11 December 1999 to 6 March 2000

6 March 2000

The album is called Songs of Seduction -- so it's probably one of those sensual jazz mood recordings designed for intimate evenings for two, right? Wrong. Tom Knapp was thrilled to receive a copy of this new Rounder Records release resurrecting a 1961 album from the famed Alan Lomax collection. Drawn from years of patient recording in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, this album immortalizes the old songs and singers. "You can hear generations in these songs," Tom explains. "The voices are rough, unpolished, in some cases trembling with age -- but these are the songs they grew up singing and the words are worn into their souls like wheel tracks on a muddy road. Sometimes they cough, hesitate or stumble in the words. But there's also pride in the sound, and undisguised glee as they sing the bawdy words."

Next, Tom reviews a different sort of Celtic atmosphere: Celtic Zen by Levi Chen. "If you're a fan of ambient music, if you enjoy soothing sounds and gentle melodies, Celtic Zen is a must-have," Tom says. "If you want something with a bit of punch to it, look elsewhere."

Gilbert Head makes his Rambles debut with a review of Scotsman William Jackson's Inchcolm. The instrumentation on this album "ranges from the orchestral to the intimate," Gilbert says. "Don't come to this work expecting a rigorous adherance to a specific musical tradition, but if the fusion experiments of folks like Loreena McKinnett and Susie McKeown attract your willing ear, lend it to Inchcolm."

Audrey Clark comes close to raving about Richard Shindell's new release, Somewhere Near Paterson. The folk-rockin' album, Audrey says, "is the closest thing to perfect that I've heard in a long time -- perfect in the sense that Shindell is an artist who knows what he's trying to say and knows just how to play it."

Rambles newcomer Bob MacKenzie gives us a taste of bluegrass with the Tom Wilson and Border Bluegrass release, When the Wagon was New. Bob recommends this one, noting that "the peacefulness of this music is quite comfortable and enjoyable, but sometimes it just feels flat emotionally."

Richard Cochrane was very impressed by Eugene Chadbourne's Worms with Strings. "Everything is perfect -- the playing, the ideas, even the down-home quality of the (mostly four-track) recordings," Richard says, calling this a "work of enormous, generous imagination."

Janine Kauffman is back with another music interview; this time, she chats with Susan Werner, whose fork in the road took her from opera to folk.

Donna Scanlon draws our attention to things literary, beginning with The Folktale Cat, edited by Frank de Caro. "The range of tales and international representation is excellent and supports the theme of universal recognition of cat behavior," Donna says.

Our fiction section today features a trio of novels from the Big Three of British humour.

First, Julie Bowerman revisits a classic of science fiction comedy: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The novel, Julie says, "is funny sci-fi for the hyperactive. The rapid-fire images careen off each other, splashing absurdities across the pages." She adds: "It's great fun, even on the fourth, fifth or forty-second read!"

Tom Knapp is back with one of his favorites by Tom Holt. Flying Dutch, Tom says, "is a delicious book which will have readers laughing aloud as they rush to turn the pages and smiling long after the book is done. This is one well worth saving and reading over and over again -- you'll laugh every time."

Donna Scanlon rounds out today's British humour triumvirate with Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent. The novel (No. 22 in the Discworld series) is "smooth and funny, with plenty of the cultural allusions of which Pratchett is so fond," Donna says. "They work very well here; most readers should get them, but they aren't blatant and are neatly worked into the story." And, really, the book is not about Australia.

British humour fans may rejoice, by the by -- some of Pratchett's early Discworld novels, previously only available at import rates, have been re-released in the States at a reasonable price. If your collection is missing the first three in Pratchett's hysterical series -- The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites -- you can find new links to the reduced-rate Amazon releases here.

Paul de Bruijn is up next with a recent reprint from a big name in fantasy: The Devil in a Forest by Gene Wolfe. "It is the characters and how they interact with each other that makes everything work so well in this story," Paul says.

Tom Knapp's close encounter with DC/Vertigo's Preacher continues today with volume 5 in the series, Dixie Fried. The opening story in particular is brilliant, Tom says, "and it brilliantly puts the Anne Rice set in their place with its portrayal of Eccarius, a vampire with dyed hair and red-tinted contact lenses and a basement full of gothic worshippers and "nightwalker" wannabees."

Elizabeth Badurina has a poetry offering today which also crosses the line into audio. Willie Perdomo's Where a Nickel Costs a Dime is about being "poor, minority, filled with rage and giving it an outlet that's jumbled with tiny snapshots of life where no fashion photographer would go." And the accompanying CD, Elizabeth says, "shines with a voice as angry as the next -- and as disillusioned."

Melinda Lau was disappointed with the recent movie release, The Messenger. However, Melinda says, "if you're into gross misrepresentation, Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is the one for you."

Miles O'Dometer concludes this update with a cult movie classic. Trainspotting, Miles says, is "the most frightening film you may ever see. Hard to watch, impossible not to."

1 March 2000

Welcome to March! If you're quite through leaping o'er February 29, it's time for another action-packed update!

Tom Knapp is up first with an exciting duo -- Liz Knowles and Colleen Donahue -- who have recorded under the name Tir na n'Og. Their CD The Black Rose provides "solid playing throughout," Tom says, "and enough variety to keep a listener's ears perked through many repetitions."

Tom also has a release from Latvia to share: Saules Meita by Ilgi. "Listening to this album involves a lot of guesswork and a few leaps of faith," Tom says. "But puzzling out possible meanings is half of the fun -- this music is different enough from my usual listening habits that letting it fade into the background was impossible until I'd given it its fair share of attention first."

Paul de Bruijn was inspired by Stan Rogers' 1999 recording From Coffee House to Concert Stage to go back and review one of his earlier releases: Fogarty's Cove. "If you have never listened to Stan Rogers and wonder why he is held in such esteem, listen to this album and you'll see," Paul promises.

Speaking of folk classics, Kevin McCarthy is happy that Rounder Records saw fit to re-release one of Utah Phillips' early recordings, Good Though!. "This release provides well-rounded insight into both the man and the performer," Kevin says, "and would be a good foot in the door into the world of Utah Phillips."

Audrey Clark has the 1999 folk-rock debut of Kendall Payne. Her album Jordan's Sister "runs the gamut from gentle melodies to pop culture musings to sing-along rockers," Audrey says. "Which is a good thing, since Payne's voice is versatile enough to make listening to each song, despite the wide array of sounds, a pleasant experience."

Tom Knapp had the good fortune to catch Irish supergroup Lunasa live in Philadelphia. Check out his report of their performance here.

Donna Scanlon unlocks the Rambles library today with a CD book: Jane Yolen's Once Upon a Bedtime Story. "Yolen's voice is exactly what you want and expect it to be: rich, warm and expressive," Donna says. "She strikes exactly the right pitch for each tale, and her narration is mesmerizing."

Donna also has a review of The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley. "Billingsley successfully meshes plot and characterization," Donna says, "and she adds new dimension to the selkie legends which are at the core of the story."

Laurie Thayer is up next with a taste of Toronto's Tanya Huff. The urban fantasy novel Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is "very much in the same tradition as Lackey's SERRAted Edge novels and fans of those should also enjoy this," Laurie says.

Elizabeth Badurina can always be counted on for some unusual offerings. Today, she recommends Shawna Kenney's I Was a Teenage Dominatrix in the non-fiction section. This autobiographical look at the author's life, Elizabeth says, is "a definite page-turner, with every new client story causing the reader to shake her head in wonder and amazement."

Tom Knapp's final offering for today is the fourth volume in Garth Ennis's Preacher series. Ancient History is a series of background tales about the book's supporting characters. "One was good, one great and one a total mistake," Tom reports.

Miles O'Dometer has two films for us today, each featuring an animal named Buddy. First up is the film titled, yes, Buddy, about an ailing baby gorilla nursed back to health by a caring doctor's wife. "But Buddy is no Born to be Wild," Miles says. "There's a dark side to Buddy that makes the film as compelling as it is comical."

Next up is Air Bud, about a boy and his dog and a basketball. The movie, Miles says, "begins with a winning star and a cute idea, quickly forsakes its promise for a pastiche of tried-and-true set pieces, skillfully cut and pasted, but cut and pasted nonetheless."

That's all for today, folks. See ya back here soon!

29 February 2000

Happy Leap Day!

Take note, folks ... this is the last one of the 20th century! (And four years 'til the first of the 21st!) Meanwhile, check this page in a day or so for another action-packed edition of Rambles!

27 February 2000

The fiction section has been redesigned slightly, to make books easier to find without having to wade through such massive lists of titles. The main fiction page gives you a choice of four submenus, in which authors are grouped alphabetically: A to E, F to M, N to S and T to Z. The genre menus (children's books, contemporary fantasy, etc.) are all still available as well.

Happy browsing!

26 February 2000

Wow, it feels like SPRING out there! If that's not a good reason for another Rambles update, what is?

Tom Knapp made an amazing discovery when he stumbled upon Don't Hold Your Breath, a 1996 recording by Mac Umba. "While their melodies are drawn from the traditions of Scottish pipe bands, they dose their music heavily with Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms," Tom explains. "Seventeen tracks in all, and not a single disappointment along the way."

Tom slips a little further back in the time stream to review the 1989 Celtic recording Dark Island by Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton. The duo has joined forces to produce "an exquisite recording of mostly traditional tunes, using a variety of stringed instruments to achieve the feel of a Renaissance court."

Audrey Clark had an unusual challenge -- reviewing a Rounder Records compilation of "music of the Greek underworld" titled Women of Rembetica. "The songs reflect the unconventional lives these women embraced," Audrey says. "Some of the songs speak of reckless partying, faithless lovers or brazen flirtations, while others are full of grief which comes out in the wailing voices of the singers."

Donna Scanlon is up next with folksinger Susan Crowe's 1999 release, A Pilgrim's Mirror. Donna lauds Crowe's "vibrant spine-tingling voice, intelligent introspective lyrics and melodies which reflect an impressive array of musical traditions and styles."

John Varner supplies our final album review for today: John Wright's Just Left of Center. "Packed with musical concepts often too technical for inexperienced players, these songs will strike you with thoughtful arrangements and uncommon ideas," John says. "He is truly a well-studied musician."

Ellen Rawson had a close encounter with Lucy Kaplansky in Denver, Colorado. Read her review of Kaplansky's live performance at Swallow Hill Music Hall. (Also watch for our next update and a review of the new Irish supergroup, Lunasa!)

Over in the fiction department, Audrey Clark reviews a book about a series: The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Teresa Patterson. The large companion volume, Audrey says, "is written in a historic, yet easy-to-read manner; the descriptions are vivid, and the writing contains humor and life."

Donna Scanlon wades through "Nazis, the art world and the intricacies of faith and its various practices" in Lewis Perdue's suspenseful thriller Daughter of God. The novel, Donna says, "is solidly plot driven, but it's an exciting and thought-provoking, if violent, plot."

Jennifer St. Clair is back from a long absence with her review of a new book by an old favorite writer: Nina Kiriki Hoffman's A Red Heart of Memories. Hoffman's spell as an author, Jennifer says, "is too strong to resist."

Beth Derochea goes back to the classics for the next entry on our poetry page. Have you ever wondered why Elizabeth Barrett Browning remains a perennial favorite? Read Beth's review of Sonnets from the Portuguese, which spotlights the "passion and fire" of the poet.

Audrey Clark fills in the final gap in Neil Gaiman's much-missed saga of The Sandman. The last chapter, The Wake, "is written and drawn with emotion and intellect, which can be said for the entire series," Audrey says. It ties up the remaining loose ends in the storyline, she adds, and gives "everyone the chance to say goodbye."

Elizabeth Badurina has a new entry on our popular new 'zines page, so check out her review of MultiKid #1. "This zine is great fun," Elizabeth says. "The content is good, the production is passable, and the layout divine."

Tom Knapp brings a hint of superstition to the folklore and non-fiction page with Carole Potter's compendium, Knock on Wood. The book, Tom says, "is a clever collection of superstitious bits and pieces from all over the world."

Miles O'Dometer has another double feature running in the Rambles cineplex. First up is the latest Disney fave, Tarzan. "Unquestionably, Tarzan is an animated achievement that buries films that amazed viewers only a few years ago. Some of its jungle images are so real they could easily be mistaken for photographs ... and the tree surfing Tarzan takes to in times of trouble is so fast, smooth and three-dimensional that it easily produces vertigo, if not enjoyment," Miles says. Sadly, that doesn't save a film that is "too much formula, too little fun."

Next up from Miles is the superhero spoof Mystery Men. "Some of the action scenes drag on too long, and there's nothing in the ending that compares to the opening concept itself," Miles says. "But there's enough going on for just about everyone to find something to like, and it all happens so quickly that you won't have to wait long for it. Just be prepared to feel very silly. And to laugh very hard."

21 February 2000

Welcome to another Monday! Yeah, OK, it's Monday and it's the middle of February. Be happy! You've got a Rambles update to read!

Tom Knapp begins the day with a review of Heritage by Canada's Eileen McGann. Tom credits "McGann's strong vocals and her excellent arrangements of traditional tunes for the album's staying power. I've heard a lot of these tunes before, in various guises, but seldom have they tugged at my memory so."

Kevin McCarthy shifts our attention from Celtic-Canadian to British musical styles, lauding the folk presentation by Jez Lowe in The Parish Notices. "Lowe is an underrated songwriter and performer," Kevin says. "Neither flashy nor bombastic, his marriage of music and words often offers delicate shadings, nuances on life as he sees it."

John Varner was also pleased to hear the self-titled release by Tim Harrison. "Tim is essentially the Bob Dylan I always wanted to hear," John says. "The words all plead with powerful desperation and make you a true believer."

R.B. Hoffman is a newcomer to the Rambles team, and she makes her writing debut here with a review of Deirdre Flint's The Shuffleboard Queens. "Deirdre is a fine musician and songwriter," R.B. says, "and her hilarious lyrics could be harsh if she didn't deliver them with such great playfulness."

Crystal Kocher has returned, and she brings with her an interesting selection for our world traditions page. Uttara-Kuru's Prayer, which "fuses the tradition of the Japanese sutras and folk songs with the technology of the Western world." The result, Crystal says, is "something fresh and remarkably original."

Tom Knapp is up again, this time with a book which fits both under fiction and folklore. Randy Lee Eickhoff's The Raid brings a slice of Irish legend to life, Tom says, and "the flow of the story, the sometimes sing-songy phrasing, the repetitions and formal recitations all give this book an unusual feel of authenticity."

Donna Scanlon is up next with a review of Julie E. Czerneda's A Thousand Words for Stranger. "My word," Donna exclaims, "can this woman tell a story! ... The plot is fresh and original, spiced with humor and hinting gently and kindly at its roots."

Also in the fiction department, Elizabeth Badurina shares with us Beth Jacobs' Lizards in Sturgis, a biker mystery of sorts. "This is a hugely satisfying book, though not necessarily one of substance," Elizabeth says. "It's like eating fast food -- it's good, but it's not something that's going to nourish you for any length of time."

Elizabeth also exposes our readers to something new and different -- perhaps -- with Honey van Campe's The Drag Queen's Cookbook. "One word sums up this book: hilarious," Elizabeth says. "And yet, on second thought, it's not only hilarious, it's practical. Engaging. Certainly entertaining."

Are you fond of the package which surrounded Neil Gaiman's work with The Sandman? Then check out Audrey Clark's review of Dustcovers, a collection by cover artist Dave McKean. "This collection of disturbing and thought-provoking work captures the mood and atmosphere of The Sandman," says Audrey. "McKean has created a body of work that is diverse, yet unified."

Tom Knapp turns off the light in the Rambles reading room after another review in the graphic arts department. This time, it's Marvel's Daredevil: The Fall of the Kingpin, a book in which Tom says "there's a great deal of cleverness in the plot and it's a pleasure to watch it unfold."

Over in the Rambles cineplex, long-silent writer Dan Ford returns (Say hello, Julie!) to review a recent release, Girl, Interrupted. The film starring Wynona Ryder is not for those seeking "mindless entertainment," Dan says; "The strength of the characters, the plot and the theme of the movie," he says, make this "one of the best movies I have recently seen."

And, lastly, Miles O'Dometer stretches back into the video archives for The Spitfire Grill from 1996. The movie, Miles says, is "about two-thirds of a classic." Unfortunately, he says, by the end, "disturbing questions get pat answers, complex issues narrow into a one-dimensional clash of good and evil, and interesting characters go black and white."

18 February 2000

Snow! Sleet! Freezing rain! These are the local predictions for today here in southcentral Pennsylvania. But wherever you are, you're safe and warm at your computer and eager to read some new reviews. So here you go, we aim to please!

Tom Knapp starts today's musical foray with a new release from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia -- Tracey Dares, formerly of Natalie MacMaster's backup band, has released an excellent CD titled Crooked Lake. "All in all, this is a very satisfying album, one fans of a well-struck piano should not be without," Tom says.

Still in the Celtic realm of music, Tom offers up another review -- this titled Grandfather's Horse by the band Rowan. With the evidence of their "lightning-fast instrumental sets," Tom says, "the musicianship of the band's four members is excellent enough to carry them far indeed."

Juliet Youngren is up next, working her way towards northern Europe with Varttina's Oi Dai. "At times," says Juliet, "it seems to tap into a primal, shamanistic tradition, or the great heritage of oral sagas; at the next moment, it skips off in a rollicking and utterly normal polka."

Donna Scanlon travels further abroad to bring us Michael Doucet's Le Hoogie Boogie: Louisiana French Music for Children. "This rollicking collection of 20 songs and rhymes is guaranteed to have toes tapping and fingers snapping faster than you can say 'jambalaya,'" Donna promises.

Our final music review today is from J. Higgins-Rosebrook, who had a mixed reaction to Gallimaufry's historicalm Dig Me a Ditch. Despite some context problems, she says, "the music is good, the voices strong and mature, the hammered dulcimer outstanding."

Laurie Thayer begins today's literary journey by consorting with vampires in Keeper of the King, co-authored by Nigel Bennett and P.N. Elrod. Combined, Laurie says, the authors "have put together a fascinating story with a most interesting variation on the Arthurian legends."

Audrey Clark crosses the boundary between fiction and poetry with this review of Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust. "Hesse's inventiveness with form," Audrey says, "gives the novel a simple, austere beauty that is at once achingly familiar and strange."

Is your life worth writing about? Dan Price thinks it is. Take a look at Elizabeth Badurina's review of Price's How to Make a Journal of Your Life, which will help you to "record the details of your days and draw pictures for your future self to find and remember."

Beth Derochea takes us for a spiritual turn with Phyllis Curott's Book of Shadows: A Modern Woman's Journey into the Wisdom of Witchcraft and the Magic of the Goddess. "I found this book to be an entertaining read, a Wicca book with a personal touch," Beth says. "I would like to see more memoirs and biographies of this sort for Wiccans and pagans in general."

Tom Knapp goes for a darker slant, delving into the DC/Vertigo title Hellblazer with Fear and Loathing, by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. "This isn't the best place to start if you're a John Constantine novice, but it's a great place to get to," Tom says. "Ennis and Dillon combined their talents for one of the best runs in the series, and the storytelling here is excellent."

Audrey Clark takes a look at Broadway on the big screen with Cats: The Musical. "Those of you who've seen the show live may argue that the video version isn't nearly as good," Audrey says, "but for those of us who'll never make it to Broadway, Cats still leaves its print as one of the most cherished musicals of all time."

And to finish things up, Miles O'Dometer reaches back more than a decade for Paperhouse, "a film that starts strong and gets better as it goes, even if it has to pull itself back from the edge of a mawkish cliff or two along the way."


Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, 77, died at his Santa Rosa, California, home on Sunday, Feb. 13, just as the last original cartoon of his half-century-long career was being published in Sunday newspapers worldwide. (From the Associated Press)

14 February 2000

What do you mean, today's a holiday? Oh, you mean that Valentine's Day thing? Feh. I say we just ignore it and move on with today's update, OK?

Today we open up the new edition with a triple play from Kevin McCarthy. First up, Dan Milner's Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea. "With a voice that authentically paints the historical portraits -- times, places, ships, customs and characters -- within Irish sailing songs," Kevin says, "Dan Milner brings to life the highs and lows, the sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, while always entertaining depictions of seafaring life."

Next, Kevin serves up Stepping Stone, the debut recording by Out of Alba. The band's instrumental arrangements, Kevin says, "are primarily fast-paced and infectious, getting the toes a' tapping and forcing the body into motion."

And, thirdly, Kevin takes a look at Trespass by British folksinger Pete Morton. The key element here, Kevin says, is Morton's "trademark commanding, compelling voice -- quiet and subtle one moment, electrical and explosive the next."

Paul de Bruijn is up next with Canadian folk legend Stan Rogers. Rogers died in 1983, but the new release, From Coffee House to Concert Stage, "serves as a wonderful reminder of the music that was."

Elizabeth Badurina is up with the last music review of the day: Dennis Gomo's Nippising. When she listened to the recording for the first time, Elizabeth found herself impressed by "a sultry, smoky voice and mix of instruments that's more like a detailed tapestry than an album."

Jamie O'Brien opens our literary department with a book on music; specifically, he brings us The Chieftains: The Authorized Biography by John Glatt. Glatt, Jamie says, "has sought details and information from many -- princesses and politicians, musicians and mates -- to provide an entertaining insight into the world's foremost folk music ensemble."

Tom Knapp has today's first fiction submission: Chet Williamson's McKain's Dilemma. The modern mystery, Tom says, is "suspenseful and character-driven, and both aspects of the novel are equally absorbing."

Donna Scanlon read Dia Calhoun's debut fantasy novel, Firegold, and came away impressed. Calhoun, she says, "has a good eye for detail, and her writing appeals to all the senses."

Today's poetry review comes from 'zine queen Elizabeth Badurina, who brings us word of Marilyn Chin's The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty. Drawing upon her Chinese-American upbringing, Elizabeth says, Chin "incorporates such a vast intelligence into words that smear mental paint on a blank canvas, leaving you feeling like you know where she's coming from, even if you don't have the same background."

Tom Knapp is back with more Preacher. Today's addition is Proud Americans, the third collection in the series, which features a storyline Tom says is "strong stuff, bloody and brutal and, in my mind, far too short."

Next, Tom completes his look at the original Star Wars trilogy with this review of The Return of the Jedi. There's a lot of good stuff in this one, Tom says, and it "had the potential of being the best film of the trilogy, but too many missteps place it solidly in third place."

Miles O'Dometer brings down the curtain with Box of Moonlight, a film which "might have been just quirky enough to give us something new and memorable. As it is," Miles says, "its tiny delights add up to one big disappointment."

11 February 2000

February is a full month -- from Groundhog's Day to President's Day, Valentine's Day and your humble editor's birthday (to say nothing of Waitangi Day in New Zealand) -- and it's all packed into such a short little month. And yet, it's famous for the February Blues, that time when people suffer from the winter doldrums.

Well, you're in luck. As the Month of Blah rolls towards the middle, we here at Rambles are on the job, giving you exciting things to read. Right? Right! So get reading!

Donna Scanlon begins today's update with Noirin Ni Riain's Celtic Soul. Backed by a fantastic array of musicians, the singer has produced an album "with impeccable style," Donna says, "and the purity of Ni Riain's voice is spine-tingling."

Chet Williamson is up next with an album with a purpose: Safe House: A Collection of the Blues. The album was developed by author Andrew Vachss as a companion piece to his novel Safe House, and proceeds from its sale support two charities who work with children of abuse. The project brought together a variety of talented musicians for "one hell of a blues compilation," Chet says, "and if you like the blues, you'll dig it even if you never heard of Andrew Vachss before."

Elizabeth Badurina might have had trouble spelling this musician's name -- Chandrakant Sardeshmukh -- but she didn't have any trouble getting into his album Pure Joy. Featuring sitar music straight from India, the album "lives up to its name, swelling and blossoming through a series of traditional melodies that won't leave you sitting still," Elizabeth says.

Richard Cochrane serves up another pair of albums which cross the line between musical genres. Rajesh Mehta's Orka and the Rajesh Mehta Collective 3's Window Shopping are jazz recordings with a worldbeat sensibility. Mehta, Richard notes, "is no ordinary trumpet-player. ... [He] is able to interject harmonisations, rhythmic stabs and ostinati into the piece, making a simple and unpromising solo part glisten."

Michael Gasser has our final musical selection for the day: Les Sampou's self-titled release from 1999. Sampou has changed her tune, Michael says; the blues is gone and "a guitar-driven mix of pop, rock and folk has taken its place." The new direction hasn't hurt the music, though -- Michael says the result is "truly dark" and "truly great."

First up in the Rambles literary section is a review by Tom Knapp of Andreas Schroeder's Cheats, Charlatans, and Chicanery. Tom says the collection of 14 tales about great hoaxes in history (much of it recent) is written "with a lively narrative style which reads more like a short story than a news report."

In fiction, Donna Scanlon returns to the world of James Stoddard's The High House in his sequel The False House. The book, Donna says, "has more action and dialogue than the first novel, but it seems that some of the richness is lost."

Audrey Clark must deal with a serial scalper in Sherman Alexie's mystery Indian Killer. Alexie, Audrey says, "is known as a poet and author of humor and lyricism, but Indian Killer raises the stakes and shows readers that he is capable of dealing with issues that hit close to home in a universal and highly talented manner."

Our poetry reading today is by Debbie Gayle Rose, who shares a taste of Ron Koertge's Making Love to Roget's Wife. Koertge's writing, Debbie says, "left me almost breathless."

Another excursion into the graphic arts today -- this time, Tom Knapp takes a look at Todd McFarlane's glory days with Spider-Man in Torment. The story, Tom says, was "an excellent introduction to McFarlane's writing, proving that his stories went well with his dramatic art."

Tom Knapp continues to revisit the original Star Wars universe. Today, he takes us to see the second film in the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back. Although Tom mourns a crucial choice writer/director George Lucas made in this film, he's thrilled to note that "the story is tighter, more dramatic, more romantic, more exciting and more suspenseful."

Miles O'Dometer pays a visit today to Dancer, Texas, a film which bounces "back and forth between the town's colorful characters and its reluctant teen rebels."

Finally, Donna Scanlon takes an introspective look at everyday inspiration. Where do you get your ideas, and are they always what you expected them to be?

7 February 2000

It's been snowing a lot in central Pennsylvania lately. That's the area Tom Knapp calls home, and today he starts off this update by pondering the social aspects of snow in snow & circumstance.

Kevin McCarthy, moving to music, was impressed by Irish folk legend Liam Clancy, whose 1999 solo release Irish Troubadour takes him a step away from his usual work with the Clancy Brothers. Still, Kevin says, "let this ballad singer extraordinaire bring back old memories or set new ones in place."

Donna Scanlon sampled the sounds of The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, whose album Tsirkus blends "exuberant traditional klezmer music with cool contemporary jazz to create a sophisticated sound that remains true to its roots."

Richard Cochrane delivers a double header: Misha Feigin's Both Kinds of Music and The Bubbadinos' We're Really Making Music Now. Both albums straddle the line between jazz and folk, blurring the lines between genres. "The Bubbadinos certainly play some species of white American folk music, but it's hardly Nashville," Richard says, "and Misha Feigin is a free improvising Russian balalaika player; it's not even clear which kinds of music are being played, exactly, any more."

Timothy Keene enjoys the folk stylings of Brooks Williams, who decided to forego vocals for an all-guitar album called Little Lion. "Williams plays soothing ballads, slick blues, and rocking tunes that will get your feet tapping with the beat," Tim says.

Elizabeth Badurina provides the final music review for today: Sheryl Skye's Ripple. Expecting an album of background fluff, Elizabeth was taken by surprise. "This is a fantastic album," she says, "and I can't recommend it highly enough for anyone who likes the low rumble of a passionate vocalist and polished production."

Audrey Clark begins today's literary department with a tale of story-telling -- Bill Adler Jr.'s Tell Me a Fairy Tale: A Parent's Guide to Telling Magical and Mythical Stories. This book, Audrey says, "will help you to create a nightly family ritual that you and your child will treasure for years to come."

And here are some folk tales to tell. Tom Knapp reviews A Time for Trolls, a collection of Norwegian folk stories by P.C. Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe. The slim volume, Tom says, "is an enjoyable way to pass an hour or three, absorbed by the exploits of brave sons and daughters, the witches and trolls who seek to ensnare them, and the enchanted beasts, magical weapons and mundane objects (with surprising uses) which help them to win the day."

Donna Scanlon chimes in next with her review of Richard Grant's lengthy tome, Tex and Molly in the Afterlife. "Grant deftly mixes humor, pop culture references and cultural commentary without mounting an authorial soapbox," Donna says, "and the nearly 500 pages seem to fly by."

Conor O'Connor ventures into the science fiction realm with Howard V. Hendrix's Standing Wave. The nove, Conor says, is "strong and rich with philosophical and scientific concepts."

Tom Knapp continues exploring the world of Preacher, the cultishly popular series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. In volume 2, Until the End of the World, incredible art supports strong text to provide "a riveting, disturbing, blood-soaked and sex-filled story."

Tom also shares a recent time-travel experience -- one many of us can share. Just pop in a video of the original Star Wars and re-experience "the original, mindblowing movie which set the imaginations of an entire generation on fire." (Speaking of Star Wars, Amazon.com is now taking orders for The Phantom Menace. If you want a copy as soon as it's out, follow the link from this review and place your order!)

Miles O'Dometer reviews a movie of a different sort: Eye of God, a disturbing film starring Martha Plimpton. Films such as this, Miles says, "grow only out of intense personal experience. Consequently, when they hit home, they have a moving and cathartic effect."

That's it for another day. See you back at Rambles soon!

5 February 2000

We have another new section! Elizabeth Badurina has single-handedly launched a new subset of our literary department to provide exposure to the people who give 'zines to the world. Yes, 'zines. So check out the new 'zines page, with five inaugural reviews by Elizabeth.

3 February 2000

Welcome to February! I hope everyone had a great Imbolc and/or Candlemas -- and let's not forget the great whistlepig celebration known as Groundhog's Day! (Did YOU see your shadow?)

Kristy Tait begins today's update with an enthusiastic look at Ashley MacIsaac's hi, how are you today. "If you have problems with someone who plays traditional tunes at breakneck speeds and has a lot of heavy drumming and crash cymbals in the background, this may not be for you," Kristy warns. "On the other hand, if you are impressed, as I am, by incredible speed and accuracy, MacIsaac is unbeatable."

Jamie O'Brien, elusive ranger that he is, is up next with a double take on two new offerings from Irish supergroup The Chieftains: From the Beginning: The Chieftains 1 to 4 and The Chieftains Collection. "Even after all these years, although their sound has developed and the personnel has undergone changes, the quality of playing, the style and the entertainment value are still there," Jamie says.

Chet Williamson is back with a review of Allons en Louisiane, a CD-ROM and recording by various artists which Chet believes is "the perfect introduction to the music and folk culture of Louisiana." He adds: "Invite a few friends over, stir up some gumbo, open a few beers, push back the furniture, and get ready to two-step the night away. The rhythm is infectious, and there's no better party music in the world."

Michael Gasser takes a look at Ashes by folksinger J.P. Jones. Jones, Michael says, "is a well-kept secret ... a raspy storyteller" who has something to say.

Elizabeth Badurina (who deserves congrats on the new job!) rounds out today's CD reviews with the longest album title of the day: Yugoslavia: Love Songs and War Dances from Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Dalmatia, Bosnia, Slovenia by Tonio K. and N.Y.M. Co. Got your breath back yet? This album actually has nothing to do with Yugoslavian folk songs, Elizabeth reveals; it's a folk-rock album with a subtle sense of humor. Unfortunately, she says, "there are a few songs worth repeating over and over again, and many that I could easily take or leave."

Audrey Clark adds to our collection of music-related books with The Bee Sides, a songbook of little-known tunes by Tori Amos. With an interesting array of music as well as Tori art by Pauline Stuckey, the book is "a must for any Toriphile."

Over in the fiction section, Donna Scanlon browses through Donna Jo Napoli's Zel. It's an interesting play on the "Rapunzel" tale, Donna says: "Part love story, part psychological drama, part horror story, Zel features a taut narrative replete with small telling details and subtle imagery."

Besides learning to tell stories with semaphore, Donna also had time this week to read Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic: Sandry's Book. The author, Donna says, "creates likeable appealing characters with very individual and realistic personalities."

Beth Derochea makes her first splash on the poetry page with her review of Allen Ginsberg's Collected Poems: 1947-1980. Ginsberg's poetry "ranges from the lyrical to the brutal, painting pictures with words in an intense and fiery manner," Beth says. "His emotions come through in every line."

Tom Knapp has good things to say about Marvel's Code of Honor by Chuck Dixon. "It's a riveting, powerful story," Tom says, and "the art is uniformly excellent, nearly photo-realistic, throughout."

Tom Knapp opens the Rambles cineplex with an unusual selection: The Wedding Singer. Tom isn't too fond of star Adam Sandler, but says "the manner in which he thrusts himself into the music, making '80s pop his battle cry, is a treat. And for those sentimental nods to the '80s alone, The Wedding Singer is worth watching."

We say goodbye with Miles O'Dometer's review of The Spanish Prisoner. Miles says director David Mamet's "visual sense is in full bloom; many scenes say much without a spoken word."

31 January 2000

What's this? More snow! Indeed, students of the area are rejoicing, since this certainly means another day off school, while teachers are grumbling because they, pragmatists that they are, are already considering how much of June will be spent in the classroom this year. Still, it's doing a nice job of covering the black and brown snow from last week with a nice new layer of white, which will probably stay pristine for at least an hour after the snow stops.

But never fear, I've already been out with my shovel to clear you a path to today's additions to the Internet's best folk music, fiction and folklore review magazine. Read on!

Kevin McCarthy leads off the music section with Ed Miller's 1997 recording, The Edinburgh Rambler. "This release is among the best of musical Scotland," Kevin says. "You would have to really try hard NOT to enjoy this CD."

John Cross has an unusual offering today: Transylvanian Village Music from Gypsy, Hungarian and Romanian Traditions by The krs Ensemble. John provides some Gypsy history along with his review; about the album, he says: "The effect is rapid, soulful music that cranks and grinds and whirls and dips. Much of it is dance music, so fast and furious a pace can be found in most of the tunes on this CD. When the music is slow, the crying of the human voice can be heard rendered as only it can be by the violin."

Richard Cochrane is back with more jazz. Today's offering: the Brasserie Trio's Musique Mecanique. The level of interaction among the three accomplished musicians "is very high," Richard says, "whether during solo-plus-comping sections or group improvisations."

Robin Brenner had the pleasure of spinning David Francey's Torn Screen Door. The folk album has definite Celtic roots, Robin says, and it's "a beautiful example of the kind of music that can arise from mingling cultures and both the awareness of tradition and a willingness to stretch those traditions."

There's a bit of Celtic swing ingrained in the Walter Bodega Band's self-titled release. Donna Scanlon (or is that Fiona FitzSimmonds?) says the folk-rock band from British Columbia has "a sunny, upbeat and eclectic sound that, for the most part, serves it well."

Turning to printed material, Audrey Clark explores the popular Sandman mythos through the eyes of Hy Bender and The Sandman Companion. Filled with anecdotes, insights and interviews with Sandman creator Neil Gaiman and others involved in its production, the volume is a "snazzy little guidebook" into Gaiman's world of the Endless in which, Audrey assures us, even the most diehard fan will learn something new.

Tom Knapp opens the fiction section with O.R. Melling's Celtic-Canadian crossover The Druid's Tune. In a time-spanning story involving one of Ireland's greatest legends, Melling "gives readers a detailed view of the epic tale as seen through the eyes of her modern protagonists."

Audrey Clark is back with her review of Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles. Although Gentle created a "rich world of complexity and imagination," Audrey says the plot "is so tightly woven I found myself gritting my teeth in frustration."

The next addition to our poetry page comes from Daina Savage, who reviews Julia Kasdorf's Sleeping Preacher. Kasdorf lives in New York but was raised in a rural Mennonite community, and Daina says it's those "memories keep her warm in the city, wrap around like the sky on an August night, comfort her like a quilt."

The graphic novels page continues to grow, today adding Tom Knapp's review of The Last Avengers Story. The alternate future tale by Peter David is "good storytelling, but it doesn't quite hit the mark it was aiming for," Tom says. And artist Ariel Olivetti has managed "to make almost all of the characters, good and bad alike, ugly."

Miles O'Dometer unlocks the Rambles cineplex for a showing of American Buffalo, a 1996 sleeper which Miles says is "artfully crafted, well timed and loaded with dynamite. Unfortunately, it never goes off."

Much more successful is the classic musical Sunday in the Park with George, filmed on the stage a decade earlier. A showcase for the talents of Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters and a host of supporting characters, the musical tells a fictional story about the artist Georges Seurat and the people he painted, Tom says. "The story, the characters, the intensity and the singing -- oh, the marvelous singing! -- make this an experience you'll want to share with yourself again and again."

26 January 2000

The big snowstorm which is blanketing the area with more than a foot of fluffy white stuff has freed up some time today, so I'm posting the next update a day ahead of plans. Aren't you lucky? Yes, you are!!

If you haven't already seen the whoppin' January 24 update, keep scrolling down -- it's still there for readin'!

But now, the new stuff. Kevin McCarthy is back with another strong contender among Celtic folk musicians: Dick Gaughan. His 1998 release, Redwood Cathedral. Kevin says Gaughan's "talent of blending delicate verses and tunes, with his trademark passionate, snarling grit, gets put to the full test here, and he carries it off seamlessly."

Tom Knapp is next with the rather unusual album Marked by Great Size by The Brobdingnagian Bards. "The instruments are an odd mix, but they sound surprisingly good together," Tom says of the pair of Celtic musicians from Texas. "And both voices have the flair of people who never took a voice lesson in their lives, but just sing loudly and lustily for the sheer joy of singing."

Timothy Keene comes in next with Tsufit's Under the Mediterranean Sky. Tsufit is a singer whose voice, Tim says, "blends well with the instrumentals, with gypsy beats, accordions, and music styles that range from the Middle East to eastern Europe."

Tim O'Laughlin turns to American folk with Slaid Cleaves and Broke Down. "The tunes are filled with life," Tim says, "and are interwoven with cunningly wrought lyrics that tell stories so compelling that I found myself thinking about them days later -- not about their darkness, or how tragic they were, but reviewing the mental images that formed when I listened to the songs."

Robin Brenner concludes today's music section with a review of Daisy DeBolt's Souls Talking. "As always," Robin says, "her rich and unforgettable voice ties together a great band of musicians to create yet another joyous and poignant collection of songs."

Laurie Thayer turns the first page in the Rambles reading room today with Finder, an old favorite from contemporary fantasy author Emma Bull. Set in Terri Windling's Borderlands, Finder is "a fast-paced novel with an engaging blend of mystery and urban fantasy that will keep you turning pages," Laurie says.

Donna Scanlon adds another fiction selection to the shelf with James Stoddard's The High House. "The narrative is compelling, drawing the reader along," Donna says, "and the language is rich and textured."

Audrey Clark continues expanding our new poetry section, today offering up Diane di Prima's Loba. "Spanning a bridge of her own creation from the past to the present," Audrey says, "di Prima uses the Loba to reclaim the legends surrounding powerful women throughout time and to form a connection to the figures, integrating their powers into today's society."

Beth Derochea shifts gears to non-fiction with The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classic Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major. The book, which Beth describes as a "guide of books that have become part of the collective culture of today," gives "a biblioholic like me plenty to look for."

Tom Knapp's foray into the graphic arts brings him to The Kents, which uses a loose connection to the DC superhero Superman to tell a Wild West story with a particular focus on the Civil War. "I didn't plan on reading The Kents," Tom says. "But once I started, I didn't want it to end. And the weight of history it unearthed stayed with me long after I finished. ... The Kents' fictional story gives a real feel for the events and emotions which dominated that dark period of American history."

Miles O'Dometer unlocks the Rambles cineplex for a special showing of Ruby in Paradise. "There's little doubt Ruby has given us something few contemporary films would dare to offer," Miles says: "Jane Austen in blue jeans, with a incisive look at how merchandising can make merchandise of us all."

Tom Knapp closes the day with a nostalgic look at the smash movie musical Hair. "The music and choreography are excellent, presented creatively and, often, with a certain amount of wicked glee," Tom says. "But the story stands up to modern standards, too -- beneath the trappings of long-haired Americana, the story revolves around individuality, loyalty and friendship."

24 January 2000

Today's update begins with the first submission from Rambles newcomer Kevin McCarthy. Kevin makes his Rambles debut with his review of Mary Black's Song for Ireland. "Those unfamiliar with Mary Black will find this a mesmerizing introduction," Kevin says, "while the already converted will still be pleased at the power and beauty of this collection."

Next, Tom Knapp explores Live by the Aire by Sheela Na Gigh. The Alberta, Canada band has put together a fine collection of tunes, Tom says, and "the singing, instrumentation and arrangements are excellent throughout."

Richard Cochrane is back with another offering from our jazz fans: the new self-titled release from Icarus. Richard says it's "a great chill-out record ... as well as a quiet, unassuming grower."

Donna Scanlon draws our attention to the acoustic guitar and David Falcone's Secrets of Sherwood. The album, Donna says, is "clean, clear and expressive, with subtle tones."

Jade Falcon closes down the music room with her review of Ain't No Joke by Volebeats. The musicians, Jade says, "incorporate the twang of country, some of the elements of rock and some actual ballad/storytelling styles reminiscent of Celtic songs ... (with) their own little bit of pizzazz."

Tom Knapp starts the book section of today's update with Ryan J. Thomson's The Fiddler's Almanac. Within its bright orange covers, Tom says, "you'll find gobs of fun fiddle facts and useful lore about the popular folk instrument."

Donna Scanlon takes us to the fiction department for Terry Pratchett's Truckers. Donna recommends it "if your sense of humor, or that of your favorite young reader, runs to tongue-in-cheek, understated wit."

Our second fiction entry for today is Beth Derochea's look at Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. It's a semi-cyberpunkian novel which Beth calls "richly textured," "compelling," and "too well done and too much fun" to be limited by labels.

The next addition to our new poetry corner comes from Audrey Clark, who was less than impressed by A Night without Armor, Jewel's foray from pop balladry to self-indulgent poetry. "Many of these poems are used as vehicles for Jewel's ego," Audrey says, "without the skill and authority to make such statements effective."

Tom Knapp enters the weird world of Preacher, a collection from DC Comics' popular Vertigo line, with Gone to Texas. It's the first collection from the series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, and Tom says it "sucks you in, shakes you around and doesn't let go until the story is done."

Our double-feature today begins with Empire Records, which film critic Miles O'Dometer says "is slickly made, with quirky characters, adequate acting and a pinch of good dialogue." However, he adds, "in the end, this homage to 'new music' spreads itself too thin and offers little that's really new."

Miles closes today's update with his review of Men with Guns, a film about disillusionment in Central America. Director John Sayles, Miles says, "unfolds his tale slowly. At times it seems to meander; but sometimes it stuns, often it surprises, and in the end, it's drawn to the powerful message that lies waiting for the travelers in Cercade del Cielo."

20 January 2000

Paul de Bruijn begins today's update with a farewell to John Morris Rankin, a well-known Canadian musician who died in an accident Sunday.

Our music reviews today begin with Tom Knapp's take on the latest release from another Canadian, Richard Wood, whose new album Come Dance with Me "furthers the young Prince Edward Island native's exploration into nontraditional fiddle styles while still hanging tightly to those roots which helped form his distinctive way with the instrument."

Tom also gives an ear to Canadian singer Moira Cameron, whose 1997 release Lilies Among the Bushes "is another example of excellent balladeering." Cameron, Tom says, "has a talent for telling stories in song."

Richard Cochrane joins our corps of writers today with a review of jazz album Hallucinations by Glen Hall. "The music is so utterly captivating," Richard says, that this is "one of those records which you want to play again and again."

John Cross returns with his review of Tim Tedrow and John-Michael Kaye's self-titled release. "The songs are pretty, some a bit fluffy, a bit hackneyed," John says, "but always warm and fuzzy and likeable."

Paul de Bruijn has today's final album review: Erin Benjamin's Monster in My Heart. Benjamin, Paul says, "has a delightful, expressive voice," and the songs are all "well written and worth listening to."

Janine Kauffman snagged a date with Alanis Morissette in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Here's her report on the concert.

Donna Scanlon unlocks the Rambles reading room today with Patricia Wrede's Dealing With Dragons, in which the author introduces readers to "one of the feistiest and most fascinating princesses in all of fantasydom." Donna says Wrede's book is sure to "catch the attention of a reader fed up with the usual fairy tale fare."

Timothy Keene was less impressed with Fred Saberhagen's new novel, Ariadne's Web. Tim says events in the book "end in poorly written and hastily acted finishes and leave you unfulfilled."

Elizabeth Badurina shares a powerful, startling look into the art world with Killer Art by Lynn Powers. The book is subtitled "art that has maimed, killed, or caused general destruction through the centuries," Elizabeth says -- and it "lives up to its name."

Daina Savage provides the next update to our new poetry section with her review of Galway Kinnell's Imperfect Thirst. When Kinnell explores the natural world, Daina says, "his is not a romanticized, pastoral version of nature. It's the real thing, held by the scruff of the neck and stared down until there is complete understanding."

Tom Knapp continues his exploration of the graphic arts with Marvel's The Adventures of Captain America. Tom says the collection "is good storytelling, and it manages to capture the flavor of a 1940s serial."

Basketball is the theme of our first film review of the day. Miles O'Dometer shoots a hoop with He Got Game, a Spike Lee feature offering its protagonist "a movable feast of temptation."

Donna Scanlon concludes the day with a trip down memory lane with her children and The Wizard of Oz. "The movie, seen through the filter of my children's experience, was just as I remembered it," Donna says, "a magical journey shared with good friends in love and laughter."

17 January 2000

John Morris Rankin, a member of Cape Breton's renowned Rankin Family, was killed in an accident this weekend. The music world will mourn his loss.

From the Associated Press:

John Morris Rankin, a member of the Celtic group the Rankins, died Sunday after his truck plunged into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Three teenage passengers, including Rankin's son Michael, were able to escape from the vehicle and climb to safety following the 7:30 a.m. accident.

Rankin, 40, died in the crash but it hadn't been determined how the vehicle ended up in the water, the RCMP said in a release.

Rankin played fiddle and piano with the popular musical family from Cape Breton. The group made up of his sisters Cookie, Raylene and Heather and his brother Jimmy broke up last summer so its members could pursue independent careers and interests. The five siblings sold more than two million records, won five Juno Awards, including group of the year in 1994, and took their Celtic-inflected music to the world.

16 January 2000

Just a brief hoo-ha today; this isn't a full-scale update (check back in a few days!) but an introduction to a new section. We've had enough requests for this that we've decided to start reviewing poetry collections.

We're opening the new page today with the first three reviews, all of which can be found here. First, Daina Savage says Fleda Brown Jackson "is masterful in casting her poet's eye on human relations, seeing how we establish connections with each other." Her collection, The Devil's Child, is "a dark, unsettling narrative of the wounding and subsequent healing of a damaged child through compassion."

Daina also gives us a look at Jenny Bitner's Mother. Reading Bitner's poetry, Daina says, "is like slipping into a lake at midnight. It's the kind of water you can trust even though it's black and deep and you're not sure if you can swim."

Audrey Clark enjoyed Anne Waldman's Fast Speaking Woman, which "celebrates the renewed force of feminine energy in writing while paying tribute to such traditional lyricists as Sappho and Yeats." Audrey says the collection "is a must for anyone who enjoys performance poetry or playing around with language structures."

That's it for now. The regular update will be posted shortly, so hurry back!

14 January 2000

Hello again! Welcome to another Rambles kinda day!

Tom Knapp wants to introduce you to another Cape Breton fiddler who deserves your attention: Wendy MacIsaac, and her 1996 album, That's What You Get. "Wendy's arrangements as well as her performances of them are sweet and clear," Tom says, "a welcome addition to the expanding clan of fiddlers on the market."

Robin Brenner is back after too long an absence with her review of Martin Posen's 1998 release, Triple Heater. "The entire album is an lively collection from a masterful musician," Robin says.

Robin also chimes in with a review of singer Daisy DeBolt's I Can. The album, Robin says, is a "remarkable mixture of almost every tradition, from jazz to rock to country, all brought together by DeBolt's strong, husky and uncharacteristically beautiful voice."

Audrey Clark was very happy with Conversations by Here Nor There. The album, Audrey says, "features a nice variety of songs, combining flamenco, bluegrass and blues elements. The musicians perform well as a trio, keeping the energy of a live set alive in a studio recording."

Paul de Bruijn was also pleased to hear Bill Mann's folky Your Heart Knows. "The music is great, with a sound that slides from older country to acoustic folk," Paul says."

Jo Morrison opens the first book in today's edition of the Rambles reading room: Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms. "If you haven't read a Discworld book," says Jo, "save this one for last, because it's the best."

Donna Scanlon delves into the Renaissance and pseudo-historical Italy with Midori Snyder and The Innamorati. It is, Donna says, "a lush, enchanting tale with more twists and turns in the plot than the maze at the novel's center."

Donna also clasps hands with Avi -- who, like Cher and Madonna, can only afford one name -- for a little bit of Midnight Magic. "From the dramatic beginning to the suspenseful and entirely satisfying climax," Donna says, "Avi keeps the story moving at a breakneck pace, maintaining control the tension which he tempers with humor."

Tom Knapp offers up a review of material which straddles the realms between folklore, graphic arts and music. Charles Vess and a handful of excellent writers combined forces to create Ballads, in which several old story-songs have been adapted and illustrated for a modern audience. The book is "a delightful collection, both for the text and the art which helps tell the story," Tom says.

Next, solely in the graphic arts, Tom offers up Frank Miller's landmark story in Marvel's Daredevil series. The collected edition of Born Again, Tom says, "isn't standard superhero fare; this is real stuff, real life thrust upon a person who just happens to wear gaudy tights on his nights off."

Elizabeth Badurina is taking tickets for the Rambles moviehouse today, opening first with Life is Beautiful. Set in World War II Italy, it's a movie "you can't stop thinking about," Elizabeth says. "It's an unsettling film, but it entertains until the last credits roll."

Miles O'Dometer once again brings up the rear with his review and synopsis of Welcome to the Dollhouse -- a film which "is not the kind of stuff comedy is usually made of. It's too painful. It's advertised as a black comedy, but it's so black it's often hard to see the humor."

9 January 2000

We kick off today's update with an exciting bonus: Rambles writer Beth Derochea had the chance to interview the creative team of Terri Windling (writer/editor), Brian Froud (artist) and Wendy Froud (sculptor), whose shared passion for the realms of faery have produced some incredible works of art and fiction over the years. Read the interview, as well as excerpts from the team's address to fans at a New York City bookstore, exclusively here at Rambles!

Tom Knapp shifts things to music and Otherworld, by the new Celtic band Lunasa. "Lunasa seems at first glance to be one of the most exciting new acts on the market," Tom says. "Their arrangements are traditional enough to please purists and distinctive enough to set them apart from the large and growing flock, with touches of improvisational genius to keep the tunes fresh."

Elizabeth Badurina turns our attention to the worldbeat sound of Deep Forest. Their album Boheme, she says, "is a masterpiece, able to feed the soul as well as the imagination."

Elizabeth also gives an ear to Dominique Gizelle's album Deep Down. The singer, Elizabeth says, has a voice that's "harsh and gritty, and it makes you pay attention, even if you don't want to."

Timothy Keene predicts a bright future for folk singer Jeff Talmadge, whose new release Secret Anniversaries is "a near-perfect album." Although Tim has a few qualms about Talmadge's voice, he says the songs "are beautifully written with passages that show his poetic ability."

Paul de Bruijn had a good time listening to Cafe Shadeaux by folk duo Gorman Del Greco. "They are great musicians," Paul says, "with a wonderful acoustic sound."

Over in the Rambles reading room, Donna Scanlon has two for us to enjoy today. First up is Mary Norton's Are All the Giants Dead?, which Donna calls "lively and fun and very original." Illustrations by Brian Froud are "delightful" and "packed with detail."

Next is T.A. Barron's Heartlight. Donna says Barron's publishing debut is "a thoughtful and appealing book ... which is very reminiscent of the works of Madeleine L'Engle."

Audrey Clark spent some quality reading time with A.S. Byatt's Possession. Byatt combines numerous literary styles, Audrey says, "resulting in a powerful novel about the dark and light of human existence."

Tom Knapp wraps up the literary portion of our day with a review of No. 12 in Terry Pratchett's popular Discworld series, Witches Abroad. Tom read this one while on vacation and, while it may have been the setting, he believes you, too, "will laugh harder and louder than most resort hotels prefer from their guests."

We've got two movies showing today in the Rambles cineplex. First, Miles O'Dometer opens the video lounge for Star Maps. The film "can be a challenge to follow, especially in the early scenes," Miles says, but it still "hits home with amazing accuracy."

Tom Knapp goes for a new release, Galaxy Quest. A funny film in its own right, the movie works best as a spoof of Star Trek, Tom says: "You'll have a blast and quite a few hearty laughs" as the cast and crew "lovingly poke holes in the Star Trek tapestry."

That's a wrap for today. See you back here soon!

6 January 2000

Is everyone settled into the new year? Hey, both your computer and the Internet must still be working OK or you wouldn't be here with us at Rambles -- so far, we like Y2K!

You're probably eager for things to get started, so let's get out of the way and let Donna Scanlon begin today's update with This is What You Get by Efatha in our Celtic music section. "There are rough patches on the CD, as if Efatha hasn't quite settled into its sound," says Donna. "That being said, This Is What You Get is obviously put together with care and reflection."

Amanda Fisher wades finds a hearty dose of calypso in Calypso At Midnight and Calypso After Midnight, both released as part of Rounder Records' ongoing Alan Lomax Collection. Recorded in New York City in 1946, Amanda says the albums "will be of interest to those who like any kind of Caribbean music, including reggae or ska, and possibly even dance hall; it's fascinating to hear that some themes haven't changed at all. And they're not merely of historical interest; despite the quality of the sound, I've found myself humming the tunes for days."

Paul de Bruijn had a lukewarm reaction to David Parry's The Man From Eldorado: Songs and Stories of Robert W. Service. Despite an excellent voice, great lyrics and good musicianship from everyone concerned, Paul says, "those separate elements don't always shape into wonderful songs. There are some songs on this CD that are great; however, there are some others that are not so hot."

Audrey Clark was pleased with Ani diFranco's new release, To the Teeth. "Ani diFranco continues to reinvent her sound -- about as often as she colors her hair -- by building on the traditions of folk music and adding her own twist to the mix," Audrey says. "The result is surprising and solid."

Ellen Rawson is back to share another live experience with us all: Jenny Bird, with Melissa Crabtree, at Caffe Luna in Boulder, Colorado, where the audience "was ready to appreciate these two independent singer-songwriters working their way through a tour of the American West."

Tom Knapp was startled to find a great story for adults in Terri Windling's book The Changeling, which was intended for younger readers as part of Random House's Bullseye Chiller series. "Sure, it's a kids' book, and I recommend it highly for any young child's library," Tom says. "But adults should take the hour needed to read it, too. They won't be disappointed."

Donna Scanlon returns us all to Terry Pratchett's Discworld with Lords and Ladies, another in his series of "three witches" books. "Lords and Ladies isn't one of Pratchett's more riotously funny books; it has more weight," Donna says, "but it never gets too serious."

Donna returns to the world of revised fairy tales with Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. "The story is at once compelling and richly written," Donna says. "Maguire uses vivid images and language but does not sacrifice pace to poetry."

Audrey Clark concludes the Tim Powers trilogy with Earthquake Weather. "Take my advice: Read Earthquake Weather, but make sure you read the other two novels (Last Call and Expiration Date) first," she says. "All three will stick in your head for weeks as you puzzle through the details and find new surprising connections each time a piece snaps into place."

Tom Knapp concludes our reading time with Kingdom Come, which he calls "the centerpiece of DC Comics' Elseworlds line." A collected story about familiar characters in an unfamiliar world, the book "vibrates with real emotion and life," Tom says. "If you already love comics, you need this book. If you still believe comics are a medium best left to your youth, this is a good place to prove yourself wrong."

Tom next unlocks the Rambles cineplex for some new releases. First, his review of the darkly disturbing The Talented Mr. Ripley, directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon in the title role. "Don't expect to come away from this film feeling good," Tom warns. "But chances are you'll be very, very impressed."

Julie Bowerman also had tickets to the theater, and she shares with us her (and her 7-year-old son's) impressions of the latest mouse movie, Stuart Little. "While Stuart Little has little in common with the book (by E.B. White) besides the Little family and a suspenseful sailboat race, it is an entertaining film nonetheless."

Miles O'Dometer brings the film section and today's update to a close with A Bright Shining Lie, a film which "may not be the last word U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but it's an important and insightful one, the kind that transcends its medium and budget. In short, it gives you something to think about. Now there's a claim you don't see many movies making these days."

1 January 2000

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone's computer still works, that everyone's electricity still flows and that the Y2K bug has been filed away as the most needlessly anticipated non-event in modern history. (Of course, I'm sure we'll still have plenty of apocalypse nuts to entertain us in a year when the millennium rolls around.) Anyway, here's the latest for you to enjoy.

Crystal Kocher is back with an excellent summation of Songs of Sanctuary by Adiemus. "This is music in its purest form," Crystal says. "It draws you in, catching you up in its rhythms and melodies, carrying you along to a place of joy and beauty."

Everyone has heard of James Galway, no doubt, but Celtic music connoisseur Tom Knapp found his album The Celtic Minstrel to be unsatisfying. "His technical skill with the instrument notwithstanding," Tom explains, "it seems to lack passion to my ears."

Tammy Dotts returns with a review of Winter's Grace by Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum. It's not just a Christmas album, she says -- there are carols, but much of the album deals with a more general wintery theme. And, while there are several excellent tracks, Tammy says Winter's Grace was too uneven for her to give it a hearty endorsement.

Debbie Gayle Rose has timed her review of The Speedboys' Look What Love's Done to Me Now with a surprise reunion by that early '80s band. That's good news for Debbie, who wishes there was more available by this band. "These fellows throw body and soul into their playing, and it shows," she says.

Everyone approaches the transition into the new year differently. Some people are excited, others melancholy. Beth Derochea unfortunately falls into the latter category this year, and she was moved to express her thoughts on the subject in our Ramblings section. So, if you don't mind a bit of cold water dashed on your day, pay heed to Beth's grim thoughts on the New Year.

Over in the Rambles reading room, Tom Knapp reviews a book which, while undeniably a good work of fiction, also fits solidly onto the spirituality shelf. It's Richard Bach's Illusions, which Tom says is impossible to read "without getting a touch of inspiration, a new sense of purpose for improving one's own life, or at least one's attitude. ... I keep coming back to Illusions. Read it, and I think you'll know why."

Audrey Clark continues with Tim Powers' collection of work, today offering up the novel Expiration Date. "I didn't think Tim Powers could top his award-winning novel Last Call, but I was wrong," Audrey says. "Powers is steadily setting high standards in the field of contemporary fantasy."

Donna Scanlon adds to our growing stock of Jane Yolen reviews with The Sea Man. Yolen's story, Donna says, is "a gentle, poignant novella with a message that resonates through the ages," and the illustrations by Christopher Denise "capture the mood of the narrative."

Next, Donna tells us about Slop! by Margaret Read MacDonald. The story, based on a Welsh folk tale, "is simple and straightforward, but leaves room for play," Donna says, adding: "Yvonne LeBrun Davis's sunny and clear illustrations are a perfect match of the text."

Janine Kauffman today shares with us her interview with comic magicians (or is that magical comedians?) Penn & Teller. Don't be afraid, but the popular duo promises a healthy dose of physics with their show!

Just one movie showing at the Rambles cineplex today: 1997's Nothing to Lose. Although a big fan of star Tim Robbins, Miles O'Dometer says the movie comes across all too often "more as a string of road gags than a well-plotted comedy of errors. Routines that do work are stretched until they break, and 'character' scenes do little more than replace negative stereotypes with positive ones."

28 December 1999

Christmas is over, and the New Year is nearly upon us! I'm sure everyone is preparing to enjoy the big millennium celebration -- well, don't lose your party hats, you'll need them again in a year when the actual millennium begins on Jan. 1, 2001.

Meanwhile, we've got reviews for you to read!

Tom Knapp begins the day with the oddly named band Mad Pudding, whose album Dirt & Stone is "traditional enough to satisfy a thirst for Celtic roots music, but original enough to give Mad Pudding an identity apart from the majority of traditional bands on the market."

Jo Morrison returns to the fold to review Celtic and world harper Alison Vardy's 1990 release, harping on. Vardy holds her listeners' attention, Jo says, through "clear, crisp and precise" playing and "dramatic variation in the repertoire, which maintains interest and contrast in the recording."

Timothy Keene found a lot to like in the bluesy roots of the newly released Solo Flight: 1975-1980 from Corky Siegel. Siegel, Tim says, "gives you a slice of Chicago blues from the past that is an education in itself."

For a rockier influence, check out Elizabeth Badurina's review of John McCutcheon's new Rounder release, Storied Ground. While Elizabeth enjoys the singer's rich vocals, she also points out that it's "glaringly obvious that the man is passionate -- an activist as well as an artist."

Jade Falcon was surprised to learn that Heather McLeod was not an Irish singer. McLeod's album, Graffiti Love Songs, Jade says, ranges in styles "from a Spanish/Latin feeling to a very jazzy rhythm, and, of course, the inevitable Celtic influences."

Janine Kauffman caps the music section with an interview with bluesy folk-rocker Bet Williams, lauded by Dirty Linen for her "lyrical and musical punch."

Leading off the Rambles reading room is Donna Scanlon, today reviewing Sean Stewart's Resurrection Man. The novel, Donna says, "portrays an intense and moody protagonist against an equally intense and moody setting," and it should appeal to fans of authors Charles de Lint, Terri Windling and Lisa Goldstein.

Donna also takes a look at Donna Jo Napoli's The Magic Circle. A retelling of Hansel and Gretel from the perspective of the witch, the book is a "evocative, haunting novel about the triumph of love and the human spirit over adversity."

Audrey Clark has reviewed Last Call by fantasy novelist Tim Powers. Powers, Audrey says, has a "flair for believable dialogue and description" which finds release here in a story set in a "garish Otherworld of Las Vegas."

Right below Powers on our fiction page is British humorist Terry Pratchett, and Tom Knapp today pulls back the veil on yet another of Pratchett's wildly funny novels. This one isn't from the ever-popular Discworld, however; you can revisit Pratchett's youth with a new edition of his first published book, The Carpet People.

Tom Knapp unlocks the Rambles cineplex after the Christmas holidays with a movie about New Year's Eve: 200 Cigarettes, which Tom describes as "an engaging mishmash of vignettes surrounding the events of a loosely connected bunch of people in New York City on New Year's Eve, 1981."

Miles O'Dometer completes the day with his review of The Apostle. Robert Duvall wrote, directed and starred in this film about a high-energy evangelist who "shimmies, shakes, struts and two-steps his way into his congregations' hearts and souls every chance he gets."

25 December 1999

Blessed, Happy Yule!

21 December 1999

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice and a full moon -- and it's a lunar perigee (the point in its orbit when the moon is closest to Earth). Although there won't be a dramatic difference to the human eye, the moon will seem larger and brighter than normal (assuming, of course, that it's not covered by clouds). This conjunction of events is rare -- the last was 133 years ago -- so hope for clear skies, enjoy the view and have a great solstice day!

Meanwhile, we still have a few more holiday offerings to share with you before we get back to business as usual. To start them off, Tom Knapp asks what the Christmas season would be like without the Grinch! Indeed, he's reviewed one of his all-time favorite animated classics, How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. "It's colorful and lively and extremely memorable," Tom says, "and it has just enough gruffness to dispel the sugary residue left behind by so many other holiday shows."

Next, Tom adds a review of the best Christmas movie ever (in his opinion, anyway): Scrooge. Starring Albert Finney in the title role, Scrooge "is a masterful accomplishment, and it should be a permanent part of every family's Christmas season," Tom says. A musical, the movie ends with "a large-scale song and dance which is everything a musical should aspire to be."

Donna Scanlon has to argue the point, however; she claims the best Christmas movie ever (in her opinion, anyway) is Miracle on 34th Street -- not a remake, mind you, but the original 1947 version. "This is the movie that has defined Christmas for me all my life," Donna says.

Tom Knapp returns with one more movie review for the day, another perpetual favorite of his. Black Adder's Christmas Carol is a lovely spoof on Dickens starring the irreverent British comedian Rowan Atkinson. The film, Tom says, is "guaranteed to add spice and side-splitting laughter to your holiday festivities."

Juliet Youngren leads off the holiday music section with The Bells of Dublin, a seasonal favorite by The Chieftains featuring a wide array of musical guests from Elvis Costello to Marianne Faithful. The album "has something for everyone," Juliet says. "This is both its strength and its weakness."

Tom Knapp has the second album from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Called The Christmas Attic, the new album "is probably a better album all-around" than its predecessor, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, although it lacks the one great single which made the earlier album famous.

Donna Scanlon has three Christmas books to conclude her holiday reviewing spree. First up is Connie Willis and her short story collection Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Willis, Donna says, has an "incredible gift for subtle symbolic imagery, for capturing the crazy cyclical nature of everyday life, for characters who are people you wish you could call up on the phone and invite over for Christmas dinner."

Chris Van Allsburg crafted an illustrated classic when he wrote The Polar Express. The tale, Donna says, "is one of belief, of retaining that which is childlike, not childish, and that just doesn't get old."

Donna takes a break after reading Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a story of unexpected redemption which Donna says "would easily make a super family Christmas tradition."

Tom Knapp is back one more time with his last holiday review of the season: Superman: Peace on Earth, written by Paul Dini and illustrated by Alex Ross. This graphic novel is about the hero's holiday effort to feed the world's hungry, and we get to "watch Superman wrestle with a problem he can't easily fix with super strength or x-ray vision."

Ready to move on to NON-holiday stuff? Here we go!

Kristy Tait makes her second appearance here with her review of The Ceilidh Collection, a compilation album featuring "a few gems, and a few real duds." Save yourself the money, Kristy says; read her review and she'll tell you which musicians are worth hearing.

Audrey Clark checks out folk-rocker Leslie Nuss and her 1998 album Heliotrope. The singer's "distinctive voice has a harsh beauty," Audrey says.

Michael Gasser recently gave his ear to Dave Mallett's latest release, Ambition. A true troubador, Michael says, Mallett has produced some "solid, reliable and entertaining music on a high level."

Paul de Bruijn sticks to the folksy roots of Grit Laskin and his 1995 recording, A Few Simple Words. The album, Paul says, "is a joy to listen to. ... Take the time to listen to this CD in a quiet place and let it carry you along."

Jade Falcon switches gears to jazz to tell us about Valarie Morris and her new release, Reeding Between the Lines. It is, Jade says, "a nice compilation of jazz and folk music, but with a wonderful twist."

Bill McCloud gets back into some live action today, sharing with our readers his concert experience with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at J.R.'s Dickson Street Ballroom in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

By the way, I recently received word of an Internet grinch who is grinding his teeth away in frustration over Rambles' growing success and popularity. I'm told he's complaining now about our "junky movie reviews [and] tacky lists of Christmas-related music." Well, everyone here is having a ton of fun with Rambles, so perhaps he should just have a little nap and, later, he can give his nom de plume a few more awards. We, meanwhile, will continue enjoying ourselves, and we hope you, our readers, have a grand time as well!

That's it 'til after Christmas. No long breaks for us; we'll have the next update before the weekend is out. Until then ... be well, be merry and have a Happy Yule!

17 December 1999

Today's update is devoted entirely to the holidays! We have nine new entries for the Rambles yuletide page, which you can check out by following the Santa Claus link above. The reviews are also filed and linked individually below.

Special thanks to three reviewers, who hustled to get these additional holiday pages done before Christmas was upon us! So, thanks to Donna Scanlon, who provided three Christmas book reviews, Laurie Thayer, who came through with five holiday movie reviews, and Tom Knapp, who added two more entries to the holiday music section.

As is our usual custom here at Rambles, we'll begin with the music. First up is a folk-rock interpretation of Christmas by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Best-known for the single "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," the band's first album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, is a good collection of traditional and original tunes performed as if for a rock-opera stage.

The second album reviewed by Tom today steps back in time just a bit. Although suffering from some sound level problems, Tom says The Carol Album, featuring the Taverner Consort, Choir & Players, "is one of the best collections of courtly holiday choral music I've yet found."

Donna's first book review is of Cynthia Rylant's Children of Christmas: Stories for the Season. The book, Donna says, "uncovers the secret heart in everyone" through its frank simplicity.

Next, Donna gives us Angels & Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories by Katherine Paterson. The stories, Donna notes, "represent everyday situations, some painful, some disruptive, which at first don't seem to reflect a Christmas theme but then truly capture the essence of the season."

Lastly from Donna is Santa Calls, written and illustrated by William Joyce. The book, Donna says, "upholds his well-deserved reputation for offbeat and original picture books."

Laurie, meanwhile, has reserved the entire Rambles cineplex for her Christmas movie extravaganza. Her first selection today is The Muppet Christmas Carol. Although it lacks a lot of human actors and is laced with typical Muppet comedy antics, Laurie says this adaptation "seems a little more true to Dickens' original tale than some other versions I've seen."

One of the quirkier holiday films ever made is The Nightmare Before Christmas. While Laurie isn't ready to promote this as appropriate for all ages, she says the film is a winner for its "clever animation and songs."

The Griswolds are back for another disaster in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. While the Vacation movies "all have basically the same story-line, but this one is the funniest," Laurie assures us.

Bill Murray isn't entirely believable as the evil television executive in Scrooged, Laurie says, but Carol Kane makes up for it, stealing the show as a heavy-handed Ghost of Christmas Present.

Laurie says Tim Allen "is surprisingly good" as the father-turned-jolly-old-elf in The Santa Clause. "This is a great family movie, not too cloying for adults and it doesn't talk down to children," she says.

That's it for today. Tune in again soon!

15 December 1999

This isn't an update, as such. I just wanted to introduce you to the new Rambles yuletide page, filled with reviews of music, books and movies related to this most festive of seasons: Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, the New Year ... at every turn, there's a new holiday to celebrate, and perhaps some of these reviews will enhance your season! Check 'em out ... and have a great holiday!

And check back soon ... we have a few more holiday books, movies and CDs -- as well as a pile of our usual, non-holiday stuff -- to add over the next few days!

13 December 1999

Another update, so soon? Indeed! We have a nice stack of goodies for you today, mostly musical in nature, and much of it focused on the holiday season. So, enough chatter; read on!

Tom Knapp unwraps the first early Christmas present for today: A Christmas Present from the Albion Band. The album from a popular British folk-rockers is "a gift worth opening and reopening again and again," Tom says. "If you can add it to your collection, I'm suspect you'll find it playing often during the holiday season."

Next is an excellent holiday collection from The Boston Camerata. Their recording, A Renaissance Christmas, is rooted in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and is "an extraordinary listening experience," Tom says. "The voices of the Camerata are strong and flawless in tone, and the music serves equally well as background atmosphere as it does for concentrated listening."

Juliet Youngren returns from a long hiatus with a review of two smashingly good holiday recordings by Robin Petrie: A Victorian Christmas and A Victorian Noel. The albums, Juliet says, which draw on the traditions of Britain and the European mainland, "have become two of the albums I get out year after year as December rolls around."

The second Christmas album from Mannheim Steamroller, A Fresh Aire Christmas, "doesn't quite hit the high mark of excellence and individuality set by Christmas," says Tom Knapp, who adds, "it's a very near miss indeed. It definitely deserves a slot in any music and holiday lovers collection."

Tom also found a new favorite in Two Thousand Years of Christmas, a Canadian release from Trilogy. Although the selections don't quite live up to the grand expectations of the CD's title, Tom assures us there's "not a bad tune on this album," making a leap from "courtly carols from the Renaissance to contemporary bluegrassy tunes."

Ready for a couple that aren't about Christmas? Audrey Clark kicks it off with Jory Nash, whose album One Way Down is "peppered with hints of jazz, blues, country and pop." Canadian Nash, Audrey says, "sticks to quiet, simple stylings delivered with grace and feeling."

Chet Williamson was also impressed by the new Rounder release by Dirk Powell. Hand Me Down, Chet says, is "music that demands close and repeated listening." Powell, Chet adds, "has been handed down some priceless old tunes, and has created new ones to hand down to future generations of those who find in old-time music something deep and primal and timeless."

Donna Scanlon has a trio of holiday book offerings to add to today's Rambles reading room selections. First, Donna reviews a popular Hanukkah tale, Eric Kimmel's Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. "The text and illustrations mesh beautifully," Donna says, in this "welcome addition to holiday festivities."

Shifting over to Christmas, Donna offers up Emma's Christmas, written and illustrated by Irene Trivas. Based on a well-known repetitive carol, Donna says that, "together, the illustrations and the story make this a perfect holiday pick for the entire family."

Donna's third holiday offering is Susan Wojciechowski's The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. Illustrated by P.J. Lynch and set in the Western frontier, the book "is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Christmas classics."

Look for all three titles, and much more, in the Rambles Winter Holiday Special, which will be ready soon for your December enjoyment!

Tom Knapp discovered a visual treat in Suza Scalora's photojournal The Fairies, in which she attempts to "prove" the existence of fey folk through her lens. "The entire collection," Tom says, "is excellent from both a photographic and a fantastical point of view."

Janine Kauffman chimes in with another author interview; today's guest is Monalisa DeGross, whose book Donavan's Word Jar was a labor of love that ended up including family members and acquaintances, and reflects an African-American childhood filled with storytelling."

Miles O'Dometer ushers us to our seats in the Rambles cineplex for a special showing of Donnie Brasco, a Johnny Depp vehicle which Miles says is a "refreshing ... wise guy buddy film."

Audrey Clark brings us full circle, back to the Christmas theme which began today's update, with a review of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie. This isn't the same Rudolph many of us grew up with, Audrey says, but decides the new, animated contender "is an entertaining family show, emphasizing the true spirit of Christmas."

12 December 1999

I just wanted to let you know about a few changes over in the fiction department. First, there are so many fiction reviews that the page was growing unwieldy, so it's been broken in half; there are now two fiction pages, divided from A to M and from N to Z. Also, the menu of subgenres has been expanded to include two new entries: fantasy and contemporary fantasy. I hope you take time to check 'em out ... and enjoy!

11 December 1999

Is everyone excited about the December holidays? You know ... Chanukah, Christmas, the Winter Solstice and all that joyous seasonal stuff? Well, watch this space, 'cause we're getting ready to put up a page soon which will spotlight some of the music, books and movies which will help to enhance the holiday mood.

Tom Knapp can't wait to get started, so he kicks off today's update with a review of Mannheim Steamroller's classic Christmas album, appropriately titled Christmas. The CD is full of Renaissance musical traditions and modern electronic sounds, packing "a whole lot of music into a scant 33 minutes." Despite it's brevity, Tom says, the album "should occupy a fair amount of your holiday music time."

Kristy Tait is a newcomer to Rambles, and she makes her debut with the Canadian band Kilt. The band's first album, the self-titled Kilt, earns Kristy's recommendation for "anyone who enjoys fun, pop-oriented Celtic music."

Elizabeth Badurina continues the Celtic theme with Niamh Parsons and her 1999 release, Blackbirds and Thrushes. "This is a CD that inspires dreams," Elizabeth says. "I'd recommend this CD as a great way to escape, preferably while curled up in a warm blanket on a rainy day, or as a soundtrack for dreaming while floating in a scented bath."

Jade Falcon shifts our attention to jazz and the Michael Smolens Sextet, which performs the music of Vivian Quinn Sayles on VQS Live!. Jazz lovers, Jade says, will find the recording to be "a delight to the ear and a wonderment to the senses."

Timothy Keene settles into some American folk music with Jim Henry and The Wayback. The album left Tim trying to recall the last time he heard "a musician who blends country, blues, swing and rock 'n' roll so well."

Donna Scanlon opens the door to the Rambles reading room with a look at Patricia A. McKillip's Something Rich and Strange. A part of the short-lived Brian Froud's Faerielands series, the volume "blends Patricia A. McKillip's luminous prose with Froud's eerie and ethereal artwork into a small treasure of a book."

Donna also takes a look through The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery From History, a book written by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple and illustrated by Roger Roth. The new release, Donna says, "is a book to spark the imagination as well as demonstrate how to solve problems."

Robin Brenner (I bet you've all been wondering where she's been!) is back with a thoughtful and thought-provoking look at Nancy Garden's The Year They Burned the Books. Acknowledging the book's controversial subject matter, Robin believes "it's a good time to bring up censorship and prejudice in a story which rings so true."

Paul de Bruijn transports us to pre-Arthurian times along with Jack Whyte in the novel The Saxon Shore. The book, Paul says, is "an excellent read" about "characters which seem larger than life."

Janine Kauffman has been keeping us busy with her series of interviews with folk musicians. Today, she switches her focus for a chat with author and storyteller T. Obinkaram Echewa, who likes to tell stories "the way the oral tradition demands."

Miles O'Dometer unlocks the Rambles cineplex for a showing of the 1996 movie Shine. In telling the story of an amazing Australian pianist, director Scott Hicks "has left no note unturned in his effort to bring the dark and stormy story of David Helfgott to light."

Tom Knapp started today's update, and he's back to finish it with a review of Kevin Smith's 1997 film Chasing Amy. The fun, thought-provoking movie, Tom says, "is not to be missed by anyone who's ever foolishly loused up a good thing." (Also be sure to check out Tom's review of Smith's latest, most controversial film, Dogma.)

Just FYI, today's update rockets us up to more than 900 individual review pages. Snazzy, eh?