingdom of England recognized the Kingdom of Scotland as an independent state. In 1707, the Act of Union joined the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The British colonies abolished slavery on this day in 1834. On May 1, 1900, the Scofield mine disaster killed more than 200 men in Scofield, Utah, in what is to date the fifth-worst mining accident in United States history. In 1930, the dwarf planet Pluto was named and, in 1931, the Empire State Building was dedicated. In 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) was established, with Kim Il-sung as president. In 1956, the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk was first made available to the public. The Prime Minister of Cuba, Fidel Castro, in 1961 proclaimed Cuba a socialist nation and abolished elections.

In 2003, in what became known as the "Mission Accomplished" speech, U.S. President George W. Bush on board the USS Abraham Lincoln (off the coast of California) declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Today is celebrated by some as Beltane in the northern hemisphere, Samhain in the southern hemisphere, and Walpurgis Night in Central and Northern Europe. It is also, of course, May Day.

Oh, and there's a really big yardsale at my house.

Humans who spend time in the wilderness, alone, without man-made mechanical noise around them, often discover that their brain begins to recover its ability to discern things.

- Robert Anderson

We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain.

- Henry David Thoreau

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.

- E.B. White

• • • MUSIC

Manus McGuire, late of the fabulous Brock McGuire band, shines on Fiddlewings. "While McGuire is primarily known for his Sligo roots, he has studied many Celtic fiddle styles and worked with a variety of musicians. This is what catches my ear on this album. Fiddlewings includes some wonderful traditional Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton and original tunes, as well as some guests, who really enhance the album," Kaitlin Hahn remarks.

"I am struck by how many slow tunes are on this album, because it isn't the norm for Celtic CDs. Even with that, it keeps my interest, because of McGuire's smooth style and precise articulation in his playing. Fiddlewings is delightful and I highly recommend giving it a listen."

Tia Carrere, known more for her acting, shares her vocals skills here on Hawaiiana. "With a beautiful voice as expressive and deep felt as you could wish for, she returns here to her Hawaiian roots with 11 songs mostly from the Hawaiian traditional catalogue," says Jamie O'Brien.

"This is very much a stripped-down album, presenting the songs in a deceptively simple fashion. Arrangements revolve around her expressive vocals and the playing of accompanist Daniel Ho -- the perfect environment for her singing to shine."

Beldock & Watson want you to believe they are Just Like You & Me. "The music is mostly folk, but there are some hints of the blues. With only a few instruments, the music is not overly complex, letting the listener focus on the vocals and words more than the melodies of the 13 tracks found here," Wil Owen says.

"The performance is definitely better than your average Joe, but it doesn't sound professional. So, I guess if you like your folk-rock a little more personal and less polished, then Beldock & Watson might just be worth checking out."

Jerome Clark concludes the music portion of this week's edition with his thoughts on six albums in three reviews.

Luther Dickinson & the Sons of Mudboy stands alongside the South Memphis String Band in this review of their recent albums, Onward & Upward and Home Sweet Home, respectively. "A guitarist with the hard-rocking roots-blues band North Mississippi All Stars and the son of the late, much-loved Memphis musician/producer Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson has joined forces with roots maven Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers) and songster Alvin Youngblood Hart. The result, the South Memphis String Band, is -- no mistake about it -- very traditional. In the hands of these three roots-music masters, that turns out to be something to shout from the rooftops," Jerome announces.

"If a broadly similar record, Luther Dickinson & the Sons of Mudboy's Onward & Upward is notably more somber in tone," he adds. "The songs and performances are religiously themed, both familiar and less so, from hymn, gospel, and spiritual folk-music traditions."

Next, Jerome takes a gander at three women of blues: Fiona Boyes, with Blues Woman; Joanne Shaw Taylor, with White Sugar; and Dani Wilde, with Heal My Blues. "Late one evening a few weeks ago, casually surfing channels, I stumbled upon the strange spectacle of a blues outfit playing before a small audience of elderly, befuddled-looking rustics in a barn ... in Romania. The band, which alongside the standard blues instruments featured hammered dulcimer, fiddle and balalaika, was performing a Jimmy Reed song in English," Jerome says.

"Nothing quite so outlandish is happening with the three CDs here, but they do attest -- to the shock only of those who haven't yet noticed -- that blues has long since ceased being exclusively African-American and Southern, or even American. Fiona Boyes, who now divides her living between Melbourne and Portland, Oregon, honed her talents on the Australian blues scene. Joanne Shaw Taylor and Dani Wilde are two young women from England. All are guitarists of advanced technical ability."

Jim Lloyd & the Skyliners have a collection of Songs from My Attic to share. "The overall sound is pleasant and breezy, what you might hear put down by some talented homegrown pickers on a slow afternoon in a small-town Virginia barber shop. Actually, Lloyd is a small-town Virginia barber. He also comes from generations of traditional Virginia and West Virginia musicians," Jerome notes.

"The 16 cuts visit a range of down-to-earth tunes, derived from old folk, early country, gospel, the inevitable (and always gladly received) Dixie & Tom T. Hall and -- a bit more surprisingly -- Fats Waller and Steve Earle. Lloyd sings in a likable light baritone in the voice of a man who knows how to tell a story."

• • • FICTION

Just two novels are being featured today.

Alexander Kent concludes Richard Bolitho's term as a midshipman with Band of Brothers, the last of three novels collected in The Complete Midshipman Bolitho. "As a novel, Brothers is not a very good stand-alone chapter in Bolitho's life. It is very short, and the story is poorly developed. Action is choppy and lacks needed detail. You sometimes wonder if Kent had gotten to a point in his outline when he simply decided he was done with it and sent it along to his publisher unfinished," Tom Knapp says.

"But it remains an important turning point for Bolitho. ... As part of the larger package, you have less of a sense of being shortchanged on the final volume. And it leaves readers in a good position to begin exploring Bolitho's career as an officer in His Majesty's Navy."

Jodi Lynn Anderson serves up a dish of Love & Peaches for her readers' enjoyment. "The third in the series (preceded by Peaches and The Secrets of Peaches), Love & Peaches is a welcome entry that reunites best friends Murphy, Leeda and Birdie after a year separated from one another. At home in Darlington Orchard, Georgia, they must actively pursue a balancing act with their past and present selves," Justin Tenley says.

"In essence, this novel is focused on the concept of change, and when transformation happens whether it is best to hold on or let go. It is about three distinct individuals, and the thread to friendship that ties them together."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

Tom Knapp once again has a trio of graphic-novel offerings to share.

Iron Man is brought to his conclusion in The End. "Tony Stark is getting old. He's tired and, after decades of abuse beneath the Iron Man shell, shaky. But, despite years of heroism, he wants to leave a greater legacy behind when he's gone," Tom says.

"It's not a bad story, although the framework feels contrived and the overall scope is a little less epic than one might hope for in a so-called 'final' chapter. It's also brief, a mere 48 pages, so Marvel beefed up the book with a few flashbacks to Iron Man's origins. They are, to say the least, dated and not a little silly."

The fourth year of Captain Kirk's original five-year mission continues in Year Four #2: Enterprise Experiment. "For the first major story arc in IDW's Star Trek Year Four series, the company brings in a heavy hitter: D.C. Fontana, beloved writer of many key episodes in the original television series," Tom says.

"Fans of Arex, a three-armed alien helmsman from the animated Star Trek series, will be pleased to see he plays a major role throughout this collection."

The fourth collection of Hack/Slash stories -- Revenge of the Return -- has a series of stories to tell. "All, of course, feature Cassie Hack, the young girl who survived a slasher experience and now travels the country to put an end to the sort of hate-driven serial killers who make such good horror-flick fodder, and Vlad, her giant, misshapen sidekick," Tom says.

"The final chapter, 'Little Children,' may be the most disturbing to some readers, especially given its conclusion. Sure, these are horror stories, but ... well, the crux of the plot involves experiments that have been performed on feral children. I'll leave it at that."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley isn't really sure what to make of Crumb. "When you first start watching Crumb, you wonder why anyone would ever want to watch something this odd, but after about 20 minutes you realize you couldn't stop watching it if you wanted to -- and you don't want to," he says.

"The world of Robert Crumb, a pioneer in the world of underground comics, is as disturbing as it is fascinating -- and that is exactly what Crumb is, a documentary about the life of this man and his family. It gives you a disarmingly honest look inside the man's mind, and I'm not sure anyone can really describe what we discover."

The events that began in Mutiny continue apace in Retribution, another in the series of Horatio Hornblower films. "If you'll recall, 3rd Lt. Horatio Hornblower and his fellow officers stand accused of mutiny after the overthrow of Captain Sawyer's command on the frigate Renown. The tale plays out in a series of tense court-martial scenes as well as flashbacks to the events in question," Tom Knapp says.

"Each installment in this too-brief series of made-for-TV films is better than the last. I wish it didn't have to end."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

24 April 2010

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On this date in 1184 BC, apparently, the Greeks entered Troy in the belly of the Trojan Horse. In 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots, married the Dauphin of France at Notre Dame de Paris. The first regular newspaper in the United States, the News-Letter, was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1704, and in 1800 the United States Library of Congress was established when President John Adams signed legislation appropriating $5,000 to purchase "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress." Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett in 1916 launched the Easter Rising in Ireland. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched by the Space Shuttle Discovery. It is the start of the Great American Pie Festival, the Herb Festival, the California Poppy Festival and the Interstate Mullet Toss. It is National Bulldogs Are Beautiful Day, National Go Birding Day and the beginning of National Scoop the Poop Week.

Ad hoc, Ad loc, quid pro quo, so little time, so much to know.

- Jeremy Hilary Boob

• • • MUSIC

Deanta is Ready for the Storm with their sophomore release. "A change in personnel does nothing to weaken Deanta's sound. In fact, instrumental tracks -- including a mix of traditional, covered and self-penned tunes -- are stronger than ever," Tom Knapp says.

"Ready for the Storm is another excellent recording from a well-regarded but short-lived band."

Sweet Wednesday brings its music along Wherever You Go. "Sometimes, you just want to hear cutting-edge music. And sometimes, you reach into that stack of old, overlooked CDs and give something a little dusty your attention instead," Tom says.

"I'm not going to lie to you, co-singers Lisa Housman and Dave Falk don't have perfect voices. They're relaxed and immediately comfortable, good enough to keep you listening through this album several times in a row. And you just have to listen, because it's obvious on every track that Dave and Lisa love what they're doing with their lives, and they're really happy about sharing it with anyone within earshot," he adds. "The thing about Wherever that really got to me, however, was the words. Sure, the music is punchy and memorable, but the lyrics are clever and fun, conversational and just like that thing you wish you'd said but didn't think of in time."

Jay Aymar is Halfway Home with this new release. "Ontario-based singer-songwriter Aymar sounds something like an amalgamation of Tom Rush, Jesse Winchester and Guy Clark," Jerome Clark says.

"Still, Aymar manages to be more than the sum of his influences. An appealing musical personality emerges in these 10 cuts. He seems, well, like a nice guy you'd like to know, a wry observer and a modest man whose songs have a charmingly conversational quality."

Sutton Foster has one Wish to share. "While Foster is best known for her multiple Tony-nominated and Tony-winning performances on Broadway, this album covers a range of styles, including jazz/cabaret, folk, country and, of course, a couple of Broadway show-stoppers. It is eclectic, so it can appeal to many, and Foster does not disappoint on any of the styles," says Kaitlin Hahn.

"There is something for everyone on this album. Even my little pet bunny likes it. She is purring to the sounds of it as I type this."

The Levins would like to introduce you to My Friend Hafiz. "If you're looking for music to soothe your spirit and lift your soul, this album would be a good choice," John Lindermuth says.

"The artfully blended voices of Ira Levin and his wife Julia Bordenaro Levin are the perfect vehicle for translating the uplifting poetry of the Sufi master Hafiz for modern listeners. There's magic, beauty and wisdom in these lyrics, and the accompanying instruments support rather than overpower them."

Various artists pay their respects on Things About Comin' My Way: A Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks. "The Sheiks stood at the crossroads between the older African-American folk music (including -- though hardly confined to -- downhome blues) and the emerging popular styles that would supplant it. They recorded something like a hundred 78s, many available on CD reissues," Jerome Clark says.

"Things' performances and arrangements are so consistently attractive that it's hard to pick out any particular favorites. Each has its own unique charm. While the styles are various, they don't clash. Like all exceptional recordings Things has an organic feeling, each performance a piece of the whole, or at least, in this instance, an alternative view of the Sheiks' broad musical universe."

George Jones gets his due on The Great Lost Hits. "Between 1965 and 1971, when he was signed to the Musicor label, George Jones recorded -- let us be clear: this is saying something -- some of the most accomplished and memorable records of his career. Unless you have the right long-in-the-tooth country LPs still resident in your collection, you are unlikely to have heard them in the original," Jerome says.

"As is instantly apparent, Jones was in a peak vocal form -- which puts him on a high mountain indeed -- when he cut these tunes. Not only that, the mostly uncluttered, unsweetened production bordered on perfection, in an era when Jones had access to some of the top hillbilly compositions and composers."

• • • FICTION

Keith Miller has a love story to tell in The Book on Fire. "By love, I don't mean romance, though there is a hint of that. And by love, I don't mean lust, though there is plenty of that. Instead, the love Miller writes of is too passionate, too transcendent to be encumbered by any categorical labeling," says Justin Tenley. "Through elegant, creative language, Miller weaves a tale that is as smart as it is exciting. For a story about books, it is surprisingly fast-paced, full of adventure and suspense, mysterious to its last page."

James Crumley offers reviewer Dave Sturm The Last Good Kiss for his contemplation. "As a city slicker, I don't much care for a lot of nature description in my noir reading, which is why I cannot abide the swamps of James Lee Burke. When I saw that James Crumley's hero C.W. Sughrue lives in Montana, I was wary. But I heard so much praise for The Last Good Kiss, I decided to pick it up. I'm glad I did," Dave says.

"The book is vividly cinematic. The raid on the porno house plays like a movie in your head," he adds. "If you like it down and dirty and don't mind a touch of mountain scenery, check this one out."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

Tom Knapp has a trio of tales to share this week.

It's by no means politically correct, but Tom still had a blast with the original, graphic-novel version of Kick-Ass. "Yes, Kick-Ass is morally repugnant. Yes, it involves teenagers (and one 10-year-old girl) who engage in violent superheroics with a casual disregard for killing. No, you wouldn't want to take your young daughter to see the movie (no matter how much or how cutely she begs) nor let her read the graphic novel upon which the movie is based," Tom says.

"But damn, I really enjoyed reading Kick-Ass today, and I look forward to that movie with keen anticipation."

Tom also has the Time of Your Life with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "Time of Your Life is the fourth volume in Joss Whedon's acclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8 series for Dark Horse, which picked up where the TV series left off," he says.

"Whedon & Co. certainly have not dropped the ball since carrying the Buffy franchise from TV to comics. This series continues to excel."

And, third of today's graphic-novel offerings, we have The War That Time Forgot. "It might have been a cooler concept in 1960, when Robert Kanigher wrote the first issues of The War That Time Forgot for DC Comics. But the resurrection of the series in 2009 by writer Bruce Jones is old, tired and dull," Tom says.

"Basically, you have a bunch of soldiers from various eras being dumped on an island with dinosaurs. The soldiers hate each other as much as the giant lizards, apparently, so they spend a lot of time fighting among themselves instead of banding together to fight the Big Toothy Lizards That Want to Eat Them. Utter nonsense."

• • • MOVIES

Tom Knapp, after recently admitting just how cheesy the original version was, is heartily disappointed by the new Clash of the Titans. "Are the special effects better? No question. But to what purpose? The new Clash doesn't tell the story any better this time around. In fact, the story here is much, much worse. It's muddy and senseless, stripped of all heart and meaning," he says.

"When will Hollywood realize that it's not enough just to put pretty pictures on the screen? Sigh. I suppose when we stop giving Hollywood our money for this crap."

Next, Daniel Jolley pays a visit to the Monster House. "When you talk about this movie, you have to start with the animation. It is truly something to behold; you might even be creeped out by how incredibly real everything and everyone looks -- especially in terms of the facial expressions that communicate the characters' emotions (fright) incredibly well," Daniel says.

"This is a PG movie, but young children might get the heebie-jeebies from some of the house's more frightful manifestations. For the most part, though, Monster House is rollicking good fun, especially when subtlety is thrown out the window and the story becomes far too outrageous for even a wee little tyke to take seriously."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)

17 April 2010

On this date in 1397, Geoffrey Chaucer told the Canterbury Tales for the first time at the court of Richard II; in 1521, Martin Luther spoke to the assembly at the Diet of Worms, refusing to recant his teachings; in 1861, Virginia seceded from the United States; and, in 1907, the Ellis Island immigration center processed 11,747 people, more than on any other day. It is Flag Day in American Samoa, Independence Day in Syria; Women's Day in Gabon and Hemophilia Day all over the world. It is Teach Your Daughter to Volunteer Day, Nothing Like a Dame Day and Blah Blah Blah Day.

And then a small bird landed on a branch above my head -- I don't even know what kind. A sparrow? A wren? It lifted up its head and warbled a few notes and for no good reason at all, I felt happy.

- Charles de Lint

Altan makes a rare misstep with its 25th Anniversary Celebration. "I suppose 25 years as one of Ireland's premiere Irish traditional bands has earned Altan a little slack. After all, even the most accomplished of musicians must be allowed the occasional slip in judgment," Tom Knapp says.

"These guys can make some music, let me tell you. But for Celebration, they muddied the waters by recording with the Dublin-based RTE Concert Orchestra. And, while it might still be 'in' to record symphonic versions of legendary rock music -- although I am at a loss to name a symphonic album I truly enjoyed more than the source material it covered -- the concert violin does not stand up well on a foundation of Irish fiddle."

Majorstuen marks its 10th anniversary with Skir. "Majorstuen's five members all play an amazing violin, sometimes bringing a bit of cello into their otherwise pristine fiddle environment," Tom says.

"The purity of the string sound is a rarity; even Scotland's Blazin' Fiddles puts guitar and keyboard into the mix. But nothing here strays outside of the viol family, and it's a silvery-sounding product that glides over the ears like a sterling blade on ice," he adds. "Norwegian fiddles are a genre apart, related in some basic ways but largely distinct from their Scottish and Irish counterparts. And Majorstuen plumbs the depths of the Norwegian tradition here for a thoroughly modern but rooted sound that will have listeners seeing fjords in their sleep."

Mac Arnold & Plate Full o' Blues serve up a little Backbone & Gristle for the discerning blues fan. "Mac Arnold tells the story of how he, as a kid, built a guitar out of a tin can, a pickup and some wire and struggled with it until he could play the thing. Then he sings and plays a song using that guitar. It's a highlight on an album that has a bunch of highlights to it," says Michael Scott Cain.

"All of his varied life experiences shaped him into a fine musician. He writes good songs, plays bass and guitar and sings in a gruff baritone that conveys the years accumulating the musicianship to pull all of this off. The level of musicianship amongst his band members is also high; they play a few instrumentals that cook, and Arnold spreads the solos around."

Becky Schlegel blossoms with the release of Dandelion. "Having departed Minnesota, Schlegel currently resides in Nashville, presumably in search of the usual dreams. Of course, she has every right to them, and I don't doubt that with her good looks and striking voice she's marketable. I also don't doubt that whatever stardom might do for her finances, the inevitable consequence will be lousier music. The albums wouldn't be as good as this one is," Jerome Clark says.

"On occasion I encounter a talented performer who forces me, however reluctantly, to contemplate the possibility that modern country-pop fails not so much in the idea as in the execution. If you don't insist that modern 'country' singers sound like Loretta Lynn or Connie Smith (as, I confess, I am ordinarily wont to do), you can appreciate what Becky Schlegel is up to, which is fashioning a kind of rooted pop music for grown-ups."

• • • FICTION

Terry Pratchett is Going Postal with the 33rd novel in his riotous Discworld series. "In Going Postal, Terry Pratchett makes memorable the name of antihero Moist von Lipwig, which takes some doing," Whitney Mallenby says.

"Pratchett's con artist works through charisma, and he successfully charms the readers as well as those in Ankh-Morpork. The numerous turns and storylines unravel at a quick pace that carries the reader along pleasantly, without being abrupt or confusing. Add to that Pratchett's great talent of creating stories that are really relevant, but only just relevant enough, and Going Postal packs entertainment with a punch."

Lisa M. & Michael S.A. Graziano, a brother-and-sister team, awake to a Cretaceous Dawn. "This wonderful novel combines an adventure story -- part Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, part Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear -- along with a crime or detective mystery, with plenty of scientific tidbits sprinkled throughout," Chris McCallister says.

"Who will not like this book? If you are squeamish, you might be put off by a few scenes. If you are strong in your beliefs of opposing the theory of evolution, I suggest you avoid this novel."

Lawrence Block shares those Small Town blues in this post-9/11 masterpiece. "Be prepared. This is a slow-moving, very deliberate novel that runs to well over 500 pages, but the climax is a nail-biter. You have to be patient. There's lots of character development, background story and lengthy dialogue. Some of the dialogue goes on for two or three pages," Dave Sturm says.

"It's not typical Block, but it rewards the patient."

Derek Adie Flower conducts an Inquest on Imhotep in this mystery novel. "Flower has a great imagination and a flair for storytelling, and he has hit on a great tale in this book," Nicky Rossiter says. "Unfortunately, the one thing Flower left out is editing. This 224-page novel gives us a good story relatively well told that will keep the general reader hooked and eager to find the answers. But, with a good editor or even a ruthless rewrite, Flower might have produced 160 pages of tight writing that would not have aggravated the more pedantic readers."


• • • GRAPHIC NOVELS

What happened in the alley crowded with monsters in the last episode of Angel? Find out in After the Fall: First Night. "While the first volume left that question hanging, Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch, working with a varied stable of artists, tie up some loose ends in a short series of one-shot vignettes, each focusing on a major character (except Angel himself, who makes only minor appearances in this book) and, oddly, a random bum and theater employee who run into each other on the day Los Angeles fell into Hell," Tom Knapp says.

"Problem is, these short vignettes don't really engross the reader. They're brief, scarce on detail, light on plot and development and, really, just serve as brief reference guides, like a Who's Who of Post-Fall Los Angeles. This book is a bridge and, while it's a bridge you'll need to cross to know what's going on in Angel's world, it's not particularly well-built."

The killers of killers are back in Hack/Slash #3: Friday the 31st. "You know Chucky. Even if you, like me, never saw his series of horror films, you know who that walking, talking, stabbing and strangling red-headed doll is, right? He's just the right kind of fodder for Cassie Hack, slayer of slashers, but in this edition of Hack/Slash, Cassie needs Chucky's help," Tom says.

"It's fun, it's entertaining, it's oh-so gory and, with artist Matt Merhoff handling the pencils, it's visually appealing, too. There have been a few weak spots in past Hack/Slash arcs, but Merhoff's work is top-notch all the way."


• • • HISTORY

Walter Lord takes us all back to the Titanic with A Night to Remember. "A recent visit to a Titanic display -- a collection of 150 items recovered from the famous wreck, along with reproductions of 1st- and 3rd-class cabins, an ice wall simulating the feel of sub-freezing ocean water when the ship went down and other interperative displays -- sparked my interest once again in this heart-breaking moment in history," Tom Knapp says.

"More than 50 years after its initial publication, A Night to Remember is still the book to read to get a true feel of the occasion. ... Lord, who collected contemporary reports from 1912 and personally interviewed many of the survivors, has written an exhaustive summary of events that makes you almost feel like you're watching events unfold from some hidden vantage point."

Daniel Jolley is reluctant to enter The Woods.

"There's just something about horror and boarding schools for girls. With the exception of Eastland (that's a Facts of Life reference), I can't think of any school for girls that isn't terrorized by a murderer or haunted by ghosts or witches. This boarding school is no exception, as there are all kinds of weird things going on behind its doors -- not to mention out in the surrounding woods," he says. "You've got your hot, red-headed schoolgirl, a bevy of creepy teachers, one bonafide catfight, the tangy smell of witchcraft in the air, a dark and mysterious forest, and Bruce frickin' Campbell all in the mix. Unfortunately, the big payoff is disappointing."

Tom Knapp says Mutiny "is the tensest film in the Horatio Hornblower series so far."

"Hornblower (Ioan Gruffudd) is 3rd lieutenant and his friend Archie Kennedy (Jamie Bamber) is 4th aboard the Renown, a 74-gun frigate commanded by Capt. James Sawyer (David Warner). Sawyer is a revered fighting captain, but his years of service have left him mad; he is a ruthless disciplinarian who sees conspiracy at every turn," Tom says. "The Hornblower series has been most notable to date for the fine performances by Gruffudd in the title role and Robert Lindsay as Captain Pellew. But Warner deserves full marks for his portrayal of a once-great leader who has cracked under the strain of command."

You think we're done? Ha!! Come back for more next week. (Meanwhile, browse through our vast archives of past editions and find some good stuff you might have missed over the years. We have more than 10 years' worth of our work online for your perusal, totaling more than 13,000 reviews!)