19 June 2010 to 14 August 2010

14 August 2010

On this date in 1183, Taira no Munemori and the Taira clan took the young Emperor Antoku and the three sacred treasures and fled to western Japan to escape pursuit by the Minamoto clan. In 1842, the Second Seminole War ended badly for the Seminoles, who were forced from Florida to Oklahoma. In 1848, the Oregon Territory was organized by act of Congress.

In 1880, construction of Cologne Cathedral, the most famous landmark in Cologne, Germany, was completed. In 1935, the United States Social Security Act was passed, creating a government pension system for the retired. In 1945, Japan accepted the Allied terms of surrender, putting an end to World War II.

There are 139 days remaining until the end of the year.

Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.

- William Shakespeare

Laughing in the face of danger is not a survival strategy.

- Terry Pratchett

Do not go gentle into that good night. ... Rage, rage against
the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas

• • • MUSIC

Putumayo examines the diverse music of South Africa. "Given all the attention from the recent World Cup, the sound most associated with South Africa is the vuvuzela (for worse more than better). And given the ever-present presence of that device, it's not unfair to expect a sample of music representing South Africa to have a similar brashness/boldness and in-your-face quality -- at least a little bit, right?" says C. Nathan Coyle.

"Well, the opposite consistently occurs in Putumayo's South Africa -- the album is surprisingly understated and a bit underwhelming. The music is enjoyable, but overall doesn't leave a lasting impression as so many other Putumayo albums typically do."

Norman Savitt gathers the gang together on Norman Savitt & Friends. "Norman Savitt, on his unimaginatively titled new CD Norman Savitt & Friends, is about as mellow as you can get outside of new-age environs. On these 15 tracks, Savitt displays his deft acoustic guitar work, both in solo pieces and in duets with Howard Levy on harmonica, Eugene Friesen on cello, David Amram on pennywhistle and Susan Mitchell on violin," Dave Howell says.

"Savitt's playing is so relaxed, it takes a few listens to appreciate his technique and the differences in his solo pieces. This is a CD that both washes over you and draws you in with its rich, calming texture."

Miles Davis was there for the Birth of the Cool. "Nine musicians. Twelve songs. One of the most influential records in jazz," Jay Whelan says.

"Simply put: if you don't have it, you should. And if you don't like jazz, this may be the one recording to change your mind. How do I know? Because that's what it did for me. It turned me around and made me receptive to a music I didn't understand or even particularly care for, and not only made me like it, but made me want to hear more things like it. I think it's safe to say that if it wasn't for Miles Davis and his nonet, I wouldn't love jazz the way I do today."

Peter Parcek calculates The Mathematics of Love. "A Boston-based guitarist of much experience and diverse influence, Peter Parcek fashions a blues sound of many parts. Even as he manages to move the genre forward into the 21st century, he does so without drowning its emotional core, the part that gives the blues its enduring appeal, in a tsunami of notes," Jerome Clark says.

"Artists like Parcek give the music a new lease on existence, one that transcends mere life support and proceeds to actual revitalization."


Stephen King "has hit a home run" with Blockade Billy, Belinda Christ puns. "In his new novella, Blockade Billy, King marries his unique style of storytelling to his love of baseball and ends up with pitch-perfect results. Along the way, he violates several rules of fiction writing," she says.

"And, as is usually the case with King's works, the ending holds a twist we didn't see coming, a twist that alters the story irrevocable, a twist that changes the characters forever."

J.D. McDonnell takes a storyteller's seat upon The Celtic Shelf. "The first book in J.D. McDonnell's Golden Allerod series takes readers back from the present day to a prehistoric 'Celtic shelf' to trace dramatic changes in various ancient societies. Unfortunately, it does so literally, by starting out in present times and using a supernatural girl to drag a modern writer back in time," frets Whitney Mallenby.

"The range of different societies and personalities that crop up in The Celtic Shelf keeps the story interesting, and a never-ending stream of obstacles keep the suspension alive through some chunky pacing and reappearances by the supernatural girl of incongruous commentary."

David Brin began his classic Uplift Saga with Sundiver. "A crowded universe is Brin's great concept here -- a univese literally stuffed end-to-end with species that have existed for thousands of centuries ... and in which humans may have no place, where our very existence as free people is in jeapoardy," Jay Whelan says.

"Brin returns to this 'free existence' theme in other guises in many of his novels, such as The Postman and Glory Season, but nowhere is it as crisp and as immediate as it is in Sundiver. It serves as a great introduction to the Uplift saga (currently at six books; it's unclear whether Brin will write more); but it also works very well indeed as a stand-alone novel of mystery and science, of one man and his mental health, and of humanity's place in the cosmos."


The adventures of Zorro begin again in Matt Wagner's Trail of the Fox. "Let me state up front, Trail of the Fox did not sweep me off my feet, nor did Wagner and artist Francesco Francavilla impress me the way Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello did with the first volume of The Lone Ranger," Tom Knapp says.

"Wagner packs his Zorro with heaps of backstory, both during Diego de la Vega's childhood in California and his formative years in Spain, as well as his torturous return home and early forays with the cloak and mask. And, while there's plenty of drama and pathos along the way, it sometimes seems like the flashbacks will never end."

Tom gets the silent treatment from Jason in Sshhhh! "Jason, a Norwegian writer and artist born John Arne Saeteroy, has a stark, distinctive style in his work. His anthropomorphic, usually black-and-white art and nearly wordless tales are instantly recognizable. Sshhhh! is no different," Tom says.

"Jason has a lot of stories to tell, and a wonderful way of telling them. Let's hope he keeps on doing it for us."


Mark Jasper visits the Haunted Inns of New England. "If you enjoy New England history and like a good bone-chilling fright in the dark, you will enjoy Haunted Inns of New England," says Lee Lukaszewicz.

"Author Mark Jasper invites you along on his journey of open-minded discovery, and his detailed descriptions of the locations will make you feel as though you are walking through the front door along with him."

Edward O'Toole becomes a Carpathian Ghost Hunter in "one of the most haunted areas on Earth," says Michael Gooch.

"Using excellent black-and-white photography, Edward captures the castles, houses and sites of Slovakia but also the beauty of the area. Taking this visual tour made me want to purchase a ticket," he says. "I highly recommend this tour guide for those interested in the paranormal or maybe just curious. You will not be disappointed."


David V. Herlihy attempts to set the record straight on Frank George Lenz in The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer & His Mysterious Disappearance. "The first half of this book details Frank Lenz's background and his two-year trip across three-quarters of the globe. Readers may be inspired to look at their old Schwinns with a new sense of imagination, pondering over the exotic places that could be reached by bike and the interesting people who could be met along the way," Corinne Smith says.

"Those dreams will be dashed in the second half of the book, which focuses on Sachtleben's search for Lenz in the Middle East. That portion of the text seems to last far too long -- almost as long as the investigation itself. It may be just as frustrating to read about as it was to experience in person."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley takes a look at the situation 28 Weeks Later -- and finds it an improvement on the theme. "I was in the minority of hardcore horror fans who found 28 Days Later to be a huge disappointment for a number of reasons, but I have to say that 28 Weeks Later is a much better film than its predecessor. I still can't see how any horror fan could rank either film as among the best zombie films ever made, though -- there are just too many problems in evidence," he says.

"The ending of 28 Weeks Later obviously lays the groundwork for a third film in the series, so expect a question or two to go unanswered here. While I was not anxious to see any sequel to the disappointing 28 Days Later, the improvements seen in this film give me hope that a third movie would definitely have potential."

Dan also spends some down time with Galaxina. "Galaxina may well be the dumbest, most boring science fiction film ever made. I was revving up to launch a full-scale assault of a review before the infinitely long opening credits ended -- but now two things are holding me back," he says.

"First of all -- and heaven only knows why -- this thing started to grow on me toward the end. This is the kind of film you can look back on and laugh about, even though virtually all of the movie's spoofs and jokes fall flat as a fritter while you're watching it. Second of all -- and more importantly -- the tragic death of Dorothy Stratten looms large over Galaxina. This beautiful young woman, who really wasn't all that bad an actress, never lived to see its release -- or her 20th birthday."

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!)

7 August 2010

On this date in 1461, the Ming Dynasty Chinese military general Cao Qin staged a coup against the Tianshun Emperor. In 1606, the first documented performance of Macbeth was presented at the Great Hall at Hampton Court. In 1782, George Washington ordered the creation of the Badge of Military Merit to honor soldiers wounded in battle; it is later renamed the Purple Heart. On Aug. 7, 1882, the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys erupted into violence. In 1944, IBM dedicated the first program-controlled calculator, the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (better known as the Harvard Mark I).

In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl's balsa-wood raft Kon-Tiki smashed into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands after a 101-day, 4,300-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to prove that pre-historic peoples could have traveled from South America. On this date in 1959, U.S. satellite Explorer VI transmitted the first picture of Earth from space. In 1964, the U.S. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, giving President Lyndon B. Johnson broad war powers to deal with North Vietnamese attacks on American forces. Viking 2 in 1976 entered orbit around Mars.

On Aug. 7, 2004, Tom and Katie Knapp were married.

The Northern Hemisphere is considered to be halfway through its summer and the Southern Hemisphere half way through its winter on this day. There are 146 days remaining until the end of the year.

Oh, and we hope you like the new home-page design!

We that are true lovers run into strange capers.

- William Shakespeare

Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away.

- Dorothy Parker

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

- Christopher Fry

• • • MUSIC

Millish remains a bit of a mystery -- but a pleasant one, nonetheless -- with this self-titled CD. "The name of both the band and CD, Millish, seems to be a corruption of a Gaelic word meaning 'sweet,' and listening to the eight tracks on offer here, this band lives up to the title," Nicky Rossiter says.

"The band performs on the Celtic side of jazz, or the jazzy side of Celtic -- take your pick."

Anne Walker negotiates a Labyrinth with this new, independent release. "Her songs combine thoughtful, personal, honest lyrics with nice melodies, and they have a timeless quality -- they sound like they could have been written last week or 30 years ago," Dave Townsend says.

"Labryinth was produced by fellow Canadian and well-known folk producer Paul Mills, who is best known for his work with artists including Stan Rogers and Tanglefoot. Canada has given us quite a few very talented female singer songwriters over the years and Anne Walker's music is no exception. This is a very enjoyable CD."

Tim Eriksen "puts the traditional back into traditional music" with Soul of the January Hills. "Light rarely shines on these hills. This is the deep-shadows ballad world of violent death and earthly suffering relieved only by the promise of eternal joy at the end of life's journey (the recurring metaphor here). A scholar and ethnomusicologist when not on stage or in recording studio, Eriksen seeks out less-known material or arcane variants of the familiar," Jerome Clark says.

"Somehow, nonetheless, Soul is not too depressing to listen to. The regular infusion of hymns -- though you have to listen to the words to understand they are hymns because the sacred and secular drew from the same well of melody in those days -- helps, naturally, but so does the unadorned beauty of Eriksen's voice. That voice also makes listening to 14 unaccompanied songs not at all the daunting prospect you would think. Eriksen not only commands the repertoire but renders it wholly accessible."

Teeny Tucker uses "a superior set of blues genes, courtesy of her father Tommy Tucker" to Keep the Blues Alive. "Her gifts, which are considerable, are on display in this collection, as is her taste for the sounds of 1960s Chicago, a rich and often overlooked period of blues history. She's a tough, punchy singer who manages a rare vocal restraint; she's not shouting, and she's certainly not shrieking. Perhaps that's one way of saying she sounds as if she learned to sing the blues by listening to blues artists and records, not by singing high-decibel gospel in church," Jerome says.

"A warm and enjoyable CD, this one will please listeners who take soul and sincerity over technique and bombast any time."


Justin Kramon launches a writing career with Finny. "Reading Finny, you sort of feel that Charles Dickens has come back to life in 21st-century America, spent time with F. Scott Fitzgerald and resumed his career with this book. As the heroine makes her way through college, some half-hearted stabs at a career and becomes entwined in the lives of her friends, Finny struck me as a post-modern David Copperfield," says Michael Scott Cain.

"The odd thing is that it works; Finny is a touching novel, filled with characters you'll remember."

Peter Straub made an indelible mark with the release of Koko. "Koko is a brilliant novel by a brilliant author, a masterwork of horror, a terrific ghost story in which all the best ghosts are still alive," Jay Whelan says.

"Koko is a rich novel, as full of symbolism and literary allusions as most of Straub's work. It is also a long novel, which does tend to wander from time to time. However, if you are patient and willing to follow Straub on this long journey into the heart of darkness, the rewards will be ample indeed."

Sally H.Taylor offers a pair of illustrated marvels for young readers in The Magic in You! and The Most Valuable Treasure. "The illustrations are marvelous, proving Taylor to be equally gifted as both artist and author," Liana Metal remarks.

"Both books cater to all the family, both kids and adults. They are definitely a beautiful and meaningful gift for everyone as the message they bring out is both positive and helpful."


Tom Knapp offers up a pair of graphic novel reviews, beginning with Disenchanted, the first volume in Matt Wagner's Madame Xanadu series for Vertigo. "Disenchanted appears to serve mostly as a foundation for Wagner's ongoing series. Having established the character and her background -- as well as her involvement in the creation of the Spectre -- Wagner has a little more freedom to play in her sandbox. It seems likely the story will improve when he he stops reinventing her past and starts plotting her present," Tom says.

"Amy Reeder Hadley supplies the art, and it's here the book really shines. Highly detailed and expressive, she really brings these characters to life. Simply gorgeous."

Tom goes on assignment with Moonstone's Kolchak, The Night Stalker in Monsters Among Us. "The first tale, 'Night Stalker of the Living Dead,' is exactly what you'd expect it to be, based on that title. Kolchak heads to the fertile fields of Nebraska to interview a pop star at a corn festival and finds himself up to his ears in zombies," Tom says. "The second tale is the inaptly named 'The Frankenstein Agenda.' It's a good yarn, starting off with suspicions of Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest and turning into a whole 'nother kind of creature feature of the 'secret military science' kind."

Tom adds: "I like Kolchak. And the folks at Moonstone are doing him up right. Nice job, people."


Elyn R. Saks shares a personal tale in The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. "The publication of her memoir of a life with schizophrenia and acute psychosis marks the first time that her colleagues in the professional world will know of her diagnosis. For decades, Saks lived as a mental patient, a shy woman with a small circle of close friends, and as a high-achieving academic who protected her psychological privacy at all costs," explains Jessica Lux-Baumann.

"For years, schizophrenia was regarded as a grave life sentence. Mothers were even blamed for creating schizophrenic children. Saks notes that while there are many case studies and folk stories about successful people with bipolar disorder, the stories about accomplished schizophrenics are few. Thank you, Ms. Saks, for giving us this story of hope and triumph."

• • • POETRY

Rolli presents an enigmatic collection of poetry in Plum Stuff. "Rolli practices a style that is long on economy of words, but unfortunately, that economy often left me baffled, staring at phrases and stanzas so bereft of words that at times the poet's meaning was lost. Unconventional style choices and non-standard spellings add to the confusion," Belinda Christ states.

"In the end, I found myself thinking that Rolli's goal as a poet is to be avant-garde. Unfortunately, his attempts to mold a new style seem forced rather than organic, which gives Rolli's work an air of pretension."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley tackles another pair of horror films this week, beginning with Shrooms. "I have seen nothing but derogatory comments about this film, but I found Shrooms to be a pretty fun little horror movie. Sure, you don't have to have eaten a Deaths Head mushroom to see prophetic visions of how the film will end, and the story doesn't exactly break new ground in terms of character development, but Shrooms does have a suspenseful moment or two and I happen to believe that the look and feel of the film (which some have decried as hopelessly bland) creates the appropriate atmosphere for the setting and the events that take place there," Daniel says.

"With the characters all befuddling their minds with psychedelic mushroom delights, one can never be sure if what you are seeing is real or a hallucination. ... Did I mention there's a talking cow?"

Daniel also continues to re-examine the Friday the 13th series with a look at Friday the 13th, Part IV: The Final Chapter. "'Has the diabolical Jason finally met his match?' Uh, no. Corey Feldman, people; we are talking about Corey Feldman here. Of all the people on the planet, Corey Feldman is just about the last person capable of taking Jason out of the game. Truly, I had forgotten that Feldman was Jason's main event opponent in this 'final chapter' of the series. Rightly or wrongly, that just takes something away from what is otherwise a darn good sequel's sequel's sequel," he says.

"As far as Jason is concerned, though, this marks some of his finest work. He's fast, he's furious, he's expanding the scope and effect of his murder techniques and -- most of all -- there's just no stopping the guy."

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!)

31 July 2010

Annually, from noon July 31 to noon Aug. 1, there is a marathon reading of Herman Melville's Moby Dick on the deck of the Charles W. Morgan, the last American whaling ship, moored as a permanent fixture at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut.

This date in 731 marks the oldest recorded date of an eruption of Mt. Fuji. In 1498, on his third voyage to the Western Hemisphere, Christopher Columbus became the first European to discover the island of Trinidad. The Spanish Armada was spotted off the coast of England on this date in 1588. On this date in 1930, the radio mystery program The Shadow was aired for the first time.

July 31 was a big day for NASA. In 1964, Ranger 7 sent back the first close-up photographs of the moon, with images 1,000 times clearer than anything ever seen from Earth-bound telescopes. In 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts became the first to ride in a lunar rover. In 1976, NASA released the famous Face on Mars photo, taken by the Viking Orbiter. And in 1999, NASA intentionally crashed the spacecraft Lunar Prospector into the Moon, ending its Discovery Program mission to detect frozen water on the moon's surface.

There are 153 days remaining until the end of the year.

Natives who beat drums to drive off evil spirits are objects of scorn to smart Americans who blow horns to break up traffic jams.

- Mary Ellen Kelly

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above-average drivers.

- Dave Barry

Restore human legs as a means of travel. Pedestrians rely on food for fuel and need no special parking facilities.

- Lewis Mumford

• • • MUSIC

Eoghan O'Donnell takes a few First Steps with this album of voiceless selections. "Instrumental albums are often the most difficult to review unless you are doing them in a technical vein for fellow musicians," Nicky Rossiter says.

"Basically, an instrumental CD of new works is either lovely to hear, or not. This one by Eoghan O'Donnell is a very nice listen, with the dozen piano pieces on offer blending very well together."

Talitha MacKenzie enjoys an Indian Summer's good weather. "This album melds together aspects of Talitha's heritage, including Celtic and Native American -- and the mix of English, Gaelic and Cherokee makes Indian Summer rather unique," Wil Owen says.

"I have really come to appreciate what she has to offer on this CD. I find the mix of languages and musical styles complementary. This CD provides an interesting peek into someone else's ancestry."

Elizabeth Cook puts her credentials to good use in Welder. "A Florida native, she possesses the vocal chops of a bluegrass singer or a hard-core country vocalist. Not incidentally, she is a strikingly beautiful blonde," Jerome Clark reports.

"Which has not made her a country star, though she did have a short run on a major label. Nothing daring has come out of the Nashville mainstream in years, and Cook is nothing if not daring, a hillbilly performer perfectly comfortable with state-of-the-art guitar rock. ... The sad truth is that Nashville rebels don't get played on what passes for country radio these days. Cook's sound now comes out of East Nashville, across the Cumberland River from Music Row, where music, as likely to be in rock, blues or folk flavors as in country, is fashioned mostly away from commercial pressures."


L.A. Meyer follows young Jacky Faber in The Wake of the Lorelei Lee. "The story is, like all Jacky Faber novels, a lot of fun," Tom Knapp says.

"Rooted in the mean streets of London, the finer neighborhoods of Boston and the ships of the British navy, the Jacky Faber series has ranged from the American frontier to the battlefields of France. The Wake of the Lorelei Lee takes Jacky farther afield than she's ever gone before, but she's still the same irrepressible Jacky whose company I've so enjoyed since I first stumbled across her, playing a pennywhistle in the rigging of the HMS Dolphin, in a snug art shop in Bar Harbor, Maine. Still only 16, she has plenty of room to grow -- and I hope this series, despite a change in publisher and a horrid new cover design for earlier volumes, continues to flourish."

John Saul invites you into a House of Reckoning. "Billed as 'vintage John Saul' and a novel that recaptures the energy and power of Suffer the Children, the author's first and best novel, House of Reckoning doesn't succeed at living up to all of the hype," Daniel Jolley remarks.

"That being said, it is an absorbing and very good read. I don't think Saul will ever get the respect he truly deserves in the horror community, but this man knows how to tell a story and excels at building the most sympathetic of characters."

Stephen King suffers a bout of Insomnia. "Those who say Stephen King's Insomnia is hard to get into are probably the ones used to what National Lampoon once referred to as the 'plot, plot, BOO!, plot, plot, BOO!' technique King used a little more commonly in his earlier years," Jay Whelan remarks.

"I'm not saying that technique isn't effective, because it sure is -- I'm just saying that King is trying to do something different here, and I applaud it wholeheartedly."

Tim Powers throws back The Anubis Gates to reveal his top-notch fiction. "Tim Powers is, to put it plainly, the best fantasist working in the genre. Period. One read of The Anubis Gates will prove it to anybody's satisfaction; I know it's done so for me," Jay exclaims.

"My God, what a book. Simply the ideas of time travel and dopplegangers that Powers puts forth here (not to mention his teriffic eye for Victorian period detail, and his brilliant, believable characterizations of notable figures of the time) are a delight."


Tom Knapp shares a unique vision of America's premier horror and mystery writer in Poe. "Edgar Allan Poe has lost his beloved wife Virginia, and with her his inspiration to write. Grieving, and perhaps a little bit mad, he shuns help and wraps himself in his woe," Tom says.

"But then a mystery, encountered with his constable brother William, sparks Poe's fiery imagination, and with Dupin-like precision he analyzes the clues until he comes to an unspeakable conclusion about a series of murders and the unholy end to which they lead."

Warren Ellis continues his FreakAngels saga in Vol. 2. "There isn't a lot of action," Tom warns.

"This comic is available for free online, but to my taste a collected edition in my hands is always preferable to a collection of pixels on my computer screen. Either way, this award-winning series is worth a look, particularly given Paul Duffield's dark, well-rendered and highly detailed art."


James Warhola shares a glimpse of Uncle Andy's Cats, as well as a little quality time with one of the 20th century's most famous artists. "In 1954, unlikely as it seems, Andy Warhol had a Manhattan apartment overrun with cats," Mark Bromberg says.

The book presents "a cheerful family dynamic, presenting an aspect of Andy's private life that is seldom explored."


Leslie Rule gets spooky with Ghosts Among Us: True Stories of Spirit Encounters. "The book tells the stories without too many unnecessary words, but it also contains a thread of quality writing you would find in a first-rate novel. The marriage of the two makes for a great read," says Michael Gooch.

"The story that has stuck with me the longest was the one about the haunted clown doll. It is a very unusual story along with an actual photograph of the little creep."

• • • MOVIES

Three soldiers back from Iraq team up and rent a car to drive to their respective destinations. Things happen to them along the way. When they get to their destinations, what they find is not what they expected," Dave Sturm says.

"That's The Lucky Ones in a nutshell. But it doesn't do justice to this quirky, touching and funny film."

Daniel Jolley next pays a visit to the Chopping Mall. "Even if you're expecting to watch a mad serial killer hacking up a bunch of shoppers with his trusty axe, I don't think you'll be terribly disappointed," he says.

"The managers of this mall have decided to replace the old security staff with three super-keen robots with all kinds of nifty weapons and tools," he explains. "If you learn nothing else from this movie, just be assured that you should not plan a big after-hours party inside your uncle's furniture store on the same night as security robots are first given the run of the whole mall, especially if the geeky designer of said robots assures everyone that nothing could possibly go wrong."

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 July 2010

July 24 is Cousins Day It is the National Day of the Cowboy, National Drive-Thru Day and National Tell an Old Joke Day.

On this date in 1148, Louis VII of France laid siege to Damascus during the Second Crusade. In 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate and was replaced by her 1-year-old son, James VI. On July 24, 1823, slavery was abolished in Chile. On this date in 1832, Benjamin Bonneville led the first wagon train across the Rocky Mountains using Wyoming's South Pass and, in 1847, Brigham Young led 148 Mormon pioneers into Salt Lake Valley after a 17-month journey, resulting in the establishment of Salt Lake City. Tennessee became the first U.S. State to be readmitted to the Union in 1866, following the American Civil War.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact, renouncing war as an instrument of foreign policy, went into effect on this date in 1929. In 1974, during the Watergate scandal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that President Richard Nixon did not have the authority to withhold subpoenaed White House tapes and ordered him to surrender the tapes to a special prosecutor. In 2005, Lance Armstrong won his seventh consecutive Tour de France.

There are 160 days remaining until the end of the year.

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another which states that this has already happened.

- Douglas Adams

People said there had to be a Supreme Being because otherwise how could the universe exist, eh? ... But since the universe was a bit of a mess, it was obvious that the Supreme Being hadn't in fact made it. If he had made it he would, being Supreme, have made a much better job of it, with far better thought given, taking an example at random, to things like the design of the common nostril.

- Terry Pratchett

On the eighth day, God telephoned his lawyers and began asking all sorts of questions about product liability.

- Tom Holt

• • • MUSIC

Black 47 spotlights Bankers & Gangsters in its latest blast of New York-Celtic rock. "The musicians in the band frame singer Larry Kirwan's lyrics in that Black 47 orchestra-rock band style. The women of Screaming Orphans bring a feminine voice to many of the tracks, along with Kathleen Fee and Christine Ohlman," Louise Dunphy says.

"Pipe on, Black 47, for another 20 years. I'll be gripping my walker, tapping my toes and dancing at your concerts even then."

Sabrina & Craig share One Home ... One Heart. "Not many duos comprise a dog trainer-actress and an Olympic dive medalist, either. Add pleasant voices, strong guitar and skilled performances, and you have Sabrina Schneppat and Craig Lincoln with their debut album," John Lindermuth says.

"Craig has been playing guitar since his early teens and also put out a solo album, Cats & Dogs. Sabrina has been a featured soloist with a number of choirs, worked as a jazz soloist and had lead roles in musicals and plays. Together they have a chemistry guaranteed to provide hours of listening pleasure."

Carmea has a feeling it's Raining in Yosemite. "There is a certain old-time feel to much of the music on Carmea's Raining in Yosemite. It adds a certain feel of familiarity to the songs that make most of them very enjoyable listening. The music created is folk music, pure and simple, and they do it so very well," says Paul de Bruijn.

"Raining in Yosemite is one of those recordings that you could quietly put on repeat and let flow past you for a while."

The Marshall Ford Swing Band figures It's About Dam Time for an album. "That's not damn time, people. Not too many bands name themselves after water-diversion projects, but if there's no Marshall Ford in the Marshall Ford Swing Band, there used to be a dam called Marshall Ford -- long since renamed after an otherwise-forgotten politician -- on Lake Travis, an artificial body located west of Austin, Texas. Austin happens to be home to the MFSB," Jerome Clark explains.

"On one level, It's About Dam Time is unapologetically resurrectionist; yet it manages, too, to sound gratifyingly fresh and contemporary. I think that's less in the arrangements, though they are exemplary, than in the performances, which are joyous."

The Refugees are Unbound and ready to play. "Collectively, these three women will rock your world. Their harmonies are flawless and beautifully blended. Instrumentation is varied and surprising, since the trio comes from such a wide background from rock to country. Their personalities show through in the music in ways that will make you laugh, shake your head and, for some men, break out in a bit of a sweat," Becky Kyle says.

"If you enjoy tight harmonies, interesting lyrics with a lot of heart and girl groups, this is definitely a CD you are going to want to have in your collection."


Jim Butcher makes a few Changes in the 12th book of The Dresden Files. "Changes is my favorite Harry Dresden novel so far. The story begins with a phone call -- from the last woman Harry ever expects to hear from, his old lover Susan. They have a daughter and the Red Court's taken the 7-year-old girl hostage," Becky Kyle reveals.

"As usual, I read the story at a breakneck pace while wishing it wouldn't end. What higher praise could I offer? No spoilers here, but the end was hard, and friends and I who have read the book are still talking about it."

George J. Galloway lights a fire under The Powder Monkey in this novel set during the War of 1812. "Books like The Powder Monkey make me a little sad," Tom Knapp confesses. "This first novel by George J. Galloway came close to being an impressive debut. But published by 1stBooks, a vanity press since renamed AuthorHouse, this book lacks the very thing it needed most: editorial supervision."

The story, about a young lad named Michael who goes to sea after his father is pressed into the British navy, had potential, Tom says. However, "I can't say I enjoyed this book. The ship is just too good, her captain too lucky and pretty much everyone you meet just too deucedly nice. Galloway tosses in a villain every now and then, seemingly as an afterthought, but it doesn't erase the feeling that everyone in the world wants to help out young Michael, the poor boy. And gosh, he's just so darn likable, you want him to do well."

Daniel Kamin makes his writing debut with Ruby of the Realms. "Every twist in this story -- the focus is a lovable dog named Ruby who is sucked into separate planes of existence at the behest of a blue bunny -- comes at precisely the right time," Whitney Mallenby says.

"Unfortunately, the imagination behind each new world and its various inhabitants fails to give his readers any more than a well-paced navigational system for discovering his imagined realms. The characters are flat, the excessive exposition doesn't draw in the audience and the action holds no suspense."

Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton are Torn over this episode in Wicked Dead. "If this book is any indication, the Wicked Dead series is a wonderful addition to the young-adult horror genre. Not only is Torn a compelling little novel, there's actually a really good premise linking all of the books in the series," Daniel Jolley remarks.

"The authors, Stefan Petrucha and Thomas Pendleton, do a great job of building suspense and introducing some wholly natural complications to the plot," he adds. "It's far from clear exactly who or what is executing these vicious killings until late in the story, and one never knows who will be the next to die. There is a certain level of ambiguity to the ending, but this is still a strong, compelling read that seems custom-made for the growing young-adult horror genre."


Angela St. Cloud is Codename: Knockout, and she makes her first appearance here, in The Devil You Say. "Her mother, Celeste St. Cloud, is the leader of G.O.O.D. (the Global Organization for the Obliteration of Dastardliness), while her father, Damon Devlin, leads E.V.I.L. (Extralegal Vendors of Iniquity & Licentiousness). How Celeste and Damon came together to produce an heir is another story -- and it will get told, believe me -- but the point now is that both parents want their daughter to come work for them and, eventually, take over the organization. The question is, whom will she choose?" Tom Knapp explains.

"The Devil You Say is a fun introduction to Angela and her world and, coming from the Vertigo arm of DC Comics, you don't have to worry about limits on language and nudity. Angela herself is an entertaining and extremely gifted character, but her flamboyantly gay pal Go-Go is even more of a hoot."

Tom also takes time to meet Madame Mirage. "The title character is a beautiful noirish brunette with chameleon-like powers, impossibly long legs and improbably deep cleavage, and a mad on for members of Aggressive Solutions International, a criminal organization that survived a global crackdown on superheroes and supervillains alike by adopting a successful corporate facade. One by one, she's taking them down -- and they can't figure out who she is, much less how she so easily circumvents their security measures," Tom says.

"Without revealing too many details -- or the surprise twist in chapter three -- I'll say that Mirage has her roots in the technological lab of sisters Angela and Harper Temple, who toiled on a variety of super-powered inventions and enhancements after their father, the former hero Alexander Temple, was arrested when all powers were made illegal. Harper was the cool-headed sister, while party-girl Angela was their company face -- until she tried to sell weapons-grade technology to the wrong man. Let's just say the deal goes badly."


Ron Jeremy explains in his memoir why he might be considered The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz. "Ron Jeremy is an actor, an adult-film superstar, a comedian and an all-around hard working man. He's been in nearly 2,000 films and directed well over 100 himself," notes Jessica Lux-Baumann.

"It's only natural that Jeremy's memoir is a string of laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes, organized into chapters by subject matter and chronology. ... The behind-the-scenes tales are too numerous to recount."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley pulls into the Rest Stop for a "gritty, gory thrill ride well worth watching."

It's not the most popular horror flick on the market, he admits. "In the end, we do have a flawed, unoriginal, cliched movie -- yet I think it works surprisingly well despite these handicaps. Obviously, a significant number of viewers disagree with me on this. I would just ask you not to dismiss this film out of hand because of all the negative reviews. While you've no doubt seen this type of storyline play out before in other horror movies, Rest Stop does succeed in invoking an atmosphere all its own. It's not scary, but I certainly had a good time watching it."

Dan also continues his look at a classic horror-movie saga with Friday the 13th, Part III. "Some fans name this as their favorite Friday the 13th film -- but I'm not one of them. Sure, Jason finally gets the hockey mask and really gets his slashing groove on, but there's no denying the fact that the silliness factor that marred the series as a whole began here," he says.

"Jason really stepped up to the plate, though, delivering some pretty cool kills, although I have a few issues with the film's blood and gore levels. Regrettably, the film's best carnage had to be edited out in order to avoid an X rating, which is just silly. Then you have two murders featuring some of the fakest special effects you're likely to see."

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 July 2010

On this date in 1203, the Fourth Crusade -- in a series of crusades not marked by an excess of success -- captured Constantinople, forcing Byzantine emperor Alexius III Angelus into exile. In 1402, Zhu Di, a.k.a. the Yongle Emperor, assumed the throne over the Ming Dynasty of China. King George I of Great Britain in 1717 sailed with a barge of 50 musicians down the River Thames, where George Frideric Handel's Water Music was premiered. And in 1762, Catherine II became tsar of Russia upon the murder of Peter III.

Today in 1815, Napoleon surrendered at Rochefort to British forces. In 1917, King George V of the United Kingdom issued a proclamation dictating that the male descendants of the British royal family would bear the surname Windsor. In 1918, on the orders of the Bolshevik Party, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his immediate family and retainers were murdered at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, Russia. On the same day, the RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued 705 survivors from the RMS Titanic, was sunk off Ireland by the German SM U-55.

Also on this date: The Battle of Stalingrad commenced in modern-day Volgograd (1942); two ships laden with ammunition for the war exploded in Port Chicago, California, killing 320 (1944); Disneyland televised its grand opening in Anaheim, California (1955); an American Apollo and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft docked together in orbit, marking the first such link-up between spacecraft from the two nations (1975); Paris-bound TWA Flight 800 exploded off the coast of Long Island, New York, killing all 230 on board (1996); the F.W. Woolworth Co. closed after 117 years in business (1997); and Spongebob Squarepants made its official series premiere on Nickelodeon (1999).

Oh, and on this day in 1962, John Knapp was born, ensuring that Rambles.NET editor Tom Knapp, born a few years later, would never have a quiet night's sleep for his first 18 years.

There are 167 days remaining until the end of the year.

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

- J.D. Salinger

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?

- Charles M. Schulz

Life can be wildly tragic at times, and I've had my share. But whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, you have got not to forget to laugh.

- Katharine Hepburn

• • • MUSIC

Carolyn Hester proves she is still going strong on We Dream Forever. "For the past 50 years -- since Buddy Holly's producer, Norman Petty, produced her first album -- Carolyn Hester has been one of the giants of traditional folk music. She was one of the folk revival singers who took traditional music out of the mountains and into the cities, convinced that music could help change the world," says Michael Scott Cain.

"We Dream Forever shows us an artist at the peak of her powers, one who in no way caters to the demands of the music business but instead continues to do what she has done for her entire career: to go her own way, to remain her authentic self and to make important music."

The Evangenitals deserve a moment's attention for their name and the name of their self-titled CD, Becky Kyle says. "Evangenitals is short, only seven songs, which is a good number considering that the band has seven members. Still, the band didn't make as good a use of the disc as I would have hoped, coming in at less than 30 minutes," she says.

"One thing I will say for this group, you're never really quite sure what they're going to play next, which is good and refreshing from the over-produced music that tends to sound the same."

Grant Dermody is ready to Lay Down My Burden in his latest CD. "A Seattle-based harmonica player who usually tours with rooted singer-songwriter Eric Bibb, Grant Dermody was cutting this album when his wife Eileen died after a two-year battle with cancer, two months following Dermody's mother's passing. One would expect Lay Down My Burden to be tinged with sadness, and it is, but against manifest odds it manages not to be bleak and despairing. Endurance and an unsentimental sense of hope are the prevailing emotions in this austerely beautiful, mostly acoustic recording, which draws from folk, blues, hymns, gospel, originals and contemporary sources," Jerome Clark says.

"Lay My Burden Down, which has the appeal of the sort of old-fashioned folk-revival recording some of us grew up with, carries the hard-won wisdom the tough take from tragedy. This will surely be ranked among the essential roots albums of 2010."


Francesca Lia Block has more than a little playtime planned in her House of Dolls. "This modern fairytale might seem intended for young readers, but that's only true at its most basic level. There are layers here, with messages of hope and longing, neglect and reconciliation, misfortune and redemption, that will elude young readers but will still resonate with adults," Tom Knapp says.

"At 61 pages, this book isn't a big investment in time, but it's an investment worth making. The payoff is rich."

Steven Polansky issues The Bradbury Report for your edification. "For a lot of its 324-page length, The Bradbury Report is more a book to ponder and admire than actively enjoy. In it, author Steven Polansky creates a near future where cloning has been banned everywhere in the world except the United States, which has jumped into it in a big way," says Michael Scott Cain.

"These are promising elements, so why did I say that for much of its length, The Bradbury Report is more admirable than enjoyable? Because the clone does not make his appearance until page 174. Until then, we get fictional position papers on cloning, more biography about the characters than we either want or need, personal histories and long sections of exposition delivered in the form of speeches. We also get so much of the narrator's existential despair that it feels as though we've somehow bled into a Samuel Beckett book."

Tanya Huff turns her focus from Vicky Nelson in a spinoff series beginning with Smoke & Shadows. "If this is the first Tanya Huff book you're considering, please start with the Victory Nelson series: Blood Price, et al, is in my opinion Huff's finest work," Becky Kyle remarks.

"I probably would have rated this book higher if it was a new author and a new series, but this is Tanya Huff and she's gotten off to something of a slow start here. I hope Smoke & Mirrors, the sequel, is an improvement."


The Phantom, a classic masked hero based in darkest Africa, makes his return in The Man Who Cannot Die. "I had a few Phantom comic books from the Charlton line when I was a kid, but most of my knowledge of this ubiquitous character came from the short-lived DC Comics run in the late 1980s. So, when The Man Who Cannot Die, a collection from the current Phantom series over at Moonstone, landed on my desk, I was intrigued without being too excited," Tom Knapp admits.

"I enjoyed this book more than I expected," he adds. "It seems the Phantom is destined to be passed around from publisher to publisher, but it appears to me Moonstone, at least, has gotten it right."

Tom also shares 15 Minutes of fame with the youngsters of Gen13. "I've never really been onboard with this latest reboot of Gen13," he says. "Our heroes have been recast as clones and are part of a secret plan to develop superhuman beings and to provide grist for a series of snuff films. Yeah, I've never understood that part, either. 15 Minutes is basically a book-length attempt by the team's evil creators to create a feature-length movie about their acclimation to New York City, their various successes and emotional connections there, and their violent deaths just when things are looking good.

"Of course, WildStorm isn't going to kill off Gen13 -- not again, anyway -- even though a lot of fans probably wouldn't mind seeing this pale imitation of the original team wiped from existence so the publisher can start from scratch. But, while the overall 'snuff film' subplot of the new Gen13 is a ridiculous notion, this stand-alone movie effort works fairly well."


Alan Villiers shares his love for Square-Rigged Ships in this slim volume. "This concise volume is by no means a definitive work on sailing. Rather, in just about 70 pages, Villiers describes both his passion and the pragmatism of sail. In this brief look at both the ships and the men who sailed them, he demonstrates a foresightedness that presages the environmental movement with the practicality of wind-powered transportation," Tom Knapp says.

"With language that borders at times on poetry, Villiers lays a solid foundation for further study on sailing."


Alex Boese dabbles in Elephants on Acid: & Other Bizarre Experiments in this eye-opening text. "Boese was enamored with bizarre experiments in college. During his graduate studies, Boese spent his free time tracking down the more obscure mad scientist experiments that were mentioned in his texts. He amassed a library of notes on bizarre experiments, went on to found the Museum of Hoaxes and publish two books on hoaxes, and now returns with a title about all those bizarre experiments that once intrigued and delighted him," says Jessica Lux-Baumann.

"Boese includes only research which was undertaken with genuine scientific curiosity and methodology -- that which was published in peer-reviewed scientific journals."

• • • MOVIES

Tom Knapp took his daughter to see Twilight: Eclipse and came away with mixed emotions. "Bella's mother and father, her classmates at school, even her vampire lover all urge her to avoid making life-altering decisions when she's only 18. So Bella, of course, decides to get married. And die. And be reborn as a vampire, so she can be a teenager forever -- which, if she's anything like her vampire lover Edward, means endlessly attending high school and pining for what she's lost," he says.

"I have enjoyed sharing my daughter's company at each Twilight movie, and I am glad the series makes her smile. But I wish these movies didn't glorify death, ennui and bad relationship choices. Teens today deserve something better."

Daniel Jolley goes on a Descent into madness with Rosario Dawson. "Provocative, controversial, unforgettable -- these adjectives and many more like them fail to even do true justice to this film. Descent is an incredibly brave and shocking film, and Rosario Dawson turns in an Oscar-worthy performance," he says.

"Unfortunately, the film's NC-17 rating (which, I think all will agree, is quite justified) means the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole, but Descent certainly made waves at the Tribeca Film Festival and has had audiences talking wherever it has played."

Later, Dan takes a drive down Route 666 -- with far less impressive results. "I can't say that Route 666 disappointed me, but that's only because I didn't expect a whole lot going in. A cursed road, a long-dead chain gang killing people, Lou Diamond Phillips -- all wrapped up in a Lions Gate box? The best you can really hope for is some laughs," he says.

"Thankfully, Steven Williams supplies many of those with his very entertaining performance in what is otherwise a real dud of a film. Maybe someone could have made a decent film out of this story, but director William Wesley obviously cannot. The whole plot is just hopelessly contrived."

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!)

10 July 2010

It's "Don't Step on a Bee Day," and that's good advice any day of the year.

On this date in 988, the city of Dublin, Ireland, was founded on the banks of the river Liffey. In 1212, the most severe of several early fires burned most of London to the ground. In 1553, Lady Jane Grey ascended to the throne of England. In 1778, Louis XVI of France declared war on Great Britain in support of the Revolutionary Army in the American colonies. On this date in 1821, the United States took possession of its newly bought territory of Florida from Spain. Big Ben, a prominent feature of the London skyline, rang for the first time on this date in 1859. In 1890, Wyoming was admitted as the 44th U.S. state.

Today marks the anniversary in 1921 of Bloody Sunday, when 16 people were killed and 161 houses destroyed during rioting and gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Scopes Trial began on this day in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, after high school science teacher John T. Scopes, was accused of teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in violation of the Butler Act. Telstar, the world's first communications satellite, was launched into orbit in 1962.

On this date in 1985, the Rainbow Warrior, flagship of environmental group Greenpeace, was sunk at its moorings in Auckland, New Zealand, after French saboteurs planted a bomb on the ship to prevent it from protesting nuclear tests in the South Pacific Ocean. A photographer aboard the ship was killed in the blast.

There are 174 days remaining until the end of the year.

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

- Charles de Lint

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

- Lydia M. Child

It isn't easy being green.

- Kermit the Frog

• • • MUSIC

Judy Brunet and Bruce Wing show their creative side on Saying Hello, Feeing Goodbye. "This album deserves wide acclaim if only for that wonderful title. It says it all on a CD that is seen by Judy Brunet as one of 'introspective exploration.' As she says, it is a collection of songs about life and love, and that is exactly what you get," Nicky Rossiter says.

"The album will appeal to all lovers of good lyrics, especially those with a romantic leaning. It is worth seeking out, and you may need to make an effort because like so many good releases it may not ever grace the airways of your local radio station."

Return to the Dream gets good marks with its self-titled CD, Return to the Dream. "Now, this I like. Thirteen songs fill up this CD with a variety of tunes hailing from folk, country, bluegrass and blues origins. Vocals are mostly female led with strong backing harmonies. The arrangements on Return to the Dream are not complex, but the lyrics grab my attention and, in some cases, my heart," says Becky Kyle.

"This is a CD I'd put on during a rainy day or a time when I just need some music to think or dream by."

Dudley Saunders is taking a trip through The Emergency Lane. "Los Angeles-based Dudley Saunders started his career as a performance artist; today with the release of his third album, The Emergency Lane, his reputation as a singer-songwriter has reached a point where some of the country's most famous studio musicians have joined him for the recording," Adolf Goriup remarks.

"Saunders has released a stunning collection of songs with his beautiful singing and excellent musical accompaniment. His music is an extraordinary mix of folk, rock and Americana-flavoured pieces with a bit psychedelic, blues and even jazz. I love it."

The Stone River Boys are sharing Love on the Dial. "Bands with names like the Stone River Boys are usually bluegrass outfits, but on Love on the Dial, bluegrass is curiously absent from the range of musical influences," Jerome Clark says.

"It all goes to make the kind of sound you'd be very happy to hear over a few beers in a blue-collar bar where the music is as greasy as the burgers. Top 40 radio long ago ceased putting anything like this on the dial, but if it were still, I'd still be listening."


Jim Butcher continues the Harry Dresden saga with Turn Coat. "This book's another pivot point in The Dresden Files, and you're not going to want to miss Turn Coat if you're a fan," says Becky Kyle.

"Harry's been through some tough times and he's certainly evolved, but he's never lost his True North. He's a good man who takes care of his friends -- and yeah, even supports his enemies when he knows they're right."

David Artuso's Bear Goddess "creates a new mythology centered around a wise god who falls for a goddess forever chased by fear and despair, in the shape of a cloak. When the dark cloak finally consumes the goddess, she becomes a creature of horror who longs to destroy the Earth she helped shape in her anger at the cruel turns of fate," Whitney Mallenby says.

"While this original mythology is interesting, Artuso's first-time storytelling relies on it too heavily. Every element of the myth is repeated numerous times, while Artuso's contemporary storyline lacks character development and, for much of the book, any significant happenings."

Camilla Lackberg makes her American debut with The Ice Princess. "In her native Sweden, a country of 9,000,000 people, she has sold 3,000,000 books and she's taken home just about every major award for crime-writing. Now, with the English language publication of this, her first novel, Lackberg is out to conquer America as well," Michael Scott Cain announces.

"What makes the book universal is that its Swedish small town could be any small town. The interweaving of the characters' emotional lives and the constant gossip about who is doing what to whom could come from Eudora Welty or Flannery O'Connor as easily as it could emanate in Agatha Christie. But the model I find working in the book is the great American crime-writer, Ross MacDonald, whose favorite theme we find in these pages: a crime from long ago is covered up and the resulting guilt, building over the decades, destroys or ruins the lives of several interconnected people."

Dudley Pope packs action and drama into Ramage & the Freebooters. "Dudley Pope is a master of this highly specialized genre, and each book of his I read locks me in even more. I can't get enough of this stuff; his Ramage is an able, fascinating character with plenty of flaws but also a keen grasp of tactics and an inventive mind," Tom Knapp exclaims.

"The solution here will involve drumbeats and decoys, witch doctors and spies, and an exciting climax that once again proves Ramage can stand proudly among the Hornblowers and Aubreys of the fictional British Navy."


Tom Knapp rides with the Lone Ranger in Lines Not Crossed. "The parallels between this Lone Ranger and the classic Batman storyline are growing. But that hint of unoriginality aside, this new series from Dynamite -- written by Brett Matthews and illustrated by Sergio Cariello -- is not to be missed," Tom says.

"The story's great, the art is great, and this series has me reaching for the third collection. Let's see if Matthews and Cariello can keep this up -- and stick together."

Tom's next Western excursion is with Wyatt Earp and the The Justice Riders, which "isn't really a graphic novel at all."

"Justice Riders is really just a short novel by Richard Dean Starr," Tom explains. "Each page of the book boasts a single black-and-white drawing by Dan Dougherty, leaving an inch or two above and below the picture for text. Sometimes, the illustration straddles a pair of pages. ... Frankly, I don't care much for the format. Call me a hidebound purist, but an illustrated novel is not a graphic novel, and vice-versa. A graphic novel promises a certain style of presentation that is lacking here, so when I started reading I was already disappointed."


Emma Forrest gets a little personal in Damage Control: Women on the Therapists, Beauticians, & Trainers Who Navigate Their Bodies. "Editor Emma Forrest bravely tackles a new facet of feminism in Damage Control -- women writing unabashedly about the primping and refining they undergo not just for themselves, but for their partners, their professions and for acceptance in society as a whole," says Jessica Lux-Baumann.

"Francesca Lia Block wrote the standout piece in the collection. In her seven-page essay (one of the longest in the book), she confesses to body image discomfort that let her to a therapist who encouraged plastic surgery. ... Other delightful essays include the tale of freelance author Samantha Dunn who was forced to cut her beauty budget in lean times. Image is everything in Los Angeles, however, so when Dunn's stylist found out, she immediately arranged for the author to perform custodial duties in exchange for salon services."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley says Skeleton Crew "is sort of the 'perfect storm' of painfully bad horror movies -- a freakish combination of putrid directing, terrible acting, horrible writing, awful cinematography, a subplot that goes absolutely nowhere, etc. It's not that everything went wrong in the production of this movie -- it's the fact that everything was wrong to start with."

"The fact that the ending in particular has some real problems really just rubs salt in what is already a festering wound. Boy Scouts should get a merit badge for sitting through this entire film."

Dan also takes a look at Friday the 13th, Part II in his comprehensive look at the classic horror series. "As far as I'm concerned, Friday the 13th, Part II is the best film in the whole series. ... Jason doesn't have the hockey mask yet, and he's not yet the seemingly inhuman, unstoppable killing force he will become, but he definitely earned slasher rookie of the year for his efforts in this film," he says.

"If you ever want to visit Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th, Part II should be a necessary part of your travel plans."

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!)

3 July 2010

Today is the official start to the "dog days" of summer, the hottest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The term refers to the period between early July and early September when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises and sets with the sun. Because Sirius was the brightest star, ancient Romans believed it added its heat to the sun, producing hot, unhealthy weather. The Romans used to sacrifice a brown dog at this time to appease the rage of Sirius. On a related note, July 3 is also Stay Out of the Sun Day and the beginning of Air Conditioning Appreciation Days.

The International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship is held today at the Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm, Eau Claire, Michigan. Also, today is Compliment-Your-Mirror Day; participation consists of complimenting your mirror on having such a wonderful owner and keeping track of whether other mirrors you see during the day smile at you.

On this date in 987, Hugh Capet was crowned king of France, the first of the Capetian dynasty that would rule France 'til the French Revolution in 1792. In 1608, Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain. In 1775, George Washington took command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, Massachusetts. On this date in 1844, the last pair of Great Auks was killed. In 1863, the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg culminated with the gloriously futile Pickett's Charge. In 1981, the New York Times made its first mention of a disease that would later be called AIDS.

There are 181 days remaining until the end of the year.

I do not exist to impress the world. I exist to live my life in a way that will make me happy.

- Richard Bach

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.

- Henry David Thoreau

What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

- Johann von Goethe

• • • MUSIC

Lewis MacKinnon takes a Gaelic perspective for A Seo (Here). "MacKinnon has an expressive and beautiful voice and a great feeling for rhythm and harmony," Adolf Goriup says.

"The album is a real revelation for me. I've never heard such beautiful male singing before and the musical arrangements are perfect."

Annie Dinerman has some Broken Cookies to share. "Dinerman is a singer-songwriter with a sense of humor. She reminds me a lot of a next-generation Christine Lavin with a bit stronger language. In these dozen songs, she tackles love, friendship and outer-space politics with equanimity," Becky Kyle remarks.

"Dinerman's voice is pleasant. She's occasionally overwhelmed by orchestration, but the whole effort just leaves you with a smile. If you enjoy Lavin's music, this is another artist you will want to check out."

Cheryl Wheeler is Pointing at the Sun with this new release. "Pointing at the Sun is Cheryl Wheeler's 10th album and, if you haven't caught up with her yet, you've certainly heard her songs, which have been recorded by such artists as Dan Seals, Kathie Mattea, Susie Bogguss, Garth Brooks, Peter, Paul & Mary, Melanie and Bette Midler. She is one of the premier singer-songwriters of our time, as well as one of the funniest," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Pointing at the Sun finds Wheeler in a contented mood, happy and satisfied with where her life is now, as opposed to the searching and yearning person who dominated some of her earlier albums."

Chris Bramble is ready to Laugh at the Wind. "Laugh at the Wind is good collection of self-penned works that offer a perfect showcase of the talents of Chris Bramble," Nicky Rossiter says.

"Bramble has a promising future provided the music and lyrics get enough exposure."

Donna Ulisse takes a dip in Holy Waters. "Like its predecessors, Holy Waters is on the contemporary side of the bluegrass divide. Even so, it's the most traditional in feeling and, in addition, the warmest and most readily accessible," Jerome Clark says.

"If her own compositions lack the for-the-ages aura of the canon's sacred anthems, they're solidly crafted and more than capably performed. Ulisse has a crystalline sort of voice, the very sound of which gratifies the ear even when it is not focused specifically on word and message. It isn't always the sort of bluegrass singing one would anticipate from a more hard-core practitioner of the music in its more specifically Appalachian definition. I wonder, though, if it's heading that way."


Travis Caudle, an Australian singer-songwriter, is on the road again -- and that's just where he like to be.

"When you get home and have a couple of months there, it starts to feel weird. You actually feel more normal when you're out in the car," he said in a recent interview with Tom Knapp. "And, whether you have a good gig or a bad gig, when you keep moving you can start fresh the next day."


John Wrieden blends science and magic in The Souls of the Fire Dragon. "The main strength of this book is the premise, which creatively combines several interesting facets: alternate realities, magic versus technology, overthrowing a corrupt government and the interactions between humans and dragons. It also has several interesting characters, namely Akea and the dragon. But, is that enough to make it good? Sadly, no," Chris McCallister says.

"What hurts the book? The pace is quite uneven, with episodes of rapid action, but far too many lulls laden with unnecessary details. It was hard to stay awake at times."

L.A. Meyer revisits the life and times of Jacky Faber in the Rapture of the Deep. "Rapture of the Deep proves to be yet another irresistable chapter in Jacky's charmed and exciting life," Tom Knapp reports. "The adventure takes Jacky into the company of pirates and gamblers, Spanish dons and alligators, even as the science of underwater exploration and salvage makes a tremendous leap forward."

However, he warns, some readers might have a problem with the novel's enthusiastic take on vicious cock-fighting and the introduction of a culturally insensitive character, the plump slave Aunt Jemimah.

Kevin Brockmeier presents The Brief History of the Dead. "One of the few comforts we can draw on when facing up to our own mortality is the fact that we will live on in the memories of those we leave behind. Kevin Brockmeier takes this sentiment and envisions a world in which it is literally true. As such, The Brief History of the Dead makes for a unique take on the idea of life and death, as well as a poignant testimony to the power of memory," Daniel Jolley states.

"It's a fascinating novel, but the conclusion may prove a little disappointing to some, for one could say that it ends with a whimper rather than a bang. As a reader, one cannot help but want more than Brockmeier gives us in the end, but I find it hard to criticize a book or its author on those terms. No matter what you think of the conclusion, The Brief History of the Dead is a poignant literary journey offering readers a unique perspective on some of the deepest questions of life and death."


Tom Knapp is taken aback by the turn taken near the end of Empowered 5. "I was already writing the review in my head. Empowered 5 was more of the same in this charming, sexy series from Adam Warren. The title character, a superhero in a skin-tight supersuit with a penchant for revealing tears in her costume, is an endearing young woman who has a kind heart and great intentions, but blunders just enough to spend much of her time a captive of various supervillains," Tom says.

"But Warren's winning formula gets tired with overuse, and this book seemed at first to be little more than a retread of similar material in the past. ... And then the final sequence took things in a whole new direction. Things exploded, people died. And this was no longer the same old Empowered."

Iron Man is a big commodity these days, but that doesn't mean everything with the Marvel hero's name attacked is worth its weight in gold. "Although not collected until 2007, when the prospect of the first Iron Man movie had the marketing department at Marvel Comics slavering over the prospect of additional book-sale profits, Armor Wars is definitely entrenched in the 1980s," Tom says.

"Set up to be an epic tale, Armor Wars falls short. For one thing, there's little here beyond a series of iron-on-iron fights that Iron Man ultimately -- and often very easily -- wins. It grows tiresome fairly quickly."

• • • MOVIES

Mary Harvey likes the vampire turn she finds in Thirst. "Thirst is an extravaganza of terrific moments and scenes that range from gruesome and disturbing to pitch-black comedy, all combined with cinematography so stunning that it is visual poetry. Blazing sunsets, a room painted white for the specific purpose of emphasizing all the blood that will soon be flowing over the stark white floors, dark and dull moments that lull the viewer into false complacency, followed by scenes of graphic violence. Multiple genres are combined to create an unsettling sequence of events that does become sluggish in the middle, in part because of the director's tendency to cut across and utilize so many formats, creating a sort of chaotic, numbing excess," Mary says.

"Thirst accomplishes so much, on so many levels, that it's hard to be too negative about the slower bits. If you can hang in there during the down part, you'll be rewarded with an ending that is truly worth all the trouble."

Daniel Jolley casts a little light on Days of Darkness. "Well, it's different -- you have to give Days of Darkness that much. The zombies on display here may look like your basic stereotypical zombies, but they aren't -- just trust me on that. These zombies aren't going to scare anybody, but they're more than capable of eliciting a few 'yuck' reactions from viewers -- and that turns out to be the film's saving grace," Dan says.

"I have to subtract some points for all of the 'this movie sucks' moments early on, but I have to admit that I actually sort of enjoyed the overall 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!)

19 June 2010

Please be aware that there will not be a June 26 edition of Rambles.NET. No worries, we'll be back the next week, but we didn't want to ruin your summer with worrying. Relax, enjoy a refreshing fruity drink and we'll see you in July!

Today in 1846, the first officially recorded, organized baseball match was played under Alexander Joy Cartwright's rules on Hoboken, N.J.'s Elysian Fields with the New York Base Ball Club defeating the Knickerbockers 23-1. In 1862, the U.S. Congress banned slavery in United States territories. In 1870, the Confederate States of America ceased to exist after all of the Southern States were formally readmitted to the United States. In 1910, the first Father's Day was celebrated in Spokane, Wash. In 1934, with eerie precognition of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established to protect us. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approved on this date after surviving an 83-day filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

There are 195 days remaining in the year.

You are totally unique, just like everyone else.

- Margaret Mead

More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

- Woody Allen

A man is a very small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders.

- Lord Dunsany

• • • MUSIC

Coles Whalen belives Nothing is Too Much in pursuit of her craft. "For me, Coles Whalen is one of the most exciting singers of the American singer-songwriter scene," Adolf Goriup says.

"Her songwriting is excellent and she works with brilliant musicians. Check her out."

Saffron Summerfield is laid bare in The Early Years. "This 18-song collection of songs from the early stages of folksinger Saffron Summerfield's career was recorded in 1976 in London and runs just over an hour in length," Becky Kyle reports.

"The songs are primarily guitar and voice with some friends helping out on strings, percussion and backing vocals. Themes here are timeless, so much of the themes resonate with today. The Early Years is a very listenable album and one you should sample if you are a fan of British folk from that era."

Jerome Clark sets up another singer-songwriter double-header this week: Nancy K. Dillon's Roses Guide to Time Travel and a self-titled CD by Nora Jane Struthers. "Here are two CDs by singer-songwriters you probably haven't heard of. Of course, I could say that about two of a whole lot of singer-songwriters. The difference: chances are, you'll fall in love with both of them by your second listening, and probably sooner," he says.

"Aside from a common, richly realized talent, they share a deep affection for America's traditional folk music. From it, they have fashioned something that is in one sense old-fashioned and in another modern, in the best sense. The music speaks movingly to the continuity of past and present, where the place you were takes you to the place you are and will be."

The Gibson Brothers make a persuasive argument on Ring the Bell. "Bluegrass has never been so lush in recent years as on this excellent collection of 12 tracks that will inspire, enthrall and even convert many non-aficionados," Nicky Rossiter says.

"The Gibson Brothers make the banjo sing as it has seldom sung before to accompany some fantastic lyrics and other accompaniment. ... This is an album to cherish but most of all it is one to play over and over and over and over and then to start again."

Marcome sails down a River of Soul for her sophomore recording. "Marcome's music has ripened with her musical skills," Adolf Goriup says.

"The compositions and arrangements are richer, the songs are more varied and the outcome is a brilliant new age CD. She created her own style and surpasses her musical patterns and influences. Though I liked her first CD, this one exceeded all my expectations."


Stefan Petrucha espounses The Rule of Won in this young-adult novel. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could have anything you wanted just by wishing for it badly enough? Just imagine what a whole group could achieve by wishing, chanting and believing -- be it good or bad," Daniel Jolley says.

"The dangers of group-think litter the landscape of history, and a high school makes for a perfect microcosm in which to illustrate the dangers of one group gaining influence and refusing to tolerate any level of dissent. ... Always interesting and eventful, oftentimes quite comical, this powerful and thought-provoking novel offers plenty of food for thought even as it entertains. Even young adults who don't normally enjoy reading might be surprised at just how quickly and deeply they are drawn in to this powerful and fascinating storyline."

Jeanne Kalogridis explores the life and history of Catherine de Medici in her historical novel, The Devil's Queen. "As important as political intrigue is to the story, it is the portrayal of Catherine de Medici that makes the book. Kalogridis has written a powerful novel, leaving readers with the story of a very human woman in a position of great power who tried to do what she thought was best," says Paul de Bruijn.

"The results of those actions are mixed, and it also serves reminder that in some ways the world has always been a very small place."

Whoa, Paul, that's your 200th review for Rambles.NET. Well done!

Robert Stone takes a dip in the Bay of Souls. "He's a bone chiller, old Bob. That's what I mainly read him for, the way he intimates there are things going on out there that you really don't want to know about. But he's gonna tell you anyway," Dave Sturm says.

"I've read all Stone's books and I believe I would recognize his prose in a blind taste test. Oblique dialogue. Agonizing introspection. Weird sex. Barbarity disguised in cosmopolitan sophistication. Third-world decadence and corruption. The sea, the awful sea."


The supernatural news business is personified in reporter Carl Kolchak, and this short-lived TV character comes back to life in a new series from Moonstone books, beginning with Kolchak: Tales of the Night Stalker #1, The Rise & Fall of Carl Kolchak. "The long and short of it is, Kolchak gets sent out on stories that inevitably have some supernatural aspect to them. He survives the experience by the skin of his teeth and writes a story that his editor never believes and usually refuses to print. Rinse and repeat," Tom Knapp says.

"Enjoy the experience as Kolchak runs afoul of hungry shadows and walking plants, alluring demons, Bigfoot and even Bloody Mary of mirror fame. Enjoy his brief rise in popularity when a publisher becomes a fan of his work ... followed by a rapid decline when his editor and publisher join one of his bloodier excursions."

Tom also breathes a lungful of Warren Ellis's necrotic Blackgas. "This is not a cheery book," he warns.

"Warren Ellis is renowned -- or notorious, your choice -- for the graphic violence in his stories, and readers hoping for a gore-fest will go home happy. But what the story has in torn flesh, it lacks in meaningful development -- we never really get to know or care about anyone in the story. Also, Max Fiumara and Ryan Waterhouse, who share art credits on the book, aren't quite up to the task of depicting the brutal imagery Ellis's story demands."


Mark Kurlansky samples The Food of a Younger Land in this book commissioned by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression and finally published last year. "One of their early projects was a book, written by the major authors of the day, surveying the food habits of Americans -- their eating habits, traditions, recipes, parties, pretty much anything that related to food," Michael Scott Cain explains.

"As you might expect, it is at one and the same time a fascinating document and a dull one, depending on whom you are reading. It seems only some writers took it seriously."

• • • MOVIES

Tom Knapp didn't find his time with Robin Hood to be very merry. "The legend of Robin Hood was never meant to be an epic. But, in this latest version of the film, with Russell Crowe in the title role and director Ridley Scott at the helm, we see Robin leading a vast army of Englishmen to the beaches at Dover to repel a massive French invasion that looks a lot like D-Day on Normandy. In fact, watch the scenes where arrows skewer the water as French soldiers bravely try to reach the shore from those suspiciously modern-looking troop ships, and tell me you don't think of that first dramatic scene in Saving Private Ryan," he laments.

"I went into this film with some trepidition. After all, Robin Hood has been portrayed many times in the movies, and not always successfully. Would Crowe's Robin Hood be as spirited as Patrick Bergin's? As lifeless as Kevin Costner's? As timeless as Errol Flynn's? As crusty as Sean Connery's? Would Crowe, who so perfectly filled the naval boots of Patrick's O'Brian's Captain Aubrey in Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, flex his muscle as co-producer enough to make a Robin Hood we can believe in? Alas, no."

Our local horror/slasher film expert, Daniel Jolley, begins exploring a long-running series with Friday the 13th. "The original Friday the 13th is not the first, most original or best slasher film ever made, but it is arguably the most influential," he opines.

"The one thing I've always admired most about the slayings in the Friday the 13th movies is the sheer efficiency of them all. Even at the beginning, before Jason himself ever lifted his first machete, the killer is all about getting the job done and going on to the next victim. That's not to say the murders aren't stylish and impressive, though. I just wish they would have been a lot gorier. Clearly, this film does have a few problems. When you figure in the immense influence this film has had on the horror movie genre and pop culture itself, though, I think it rightly deserves full accolades."

Dan also finds time to warn you away from a movie blunder called Bikini Bloodbath. "How can you go wrong with a movie called Bikini Bloodbath? Just ask the guys responsible for this movie. Despite seemingly covering all of the essential Bs (blood, babes, bikinis and booze), Blood Bath Pictures pretty much laid an egg with this one," he says.

"Yes, it does have a few funny moments, but overall this film proves more annoying than entertaining. I have enjoyed a few horror comedy spoofs in my time, but Bikini Bloodbath just isn't one of them. It's too gimmicky, too dumb and too short -- the film itself is barely an hour, with an insufferable music video and some bloopers tacked on after that."

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!)