11 March 2006 to 6 May 2006

6 May 2006

Though I am not naturally honest,
I am so sometimes by chance.
- William Shakespeare

Did ya ever have one of those days when you're just walking along, doing your job and -- SNAP! -- your ankle snaps like a cheap pencil? Let me tell ya, that's not a good day to have.

Christina Smith and Jean Hewson preserve a slice of Newfoundland tradition in this August Gale. "It is a stirring, delightful set of traditional songs collected throughout Newfoundland and laced with toe-tapping fiddle tunes," Jane Eamon says. "I love this music. I love its simplicity and power to make me cry."

Peter McCune puts his "soft, gentle and very warm voice" to good use on Memories Embrace, says Nicky Rossiter. "McCune is a mean instrumentalist as well as a singer and he demonstrates this to great effect," Nicky says. "The button melodeon is a neglected instrument outside Scotland, but if enough radios take up this track, Peter could revive it."

Judy Cockwell moves Beyond the realms of Celtic/new age music. "Judy, the singer/musician, has overcome physical obstacles to create lyrics and music that is beautiful and uplifting," John Lindermuth says. "She has a lilting, haunting voice that is not overwhelmed by the variety of instruments she plies to accompany herself."

Sid Selvidge performed Live at Otherlands for this double-disc set. "The first disc, an audio record of the concert, carries slightly more than half an hour's worth of Selvidge's soulful reinventions of material from African-American vernacular and folk-revival sources," Jerome Clark informs. "The second disc, a DVD, lets you know how Selvidge looked as he picked -- he is a finger-picker (one of several reasons his versions of old country-blues tunes don't ape the sources) -- and sang. ... If you've never heard him before, this is one place to start -- and start you should; he lives up to decades' worth of flattering notices."

Beth Orton reaches out for the Comfort of Strangers -- but Gregg Thurlbeck says the new recording does not fulfill the promise of her 2002 release. "Comfort of Strangers takes too much comfort in sameness to be a worthy follow up to Daybreaker," he says. "So while Orton fans will certainly revel in the fractured beauty of this release, despite its unimpressive production, those who are unfamiliar with this talented songstress would be better off discovering the wonders of Daybreaker before picking up this new disc."

Melwood Cutlery brings his music to the Campfire with "a voice like Arlo Guthrie and a sound as unique as his name," Jane Eamon reports. "Recorded live with just his acoustic guitar and voice, overdubs added later, Campfire is a tossed salad mix of tunes ranging from swingy jazz to pedal steel roots to topical John Prine style. ... It's interesting and a little arresting. But I didn't feel connected."

Kris Kristofferson travels This Old Road to great effect. "This Old Road is the best Kristofferson recording I've heard in a long time, and I am pleased to recommend it, especially to those who've shied away, out of frustration and disappointment, from previous Kristofferson albums," Jerome Clark opines. "This one will remind you that Kristofferson can be as good as his notices."

Hillbilly Parker caught Virginia MacIsaac's attention from the beginning of this self-titled CD. "I warmed up to this one right away," she says. "With a few opening songs, the rich acoustics, clear tracks and fine voices lured me into listening more closely. The musical blend of damn good music and a unique sense of despair and humour are new kinds of hurtin' and movin'-on songs." (Be sure to compare Virginia's review to an earlier opinion posted by country/bluegrass section editor Jerome Clark!)

The title is condensed to BluegrassHits. "Does one word follow from the other? Or is this just some generic title slapped casually onto an anthology of tunes yanked from Rounder's deep bluegrass catalogue?" Jerome Clark ponders. "Well, I suppose the title to a better-than-average bluegrass collection ought not to consume excessive cerebral energy. ... Everybody here is very good at what he or she does, and it all comes down to how you like your bluegrass served."

The Finnish band Valerian shares its Intimations of Sorrow in a rockin' CD with hints of its Northern European heritage and mainstream folk. "This is pretty much a mainstream rock album, but its most characteristic feature is an authentic live-type sound without too much studio trickery," Andy Jurgis opines. (His review is added to an earlier one of the same CD, submitted by Jenny Ivor. Compare and discuss!)

Howard Shore supplies the music behind A History of Violence. "This orchestral soundtrack is at once meditative and tense, with such an undercurrent of nobility and grief that it's hard to imagine that the film it was created for is titled A History of Violence," says Carole McDonnell. "But those who have seen the film will agree that it captures the haunted aspect of the characters."

The Chicago Blues Reunion is Buried Alive in the Blues, Jerome Clark says. "If this isn't 'authentic' blues, then the concept is a useless one -- as, in truth, it may always have been," he says. "Maybe it does after all come down to no more than the simple question of good music or bad music. What we have on Buried is the former in stellar manifestation."

Boris Kovac & La Campanella give a jazzy flair to Eastern European sounds on World After History: A Pannonian-Mediterranean Round-Trip. "Influences from jazz go along with typical traditional instruments from the Balkans and passionate rhythms from Latin America," Adolf Goriup says. "La Campanella's playing together is excellent, and when you listen to the music you seem to forget about the world around you."

Peter Edwards relates a modern tragedy in One Dead Indian: The Premier, the Police & the Ipperwash Crisis. "This is the story, told in all its sad detail, of how an unarmed Ojibwe man protesting a land claim was shot by police at Ipperwash Park Ontario in 1995," David Cox explains. "Edwards, with this book, sheds enormous light on this tragic episode in Canadian history. The true story of what happened, and the consequences of that night, continue to unfold."

Debora Elizabeth Hill and Sandra Brandenburg begin the Lost Myths Saga with The Land of the Wand. "The concept is delightfully engaging," says Stephen Richmond -- but the self-published novel "suffers mercilessly from a lack of any sort of editorial guidance. Aside from the tremendously annoying grammatical, syntactical and semantic gaffes, the style is often almost telegraphic and there's a distinct tendency to language most trite."

Robin McKinley turns her attention to vampires in Sunshine. "There are a few too many similarities between Rae Seddon and Sookie Stackhouse, the heroine of Charlaine Harris's vampire novels -- even though the modern worlds they live in are vastly different," Tom Knapp says. "On the other hand, McKinley's writing stimulates the senses in ways the printed word often can't -- odors especially come alive, from the delicious aromas conjured in Sunshine's bakery to the rank stench of the undead."

Michael Flynn picks up the threads of his near-future science-fiction epic series Firestar and advances in time for The Wreck of The River of Stars. "There's a distancing quality to Flynn's writing in Wreck that manages to set the book apart stylistically but which doesn't allow the reader to feel much closeness to the characters," Gregg Thurlbeck says. Still, he adds, "Flynn looks to be a writer with the talents to forge a host of intriguing future-histories. Only time will tell."

Andrea Savitch crosses the line between science fiction and fantasy with Envy of the Gods #1: If the Reward were Right. "Savitch's strengths are in her portrayals of friendship and loyalty," Jean Marchand says. "The story, however, is like a cake made without butter and sugar. Key ingredients are in short supply."

Tanith Lee "displays her usual inventiveness in Gold Unicorn, resulting in a very satisfactory sequel to Black Unicorn," Jennifer Mo relates. "While not, in my mind, quite as enjoyable as the first one, Gold Unicorn nonetheless remains a well-crafted fantasy in a creative and unusual world."

Tom Knapp swallows a dose of Venom with Volume #6 of Ultimate Spider-Man. This chapter, Tom says, "reintroduces one of mainstream Marvel's most villainous bad guys. ... The Ultimate version is better."

Next, Tom goes on a Wild Ride with Catwoman. "Selina Kyle isn't a Sad Sack; she shouldn't have misfortune heaped on her head at every turn," Tom says. "After a sequence as dark and disturbing as Relentless, Wild Ride is just what the doctor ordered."

Tom takes One Small Step with Y: The Last Man and continues to find the saga engrossing. "It certainly cranks the tension up a notch as various plot threads -- the astronauts, Yorick Brown's cross-country quest, an all-female Israeli military unit on his trail, a government safe house and a stage full of amateur dramatists -- come to a head," he says. "Readers will finally get some of the answers they've been waiting for, although there's still plenty of mystery to keep the book interesting for issues to come."

Daniel Jolley is willing to duck and cover at the behest of one Chicken Little. "I'll never be too old to enjoy a good animated film, and the sort of 3D animation that brings Chicken Little's world to life is still quite an amazing thing to see," he says. "At the same time, the animators attempt to retain the essence of the classic Disney style, which ensures that the look of this movie won't be anything less than impressive. ... Chicken Little certainly isn't Disney's most magical film, but it is cute and entertaining enough to delight children as well as a fair share of adults."

Jen Kopf reluctantly joins The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. "Teeeeeen mooovie," she warns. "Luckily, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants doesn't overstay its welcome, nor is it a flick that most parents will dread watching with their kids -- daughters or sons. ... You bet Sisterhood tries hard to have you reaching for the entire box of tissues. Yet, at the very least, it also tries very hard to be something more."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

29 April 2006

I envy the music lovers hear. I see them walking hand in hand, standing close to each other in a queue at a theater or subway station, heads touching while they sit on a park bench, and I ache to hear the song that plays between them: The stirring chords of romance's first bloom, the stately airs that whisper between a couple long in love. You can see it in the way they look at each other, the shared glances, the touch of a hand on an elbow, the smile that can only be so sweet for the one you love. You can almost hear it, if you listen close. Almost, but not quite, because the music belongs to them and all you can have of it is a vague echo....
- Charles de Lint

Did you take your children with you to work on Thursday?

John Tams is ready for The Reckoning. "Albums that unerringly balance modern and traditional approaches are always welcome in my CD player and to my ears," Jerome Clark says. "Deeply immersed in the isles' folksong heritage, he composes stately songs with traditional structures in the manner of a more accessible Richard Thompson, and one without rock-star ambitions. Set within minimalist modern settings, these originals -- solidly constructed, darkly toned and exquisite -- brilliantly synthesize new and old."

The Black Irish Band takes its Celtic sound over American Landscapes. "The Black Irish Band promises a lot and, over 16 tracks, they deliver," Nicky Rossiter says. "In just under an hour this band actually succeeds on bringing us on a whirlwind tour of history and music spanning two centuries, and all without leaving our chair."

Brendan Devereux shares his Songs from a Yellow Chair. "The tracks on offer here show a wide range of interests, influences and abilities," Nicky says. "This is a new name to me but I hope to catch up on more of his output in years to come. Once again, he probably suffers from the lack of airplay -- a few of these tracks have potential for fame."

Colin Henderson negotiates the Shifting Sands of his folkin' blues. "Henderson's songs sound perfect for the sort of acoustic-based songwriting fellow British singer John Wright covers, so it is no surprise to find out that this has indeed happened," Andy Jurgis says. "Eight of Henderson's own songs feature on the album, a mix of blues and the more contemporary, and he also includes three covers. ... This is an album though likely to appeal to Bob Dylan fans and those who enjoy stripped-back and understated songs."

Shawn Camp strengthen's Jerome Clark's faith in music with Fireball. "Every once in a while I hear a recording which occasions the thought that mainstream country music doesn't have to be bad," he says. "Shawn Camp's Fireball, which inspires such reflections, is -- tellingly, alas -- on his own independent label. Chances are nonexistent to slight that any of the cuts are going to find their way to country radio, at least in Camp's arrangements of them -- full but never bombastic."

The new CD Heartworn Highways is not the soundtrack to the DVD of the same name. "You will, I think, like this CD and be properly grateful that HackTone went to the trouble of making it possible," Jerome says. "Like the film but without the irritants, it documents the early work of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young, David Allan Coe, John Hiatt and Steve Earle, with appearances by the nearly forgotten Gamble Rogers and the unforgotten but never remembered Larry Jon Wilson."

Greg Walker is back for more Latin-inflected jazz on Straight from the Source 2. "Beneath the simple yet striking packaging lies a superbly crafted, eminently listenable and thoroughly consistent album, very different in mood from its predecessor," Debbie Koritsas reveals. "Derbyshire-based guitarist, composer and programmer Greg Walker has crafted 10 supremely lyrical tunes that make this the consummate second album."

Andre Thibault shares A Tropical Christmas with his fans. "I had assumed the songs would be carols born and bred in the Caribbean, but the songs here are of English/European origin that have been latinized by flamenco and Latin guitar," says Carole McDonnell. "Nevertheless, A Tropical Christmas is a wonderful instrumental album."

The soundtrack to The Incredibles didn't send Virginia MacIsaac sprinting for the video store ... but it did have her hitting repeat on her stereo. "This CD is a remarkable production that easily stands on its own away from the big or small screen," she explains. "The music is strong, classic and enduring."

Stuart Bowditch shares his love of poetry in 76 Recipes for Mud & Sugar: A Collection of Poems from 1994 to 2005. "So long as there is sunlight, clouds, people, plane rides, good food, love, lust, friendship, music, ideas, nature, eyesight and a heart beating behind his ribs, Stuart will continue to create and write lyrics for unsung words that speak deep and resonate within," Jo Overfield enthuses.

Gerhard Ritter revisits Prussia with Frederick the Great: A Historical Profile. "This work is the study of a society as reflected in the life of Frederick the Great," Daniel Jolley says." The subject of interest is not so much the man per se but rather his interactions with the society he did so much to shape."

Robert W. Bly sorts through The Science in Science Fiction -- or at least that's his intention. "Ideas from one realm inspire explorations in the other," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But Bly takes way too many liberties in order to shoehorn all of the 83 'predictions' into this book."

Jane Yolen takes an assortment of writers to Sherwood to tell new tales of Robin Hood. "It's a slim book and a fast read, but Sherwood is a fine addition to the Robin Hood rank and file," Tom Knapp says. "The stories all provide unusual angles to the legend, avoiding the stock tales that have been done and redone a hundred-fold."

Kevin Crossley-Holland examines the early days of Arthur Pendragon -- through the eyes of a 12th-century boy also named Arthur -- in Arthur, Book I: The Seeing Stone. "Crossley-Holland writes the tale from a child's perspective, but it's not written childishly," Tom says. "The writing is intelligent and thorough, detailing life in two remote centuries in Britain's past."

Helen Oyeyemi exposes an imaginary playmate in The Icarus Girl. "There hasn't been a playmate like TillyTilly since those nasties Henry James created in Turn of the Screw," John Lindermuth says. "Given that Helen Oyeyemi was only 18 when she penned this complex novel, there are some drawbacks. ... Despite all that, maturity is certain to give us a writer well worth watching for in the future."

Pat Frank follows hard on the heels of a limited nuclear exchange and explores the after-effects in a small Florida town in his classic novel, Alas, Babylon. "The characters are believable, the story flows well and the reader is left with the impression that he/she has been to this place and met these people," says Chris McCallister. "Alas, Babylon takes humanity's worst-case scenario and moves forward with it."

Lemony Snicket continues the tale of the Baudelaire children in The Reptile Room. "Snicket unceasingly contrives not only to entertain his young (and not-so-young) audiences, but also to teach them a bit here and there about language and semantics in an entirely nasty fun way," says Stephen Richmond. "There is much to recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a fun romp in the land of verbiage and a rollicking good read as well."

Donald W. Albertson places his novel in the context of children, their parents and amateur athletics for Catch a Rising Star: The Adult Game of Youth Sports. "None of my sports experience was really necessary to make the call that Catch a Rising Star is not a great book," Gregg Thurlbeck warns. "From the title and cover, which make the book appear to be a piece of nonfiction, to the author's frequent difficulties with verb tense, to the shallowness of the characters -- all evidence suggests this book ought to have had some nard-nosed editing and a major rewrite before it was published. As it stands, the book reads like a piece of juvenile fiction with a whole lot of sex thrown in to make it appear adult."

Tom Knapp continues his exploration of his graphic novel library with another quartet of featured reviews.

First up, Tom gets introspective with a killer in Elektra: Introspect. "The book is well written by Greg Rucka and the art by Carlo Pagulayan is a pleasure to view. However, I suspect a lot of Elektra fans will take issue with Rucka's take on the character," Tom says. "Still, if you accept Introspect on its own, without considering any backstory on the character, then you'll surely enjoy the twists and turns the story takes."

Next, Tom takes a seat for a little Sandman Mystery Theatre with The Tarantula, the first collected book in the series. "Writer Matt Wagner, with the help of artist Guy Davis, took the Sandman back to his Golden Age roots, mercifully forgetting the campy, yellow-garbed version he became in the 1950s," Tom says. "The Tarantula is not for readers of a gentle disposition, and it may haunt the imagination for a while after reading it. But readers who enjoy a dark, gritty tale in the pre-spandex noir tradition, Sandman Mystery Theatre is off to a gripping start."

Tom enjoys the span of several years of character development in the Birds of Prey two-parter, Batgirl/Catwoman & Catwoman/Oracle by John Francis Moore. "Both stories are excellent, if short, reads, and Moore shows a deft hand at characterizing both women in their early and later careers," Tom says. "The artwork, split between Darick Robertson and David Ross, is clean, sharp and moody. I could easily have enjoyed this story at twice the length, and I'd urge this team to follow it up with something new -- but in a similar vein -- soon."

And for his fourth feature of the day, Tom watches in disbelief as Grunge Saves the World in this Gen 13 tale. "Grunge is my least favorite of the Gen 13 kids, so he probably wasn't the best choice as the star of a solo adventure," Tom says. "I mean, the guy has 'lowest common denominator' written all over him; forget wine and cheese, he's not even up to the standards of beer and pizza. He's crude, rude and perverse, ruled by the insatiable appetites of his stomach and lower organs."

Jen Kopf views Genesis through the eyes of filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou. "Believe it or not, the creation of the world can be pretty snooze-inducing," she admits. "It's gorgeous, but it can't really decide what it wants to be. A basic nature film? A spiritual experience? A combination of the two, along with an attempt to wrap up the entire universe in an hour and a half of images?"

Daniel Jolley seeks the Beast from Haunted Cave in this 1959, um, classic. "No discussion of the silliest-looking monsters in film history would be complete without mention of Beast from Haunted Cave," he says. "It's some kind of diaphanous, tentacled, spider-like thing that likes to wrap his victims up for later blood-sucking. Its costume looks to consist predominantly of saran wrap. There's nothing the least bit scary about it -- and the same goes for the movie."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

22 April 2006

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

The surgeon has laid down his scalpel and sutures, and now the healing may begin. Let's hope that a major pain in the neck has been forever eradicated!

Bruce Scott sings for My Colleen by the Shore in this album of Irish songs filtered through his Liverpool heritage. "That Irish soul comes to the fore in this collection of 15 tracks combining the familiar with the less well known from the Irish traditional songbook, as well as new songs," Nicky Rossiter says.

The Greentrax label celebrates Scotland's music with The Piper & the Maker. "What I found on this CD is a marvelous celebration of the many pipes and styles that exist in Scottish piping," Virginia MacIsaac says. "There wasn't a staid, dull moment, and each medley of tunes, which ranged from one to seven, opened like a bright sunrise on a new day."

Robin Flower and Libby McLaren have an open invitation to Cape Breton, Virginia says after hearing the duo's CD, Steelhead in the Riffles. "This CD is so close to the traditional music style in Cape Breton that I fell in love with it at first listen," she says. "Even so, its Californian sparkle makes it unique in the world of Celtic music." Cheers, Virginia, for review #150!

Laura Cortese veers sharply from Celtic-pop to folk-pop with the release of Even the Lost Creek. "The fiddle sets that accounted for about half of the previous album have been reduced to an afterthought," Tom Knapp frets. "The dominant presence here is the songs, which dance on the folk side of country."

Danny McGuinness is checking out of Room 809 -- with a whole lot of music in his luggage. "Apparently, Danny McGuinness sat down with guitarist Kent Van Der Kolk in room 809 of a Los Angeles hotel -- hence the title -- and in four hours they recorded this set of 10 songs," Nicky Rossiter relates. "It sounds like the stuff of musical legend, but here on a silver disc we find the evidence."

Nancie de Ross takes us on a journey to Rome. "With a classical voice and minimalist instrumental backup, de Ross taps into a tradition of old folk, updated past the point of contemporary, and makes herself a balladeer," Sarah Meador says. "De Ross sings with a fine full voice, sweet and even, so steady that the wildest high notes sound as natural as conversation. But even more, she sings with conviction, a steady belief in the words and feelings of her songs that simultaneously anchors her airy imagery and sends her most mundane moments flying."

John Jacob Niles greets a new generation with I Wonder as I Wander: Carols & Love Songs. "The singing of John Jacob Niles will not appeal to everyone," Nicky Rossiter says. "I doubt if there are many tracks on here that will get airplay, but this is a seminal release."

Amy LaVere "brings experience and love of the music" to This World is Not My Home, Nicky says. "The CD cover shows a rather petite young lady with an upright bass that looks bigger than her. Be that as it may, Amy LaVere has tamed the mighty bass and harnessed its power to accompany a sweet angel voice on a superb collection of songs."

Roar Vangen debuts from Norway with Streng. "The album is an astounding piece of music inspired by traditional music from Norway with strong influences from other styles -- the latter thanks to some brilliant guest musicians," Adolf Goriup says. "The rhythms and melodies sometimes remind you of flamenco or even Asian dances."

John Debney leads the pack on the Disney soundtrack for Chicken Little. "What a wonderful soundtrack!" Carole McDonnel raves. "Those of us who are used to hearing the innocuous romantic songs on soundtracks for kids will be surprised at how rocking and full of soul the Chicken Little soundtrack turns out to be."

The deer is back in Bambi II, and Nicky Rossiter has the goods on his soundtrack. "Cold play this album without first seeing the title or insert, and you will know it is from Disney," he says. "That feel-good factor emanates from every note -- and that is not a criticism. In fact, I welcome an album that makes the listener tingle with joy in an era when so much of our songs must of necessity deal with the less palatable in life."

Joni B Cole, Rebecca Joffrey and B.K. Rakhra take a capsulized look at women's lives in This Day in the Life: Diaries from Women Across America. "In This Day in the Life, the ordinary, extraordinary and emblematic events in the lives of American women of all classes, culture and work take place on June 29, 2004," says Carole McDonnell. "The famous, unknown and infamous are here. The book shows the variety of women's experiences and will definitely open the minds of girls to the possibility of being a rodeo rider, a reporter or even something less 'respectful.' Some lives might raise a few eyebrows...."

Elizabeth S. Steger shares the Dreams of an Immigrant in this revealing autobiography and spiritual guide. "Dreams of an Immigrant is not the definitive bible to success, but is an interesting read that offers some good advice on parenting, religion, education and health," says Risa Duff. "If you are looking for a spiritual guru to follow, Steger may not be your person, but she is certainly a good role model for the reader who is hoping to make the right choices in life."

Batton Lash features two intrepid lawyers in Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre: Case Files, Vol. II. "While these are sophisticated stories (Wolff & Byrd began as a strip in the National Law Journal), there's lots of droll humor and even some delightfully on-the-mark explanations of legal concepts," says Stephen Richmond. "Not just for attorneys or comics aficionados, but for everyone with a taste for the merrily offbeat."

Kristen Heitzmann is keeping Secrets in her 13th novel. "Heitzmann artfully creates a story that is pleasing to the reader, mainly through the two main characters," Virginia MacIsaac reports. "The mystery, the romance, the history and the small-town politics all play intriguing roles in this book."

Anne Rice regains her footing on Blackwood Farm. "This is Rice at her most masterful and is likely her best-written work to date," Stephen Richmond surmises. "The incredible prose has never been more refined and sophisticated, laden with delightful allusion and sumptuous metaphor; the new characters are grand and loving and lovely; there's just a tantalizing toss of old characters; and the plot keeps you turning those pages, all 530 of them."

George Chesbro tackles child molestation, a puppy and the end of the world in Second Horseman Out of Eden. "This is another great and bizarre action-adventure-mystery with a touch of science fiction and horror novels," says Chris McCallister. "As with all of Chesbro's Mongo novels, this is fast-paced, well-written, full of action and replete with bizarre characters."

James Patterson is on the trail of a killer named Mary Mary. "When his writing is good, this man produces high-quality entertainment," Wil Owen says. "Unfortunately, consistency isn't his strong suit. When you run across one of Patterson's so-so books, you are bound to be more than a little disappointed because you know what he is capable of creating. ... Fortunately, Mary Mary is one of the good ones."

Tom Knapp is an avid reader of graphic novels and collected volumes in the comics realm. Today, he shares his impressions of four titles of interest.

First, Tom considers the War Crimes left in the wake of an all-out gang war in Gotham City. "A shocking ending doesn't necessarily equate with good writing, and I'm not sure this one holds water," he says. "War Crimes will likely stand as a reminder of a time when Batman's writers went astray and made a bad decision."

Next, Tom presses on with Marvel Comics' Ultimate Fantastic Four line, but says Doom falters after the inaugural story arc. "I'm enjoying this series, believe me, and I think writers have taken the four main characters in interesting new directions that I'm eager to see developed," he says. "In this particular arc, however, I feel writer Warren Ellis -- who takes over from series creator Brian Michael Bendis -- stumbled a bit with Doom, making one of mainstream Marvel's most powerful villains somehow ... less in the Ultimate line."

Tom gets reacquainted with Uncle Sam with the help of Steve Darnell and Alex Ross. "The result is a radical, unflinching look at the dark chapters America's history and the nation's inability at times to live up to its own ideals," Tom says. "Without endorsing a particular political ideology -- while admittedly espousing more liberal views than conservative -- Uncle Sam is a bold story that questions the heart and soul of a nation."

And, lastly, Tom watches a face-off between secret agents in Black Widow, a two-part graphic novel pitting the classic Black Widow against a young usurper to the title. Black Widow, Tom says, "is the epitome of sleek, calm, beautiful and dangerous, and for many years she has been an underused character in the Marvel Universe, rarely achieving anything close to her full potential. ... Combined, the stories make for a very good graphic novel, one that shines a much-needed light on an overlooked heroine."

Jen Kopf witnesses a great battle of ideals in Good Night, & Good Luck. "From the spiraling smoke of on-air cigarettes to eloquence from Eisenhower and smooth jazz interludes by Dianne Reeves, Good Night, & Good Luck tugs us back into the mid-1950s world of Commies, Red scares and the sometimes painful birth of television journalism," she says. "It's a great ride."

Daniel Jolley takes a look at The Tell-Tale Heart, a Poe classic as presented on the silver screen. "There's not a whole lot of suspense in this one, as everyone over the age of 5 knows the story," he laments. "It's a perfectly average film with decent heart-beating special effects, but it's just hard to get excited about a perfectly average film of a story universally embedded in the minds of viewers."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

15 April 2006

The first duty of love is to listen.
- Paul Tillich

What a weekend -- Easter and taxes! Be wary, or the IRS might nibble the ears off your chocolate bunny....

The new, self-titled CD from James Ross came directly from Greentrax into the eager hands of reviewers Debbie Koritsas and Nicky Rossiter. Both listened to it and, within a few days of each other, filed their reviews. So we present both sets of opinions here for your reading pleasure. (I'll give you this hint: they both liked it!)

Back of the Moon shines its Luminosity with a Scottish flair. "Their sound is eclectic. Their rhythmic drive is immense on several of the instrumental tunes," Debbie says. "The band excels vocally, too. ... Luminosity strikes a near-perfect balance between vocals and instrumentals."

The Hogs "have brought Irish music from Renvyle in County Galway, Ireland, to China, Russia, Thailand, the United States and the world. Now you can experience the group without traveling," says Nicky. "Here on Another Drop o' the Hard Stuff are versions of the traditional -- or almost traditional -- alongside some new compositions that stay close to the roots of the group."

Heather Dale expert Dave Townsend follows along with the singer on The Road to Santiago. "Dale drew inspiration from a journey across Canada. The result is a thoughtful collection of songs inspired by her journey and love of history," Dave says. "An artist who often is compared to Loreena McKennitt and Sarah McLachlan, Dale has devoted much of her music to retelling the legends of King Arthur. This CD shows her getting more adventurous, combining elements of Celtic, folk, jazz, Spanish and Greek styles."

The Pogues, back in 1988, pondered what to do If I Should Fall from Grace with God. "This album is, quite simply, a bar party," says Theo deRoth. "OK, in reality, everyone departs for a hangover the next day, but this is an album, remember? And what an album! This is pure punk-rock fury, channeled into bodhrans, fiddles and accordions, and nothing could be finer."

Marc Douglas Berardo is safe in the Harbor with his new recording of folk songs. "This is why I review CDs: to discover someone I've never heard of and in the normal course of life, probably never would," Jane Eamon says. "Let me say right from the beginning, this man can write. ... It is so difficult to write simply and well. Berardo does both. It also helps that he can certainly play his guitar."

Steve Tilston is a man Of Many Hands -- and, if this album is any indication, of many talents, too. "I have listened to and enjoyed Steve Tilston sing his own compositions on a number of albums," Nicky Rossiter says. "Now he takes a detour and brings us a fantastic album of the songs he loves from the folk tradition and, in so doing, he not only produces a top-class CD, he also preserves a canon of music that could so easily be neglected and lost."

Jess Klein is a Strawberry Lover from New York. "Strawberry Lover is a more rocky, sometimes country-flavoured fusion of folk and pop," says Risa Duff. "Klein is not wrapped up in commercialism, but seems to have a quality sound with each track of her album a separate entity in what it is trying to convey both lyrically and musically. Genres are constantly explored and risks taken."

Eddie Turner is ready to Rise with this recent disc from Northern Blues. "Like a cosmic blues invocation, a wall of sound exhorts the listener in the title tune, 'Rise.' And rise one certainly does," says Carole McDonnell. "Turner touches on different styles but all the while his music seems to be scratching at the sky, pulling the cosmos closer to us through music. I loved this album."

Shirley Bassey dazzles with versatility on Diamonds Are Forever: The Concert Collection, Risa Duff says. "Bassey is one of the true icons of our time," she says. "This CD collection is recommended, but only for people who go for 'belt it out' renditions of their favourite tunes."

Jane Espenson rides herd on a passel of experts who spent some thought on the late, lamented TV series Firefly and roped it all together in Finding Serenity. "With this level of scholarly works already collected, it wouldn't surprise me to learn there are college-level courses being taught on the show," Tom Knapp reckons. "But, for those who don't want to take their interest and/or adulation on campus, Finding Serenity is a good place to sate your need for more on Mal, Zoe, Wash and the rest of the merry crew."

MaryJanice Davidson's poor heroine is Undead & Unwed in this modern vampire tale. "Undead & Unwed is much in the same vein as Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series and Christopher Moore's excellent novel, Bloodsucking Fiends. And it, like the others, is a refreshing change from the usual dark and gritty vampire yarn. ... Betsy, free-spirited even in death, doesn't want to declare fealty to a master, join a clan or parade around in black clothing and boring shoes."

Irene Radford continues her Merlin's Descendants series with Guardian of the Freedom, set in the years leading up to the American Revolution. "This is perhaps the most accessible book of the series to date," Laurie Thayer says. "As the settings become more modern, it becomes easier to relate to the characters. It would be interesting to see how Radford would handle a 20th-century setting"

Adele Geras unlocks The Tower Room in her first of three novels set in Egerton Hall. "There is no reason why a retelling of 'Rapunzel' set in an all-female boarding school in the 1960s should not work," says Jennifer Mo. Unfortunately, she says, The Tower Room "lacks one essential ingredient: a sense of wonder. ... The Tower Room suffers the double misfortune of being at once too cynical for eager teenage romantics and too adolescent for older fairytale fans."

James Scott Bell reveals A Certain Truth in this novel. "A Certain Truth will provide a good story and be a pleasant addition to your home," Virginia MacIsaac states. "You won't have to think twice about passing it on to your aunt or uncle, your daughter or son."

Tom Knapp is back for another look at Y: The Last Man in his second collected volume, Cycles. "You just know it's all going to end badly for someone," he says. "The second volume of Y: The Last Man is as engrossing as the first. Also fascinating is an opening statistics page, explaining which countries and which occupations were hit hardest by the sudden death of every male."

Peter Parker comes under a little Public Scrutiny in the fifth collection in the Ultimate Spider-Man series. The story, Tom Knapp says, "blends light moments and heavy scenes in a delightful complex pattern -- much as real life is wont to do. ... Public Scrutiny is, for Peter, a very bad day. For us readers, it's an excellent chapter in Peter's life story."

Tom Knapp takes flight with Birds of Prey, a collection of stories that launched a successful DC series. "There's a lot of story in this collected volume, and it shows the Birds of Prey in many lights, from its fledgling steps to a more developed, well-oiled team," Tom says. "The ongoing series is certainly popular now, but fans should be sure to check out its roots -- and anyone who hasn't read the series to date could do worse than to start here, at the very beginning."

Chris McCallister is on a journey through Transamerica. The premise, he says, "could have been done as a comedy or a farce, ... or it could have ended up as outrageous melodrama." The many solid performances, however, "all make this into a strange but very well-told tale."

Daniel Jolley heads to Bollywood for Josh, which he likens to an Eastern adaptation of West Side Story. "You've got the two rival gangs, the forbidden romance between a boy and girl from each side, etc.," he explains. "It has a lot going for it, including Shahrukh Khan as one of the gang leaders, the beautiful Aishwarya Rai in a much different type of role than usual, and music by Anu Malik."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

8 April 2006

You don't tell the quality of a master by the size of his crowds.
- Richard Bach

I wish the seasons would decide if they've sprung or not; all this hot/cold, warm/cool seesaw malarkey is hard on the senses!

Scottish fiddler Aidan O'Rourke is Sirius about his music; despite several ongoing band projects, he found time to release this new, solo effort. "His playing is always lyrical, very expressive and very passionate -- any reader who's seen his live performances will attest to this," Debbie Koritsas says. "The arrangements are expansive and full of life -- intensely melodious fiddle tunes are swept along by stirring snatches of trombone and saxophone, the most robust rhythms, and it's music you can dance to -- lovely, stirring tunes that are filled with joie de vivre, inspired by Swedish and German folk festivals, and gentler, more ambient tunes inspired by people, beaches, forests."

Fathom plays the Pollution Blues on a Celtic rock CD that, according to reviewer Charlie Ricci, doesn't come together. "Fathom generates a lot of energy on this CD, which is a good thing, but I was disappointed because energy is all this band offers," he says. "The mandolin is so dominant that the rest of the band appears to consist of nothing more than sidemen, and that doesn't wash when your lead player is monotonous."

Mark Dunn goes for the softer side of music with Return to Peace: A Celtic Journey Through Central America. "Return to Peace is firmly new age, having both the advantages and drawbacks of that genre. Dunn's instrumentals are relaxing and often beautiful," Dave Howell says. "On the other hand, the whole CD is so smooth that nothing seems to stand out, and a few of the cuts are undistinguished as generic Celtic background music."

Johnny Coppin climbs The Winding Stair with a Celtic/folk CD that "quickly shot up to the top" of Wil Owen's CD rotation. "The songs are a collection of original work as well as a few of his favorites from England, Ireland, Scotland and the U.S.A.," Wil says. "All the songs are enjoyable. I don't see how you could be disappointed unless you don't care for Celtic or folk music."

Michael Egan is coming to you Live at Studio 51. "I like this blending of old and new styles," Nicky Rossiter says, "which could be great for introducing an older generation to modern music while letting new listeners hear a sound of the not-too-distant past."

Mark Stepakoff offers "humorous songs with a bite" on There Goes the Neighborhood, Nicky says. "The saying goes that we should hide our profound messages in the long grass. Mark hides his in humour and it hits home all the more powerfully for that."

Margie Adam makes her mark with Portal. "The two-disc CD/DVD set features instrumentals filled with superb, inspired playing," Virginia MacIsaac says. "I'm not one to go out of my way to listen to a piano concert, but this lady has a touch that kept me listening from the very first note."

Howard Gladstone is burning Candles on the River, and his folk lyrics touched Virginia's heart. "Though his music is more complex than a lot of folk styles, his lyrics, his voice and the slow, flowing rhythm that is consistent all the way through the CD is basically a heart-warming melody," she says. "It's not quite as sweet as maple syrup -- more like the warm burst of a blueberry when you bite into the pancake. And no matter what your station, regardless of your fears, your failures, your hopes or awards, eating a warm blueberry pancake is a fine, large human experience."

The Gibson Brothers post a Red Letter Day with this new bluegrass CD from Sugar Hill. "A Gibson Brothers CD is always a treat," Jerome Clark says. "In no sense merely another bluegrass band, theirs boasts a distinctive personality, an emphasis not on instrumental flash but on melodic songcraft -- their own and judiciously selected covers -- and sweetly expressive harmonies. It isn't exactly traditional, but it feels a far cry back from Alison Krauss's bluegrass-inflected pop."

Jesse Cook pays a visit to Montreal for an eclectic blend of music. "Think Gipsy Kings doing samba from Kashmir, at a jazz festival, and you've pretty much got it," says David Cox. "A fine guitar player and, to judge by the audience reaction, a true showman, Cook brings together fine musicians and the music of many lands on this live treat."

Rory Gallagher made his mark in music. "Rory was a one-man Plant and Page, a man possessed of the spirit of Robert Johnson, but a man born in Donegal and raised in Cork. While Van the Man's poetic championing became ever more distant, Rory was always real," Sean Walsh says. "Songs & Stories: New York Remembers Rory Gallagher looks at the tribute paid to Rory by a number of mainly Irish-American musicians in New York's The Bottom Line club on Oct. 23, 2002. ... It sounds like a cliche, but the gig seemed to have made some kind of spiritual connection with the late, great hero, and his spirit comes through the musicians' performances. I know, I know, but it's true."

Edrick Thay provides examples illustrating a controversial phenomenon in Premonitions & Psychic Warnings: Real Stories of Haunting Predictions. "The five chapters of Premonitions & Psychic Warnings present 38 accounts of people of all ages who report psychic experiences, either their own direct premonitions or those received via a psychic," Laurie Thayer says. "Some of the language is a bit sensational, but the book makes no effort to convert non-believers, leaving that choice up to the reader."

Jennifer Crusie brings together varied schools of thought on Flirting With Pride & Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece. "As someone new to the cult of Jane Austen (I just read Pride & Prejudice for the first time last year), I found this entire book fascinating for the different perspectives offered," Laurie Thayer states. "I'm sure even long-time Janeites will find something new and enjoyable in these pages."

The fiction section today focuses on some new material on the shelves, as well as some notable novels from bygone days.

Julian May provides the next installment of The Boreal Moon Tale with Ironcrown Moon. "Ironcrown Moon takes a different tack from many fantasies; instead of overthrowing a tyrant, we see a man -- who may have begun with the best of intentions -- slowly becoming one," Laurie Thayer says. "It presents an interesting choice for the reader."

Charles Dodd supplies understated science fiction in Code 18. "Dodd brings us face to face with a very real possible disaster scenario," Nicky Rossiter explains. "Dodd reminds us in a fast-paced thriller that our lives would be crippled by the loss of electrically controlled equipment. But he goes further in letting us know that the potential is there for terrorists, criminals or others to use what he terms an e-bomb to induce such social paralysis."

Katya Reimann blows a Wind from a Foreign Sky in the first book of The Tielmaran Chronicles. "Reimann's debut novel, Wind from a Foreign Sky, is surprising in its thorough world-building and exciting (and even) pace," says Jennifer Mo. "The well-developed religion and geography are fascinatingly different; equally interesting is the system of magic."

Robert Jordan spins The Wheel of Time for The Eye of the World. "The Eye of the World, the first book of this substantial series, introduces characters and concepts that, while familiar in all the fun ways without being derivative or mundane, never fail to amuse, amaze or even affright," Stephen Richmond says. "Working with the elements of the great hero story, Jordan tells of a grand journey with lots of adventure along the way, experienced by a set of characters to whom everyone can relate."

Alfred Bester crafted a science-fiction classic for his generation with The Stars My Destination. "It's one of the most influential novels of the 1950s, but how many people have really heard of it?" Theo deRoth, a new Rambles.NET reviewer, explains. "And where many science fiction novels have become dated, this one remains remarkably fresh. Even its gutter slang -- something that never seems to wear well -- seems at least plausible."

James Patterson wants to Kiss the Girls in this new audiobook version of a 10-year-old novel and 8-year-old movie about detective Alex Cross. "I generally enjoy Patterson's Cross series. His other novels are hit or miss for me, but the Cross series is, for the most part, good," Wil Owen says. "This audiobook, unfortunately, is one to be avoided."

Mark Allen is embroiled in Space Wars fomented by comics legend Steve Ditko. "Ditko, a long-time fan favorite in the comic book world, has always seemed to have a knack for originality, and Space Wars is a perfect example of that trait," says Mark. "Extremely talented, and with a singular style seen nowhere else, he seemed to have the ability to marry said style to any genre in the medium of comics."

Tom Knapp plays along with the Super-Buddies, Formerly Known as the Justice League. "A dark, gritty and violent atmosphere pervaded many comic-book titles in the 1980s," Tom says. But, he adds, "where most comics were grim, these JL books were whimsical. The heroes were fallible, lusty, irritating and sometimes easily annoyed, occasionally cowardly and almost always goofy."

Reading Marville was a mistake, Tom warns. "Unfortunately, the book by Bill Jemas is so busy trying to be clever and patting itself on the back for its obvious references to DC, Marvel and real-life icons that it forgets to come up with a plot and eliminates any pretense of character growth," he explains. "Trust me, if you find one chuckle here, make it last -- 'cause you'll need it for the rest of the book."

Chris McCallister breaks on through to the other side with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. "They aimed for greatness ... and I think they hit that target," he says. "I thought that the makers of the Harry Potter films had done a good job finding talented young actors and actresses, but this film might just surpass that series with the performances of the four leads."

Daniel Jolley shares a taste of Chocolat. "With its exotic yet familiar feel, beguiling music and focus on truly human characters, the movie stands as an oasis in the middle of the desert we call life," he says. "There are some really poignant moments as the film draws near to a conclusion, and in the end you're left with something tangible, a renewed spirit. Maybe it's just for a few moments, but you stop and think about the truly important things in life."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

1 April 2006

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.
- Rafael Sabatini

It's April Fool's Day!! Be wary of hucksters, jokesters and tricksters ... but have no doubt, all of the reviews listed below are genuine!

Five Mile Chase makes a stop in Your Town. "Their musical style is mostly Irish, even though they are based out of St. Paul, Minn.," Wil Owen says. "There are also some decidedly non-Irish sounds as well. That is something to note if you are a purist and don't care for variety in your music."

Janet Bates & Instruments of Change believe The Colours Will Come Back. "Songs written by Bates include issues of the Middle East conflict, children born to drug-addicted mothers, mistreatment of animals, poverty and child/lover abandonment," Virginia MacIsaac warns. "She pulls a specific instant out of these issues and creates a song to bring the pain to life. Then she lays it down in front of us, gently on a peaceful little CD, and leaves it for us to choose whether to pick it up and use it, or not."

Chuck McCabe is ready for a Sweet Reunion with his fans. "McCabe is one of our great singing poets, and he does it all without any overt pretense at poetry," Sarah Meador says. "No straining experimental rhyme schemes, no deconstructed traditions. He just gets out there and says the important things that everyone knows, but few can put it into words."

The Granary Girls are making hay among the Wild Roses, and Nicky Rossiter caught an earful. "The first thing that will strike you about Wild Roses is the beautiful artwork on the cover and insert," he reports. "The second thing that will strike you is the beautiful vocal quality of the singers. The third thing that strikes you is the marvelous writing -- in the main from the Granary Girls themselves."

Terry Brennan finds his brand of country-folk music along the Roads he travels. "His voice is strong, confident and well suited to the lyrics on offer here," says Nicky. "This is a very good album with some great tracks crying out for more people to listen."

Willie Nelson is Live at Billy Bob's Texas -- but Charlie Ricci says it's a show worth missing. "All through this live, 20-song disc, Nelson sounds as if he's barely awake," Charlie says. "We've all heard better Nelson than Live at Billy Bob's Texas and I hope we will again. Perhaps it was just an off night and not an indication that Nelson's best days are behind him."

B.B. King plays some unstoppable blues on Shake It Up & Go. "The riffing of notes in B.B.'s chord progressions just WAIL and we feel his tears," Risa Duff says. "Even if you have never contemplated buying a blues album, give this CD a go. It is essential music for the car or at home when doing the housework. It is forceful, sexy and moving, and if you don't start boogeying along to it, I'll eat my hat."

Deuter delivers its new-age sound East of the Full Moon on this new release. "Relying primarily on skillfully played keyboard and a variety of flutes, multi-instrumentalist Deuter creates spare, organic melodies augmented by the (generally) tasteful and limited use of synthesizers," Jennifer Mo says. "All of it is quite pretty, though no single track or melody stands out even after repeated listens. Much like earlier Deuter CDs, though possessing its own unique sound, East of the Full Moon is a softspoken, understated work best suited to accompany activities like yoga, meditating -- or falling asleep."

La Lionetta puts various Italian and related European traditions on display on Arzan. "Overall, this CD a very interesting listen, if only for the juxtaposition of instruments (bouzouki and tuba, for instance) that we don't normally associate together," says David Cox. "At times powerful, at times melodic, always keeping you on your toes, or tapping them, this is one worth checking out and giving more than one good listen."

There's still more to report about Celtic Colours 2005, and this week Kaitlin Hahn takes us to Maiomi (A Gathering) in Eskasoni, Cape Breton. The show featured the music of Joey Beaton, Pat Chafe, Mooney Francis, Carl MacKenzie, Buddy MacMaster and Old Blind Dogs. However, conditions at this show, Kaitlin sadly reveals, were not optimal.

The ghosts of St. Augustine are, by all accounts, plentiful, and Tom Knapp took advantage of a recent visit to the beautiful coastal city in northern Florida to bone up on the local lore. The result is this review of four collections of ghost stories from the area, beginning with Ghosts & Gravestones in St. Augustine, Florida by John F. Stavely. Also in the review are a pair of books by Dave Lapham, Ghosts of St. Augustine and Ancient City Hauntings: More Ghosts of St. Augustine, and Karen Harvey's Oldest Ghosts: St. Augustine Haunts. Read Tom's review to learn how well these four books measure up!

Michael J. Collins recalls four years as a surgical resident at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic in Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death & Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years. "There's something primal here that we folk living ordinary lives usually don't get to see," says Peter Tillman, the latest edition to our ranks here at Rambles.NET. "But you'd be very lucky to see Mike Collins working in the ER, when your ambulance pulls in. It's an unusual and effective memoir, highly recommended."

Lawrence Sutin explores the many facets of a literary giant in Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. "No book about Dick can be completely satisfying. He was too complex for anyone to understand," Dave Howell states. "But Sutin's comprehensive and well-researched book is as close as any is likely to come to entering the mind of this science fiction legend."

Kate Mosse leads Nicky Rossiter through a spellbinding Labyrinth. "If you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, you must read this," he enthuses. "It gives a much better interpretation of the grail and its legends than Dan Brown ever achieved."

William Brandt has written The Book of the Film of the Story of My Life for all to read, and Laurie Thayer thinks you should. "By turns sad, funny and poignant, The Book of the Film of the Story of My Life is the surprisingly sweet story of a man who finds that his place in the world isn't necessarily where he thought it was and that there are always second chances," she says. "If guys had chick-lit, this would be it." Congrats, Laurie, on review #200!

Jude Fisher concludes her Fool's Gold trilogy with The Rose of the World. "The story moves quickly, shifting to each of the various storylines laid out in the previous two volumes of the trilogy, moving each character step by step to the final confrontation," Laurie says. "Fisher weaves all her disparate storylines together expertly, bringing about an extremely satisfying conclusion."

Jamie Langston Turner walks in No Dark Valley in a novel that puts her protagonist in touch with her past. "The main character spent one Sunday watching Pride & Prejudice three times," Virginia MacIsaac opines. "If you can relate to that, maybe you'll relate to this book, but mainly, I was put off by the time it took me to wade through the daily clutter of the characters' lives."

Barbara Kingsolver is with Pigs in Heaven. "Kingsolver amazes me with her diverse settings and topics," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "The first two novels I read were set in Africa and Appalachia, respectively. Here is yet another setting -- the southwest, and yet another culture -- Native American. She doesn't repeat themes or settings as an author, and I admire her for that."

James E.F. Riley Sr. shares his Daydreams_n_Nightmares with readers interested in his poems and short stories. "Maybe this work was mentally cathartic for the author, a confessional for the subconscious, but with few exceptions, I felt it should have been subjected to the secrecy of the confessional," Jenny Ivor warns. "Riley has some good work, talent in both poetry and short story formats, but he should exercise more discrimination in his presentation, stick to the quality, not quantity, and proof-read!"

Tom Knapp keeps a watchful eye on The OMAC Project, a dramatic chapter of DC's Countdown to Infinite Crisis event. "The 'big events' so often promised by the comic-book industry are often satisfying, but in many cases underwhelm the readers," Tom says. "The OMAC Project, as well as the cross-titled Countdown to Infinite Crisis, rocked the DC Universe in a big way and will not soon be forgotten."

Tom gives Ultimate Fantastic Four: The Fantastic a chance and is surprised by how much he likes it. "I haven't read the mainstream Fantastic Four series for years, and yet I still never would have thought the team needed revamping," he says. "But the Ultimate reboot is modern, fun and distinctly different from its forebears, and I actually want to read the next book in the series."

The visions of H.G. Wells are brought to life through this recent installment of Graphic Classics. "The brevity demanded by the comic form cuts down on some of the exposition and descriptive passages that might deter new readers and puts Wells' strange creatures and inventions on prime display," Sarah Meador says. "The collection contains Well's best-known stories along with some unusual choices."

Daniel Jolley likes Robots. "I can't come up with one thing not to like about this movie," he says. "The animation is superb, with many a subtle whatsit worked into the background, the star-studded voiceovers are excellent..., there's wild fun and abundant laughs to be found everywhere, and there's an uplifting story with all kinds of morals at the heart of everything. Robots is a great family film that proves as entertaining to adults as it is to children."

Chris McCallister has a soft spot for The Bear. "The astonishing detail, the magnificent scenery, the perfect musical score, the incredible photography -- of both the background and the close-ups of the two bears -- all add up to a seldom talked about but truly wonderful film," he says. "It can be enjoyed by any age, and is perfect for families."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

25 March 2006

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

Laura Cortese "is doubly blessed," Tom Knapp says. "After enjoying her debut album, Hush, I am hard pressed to say if she's a better singer or fiddler -- she juggles both talents so well. ... Hush is highly recommended, especially if you're curious what an Irish-Italian-American can do with Scottish music."

The Old Blind Dogs Play Live for our entertainment and, according to Nicky Rossiter, the band "will have your attention and they will keep it. ... This is a wonderful live recording that captures the atmosphere without having long rambling chat between tracks."

And Did Those Feet adds a spiritual edge to the mystical combination of music, lyrics and voices on Forgetting the Shadows of History," Nicky says. "This is a CD that would engage the mind, ears and hearts of anyone but the tone deaf who gives it a fair hearing."

Jane Bom-Bane turns us around with Round-a-way Wrong Songs. "It's clear that Bom-Bane is intent on turning treacherous shoals of dating into a playground," says Carole McDonnell. "These songs are an eccentric lot, and the harmonium gives those risque ditties a nostalgic feel. Sometimes they are mixed with Gaelic harmonies, which make Bom-Bane sound like Enya on steroids or PDQ Bach doing cabaret. There's a lot of winking fun."

Russ Rentler sings the Scarecrow's Lament on this folky new follow-up to Acoustic Minstrel. "As usual, he combines the whimsical, humorous and profound with a deft touch that leaves even the casual listener wanting more," Nicky Rossiter says. "If you give this album more than a casual listen, you will be rewarded a thousandfold."

Eliza Blue (a band, not a person) plays old-time country/folk over the course of One Year. "When I first popped One Year into the CD player, I was not too impressed," Wil Owen admits. "Many of the tracks sounded repetitious to me and the constant sorrow seemed a little monotonous. However, after several listens, I started to modify my opinion. There are variations between the tracks, although subtle to a casual listener. Now, my only issue with the CD is that it is too short."

Jim Wilson is unlocking the door to This Old House. "Wilson has an eye for detail and the talent to write it into his songs," Nicky Rossiter says. "This album is a family in music and song."

Margie Baker & Friends are playing Live at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society -- and Virginia MacIsaac is glad she caught the show. "This lady's positive aura radiates from the CD," Virginia says. "The voice expressing that aura drives sassy jazz and puffs smokey blues into your soul. If she can't touch you with her mournful 'Cry Me a River,' you can't be touched."

Corey McKnight shares My Solitude with fans of Gregorian chants and new age music. "This CD really is a pleasure to listen to," Wil Owen says. "Corey has a wonderful voice and the layering he does to accompany himself is enjoyable. I would easily rate this CD as one of the more accessible Gregorian chant/new age albums I have come across."

Laurie Thayer, one of the mainstays of the Rambles.NET community, has a quartet of literary delight to share with you today. Enjoy the diversity and Laurie's insightful reviews!

Alan Alda shares his wisdom in his autobiography, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed & Other Things I've Learned. "An incident in Alda's childhood supplies the book's title," Laurie Thayer explains. "Rather than face burying his pet spaniel, the family took the body to a taxidermist. But when they got the dog back, there was such a horrible look on its face that they couldn't stand to display it. The lesson, learned at an early age: you can't hold off change."

Dan Asfar wants to inform, not persuade, in his recent book Ghost Hunters of America: Real Stories of Paranormal Investigators. "Ghost Hunters of America makes no attempt to persuade disbelievers that ghosts exist," says Laurie. "Instead, the book merely presents 21 stories of hauntings and the evidence that ghost hunters collected at these sites. It's up to the reader to decide whether or not to believe."

Charlene M. Proctor seeks to inspire with Let Your Goddess Grow: 7 Spiritual Lessons on Female Power & Positive Thinking. "Cynics and habitually negative people will most likely find that these lessons don't do anything for them (of course, cynics and negative people are extremely unlikely to pick up this book)," Laurie says. "However, people with a more upbeat attitude may indeed do very well growing their goddesses using Proctor's lessons."

Melanie Rehak unveils the minds behind the mysteries with Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew & the Women Who Created Her. "For many girls, Nancy Drew was the symbol of a strong, independent, intelligent woman, long before Buffy Summers came along, and many grown women look back on her adventures with nostalgic fondness," Laurie, now exhausted from all this writing, comments. "Girl Sleuth is an ambitious work. ... Told in an engaging and enjoyable style, Girl Sleuth is a fascinating book, especially if you've read more than one of the Stratemeyer Syndicate's series."

Stephen King gets back in Judy Lind's good graces with Cell. "Unlike most of King's other books, in which he builds the horror up slowly and insidiously until we're caught almost unaware, things in Cell get off to a bang-up start almost at the very beginning of the book -- on page 6, in fact," she says. "King has been hit-and-miss with characterization through his career as a novelist, but in Cell he gives us a group of people who grab and hold our interest. We care about them and what becomes of them."

Charlie Huston marries the detective novel to the vampire story in Already Dead. "Already Dead could have been a killer novel," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But the author's relentlessly breakneck pace and his impulse to keep upping the shock-ante result in some over-the-top violence and some truly gratuitous sexual violence. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Some restraint, some breathing room, would have strengthened the novel's impact rather than simply battering the reader."

Maria V. Snyder proves the worth of Harlequin's Luna imprint with Poison Study, says Jennifer Mo. "Within its pages is more poison than passion, and considerably more stomachs heave than bosoms," she says. "All in all, it's a refreshing change from both the average romance and average fantasy novels."

Glen Cook set a new standard for fantasy with The Black Company and its sequels, Shadows Linger and The White Rose. "Although I have been reading Cook's work for a number of years, it never occurred to me until recently to read him for his style," says Robert Tilendis. "He is a superb stylist. His narrative seems to meld perfectly with other elements so that the very rhythms of the language are carrying part of the story."

Richard Botelho follows Leah's Way, but Risa Duff doesn't want to go along for the ride. "Botelho, in his first novel, explores human flaws and how temptation and sin can consume even the most righteous person," Risa says. "Leah's progression from beautiful Southern belle to homeless, destitute and down and out keeps the reader engrossed -- however, I would have been a happier reader if I had a liking rather than a loathing of the main character."

Michael Connelly is on another case with LAPD Detective Harry Bosch in The Closers. "Connelly is an excellent author of thrillers," Wil Owen states. "His books are fast paced and almost always entertaining. The Bosch series is especially good."

Tom Knapp believes Catwoman is a little Relentless these days. "Selina Kyle's life has gone all topsy-turvy," he says. "This arc is full of unexpected turns and surprises, and some of the twists are downright shocking. This dark story will you leave you a little breathless by the time you reach its abrupt conclusion."

A pivotal scene in the original Amazing Spider-Man series is recreated -- with a significant twist -- in the fourth volume of Ultimate Spider-Man stories, Legacy. "Believe me, it's a major turning point for Peter, and some things will not be the same for him hereafter," Tom says. "This story keeps getting better, deeper and more involved. This is rich, colorful storytelling of the highest order."

Theo DeRoth takes Pride & Joy in this first collection of the Runaways series. "It's a simple idea, but excellently done," Theo says. "Runaways takes a lot of the elements of older Marvel stories -- such as young teens hiding from authority, and mutant -- and runs with them. I, for one, like where it's going."

Daniel Jolley antes up for The Deal. "The Deal is a darn good story about corruption, greed, oil, politics, murder and all sorts of nasty things going on behind Wall Street doors by some of those three-piece suit types," he says. "The Deal never manages to be edge-of-your-seat thrilling, but it is certainly suspenseful. It's also quite relevant in today's world of government corruption, unethical business practices and moral ambiguity."

Tom Knapp is Spirited Away by the magic of Japanese animation demonstrated in director Hayao Miyazaki's delightful modern fable. "Spirited Away is an elaborate story, a tapestry made of threads within threads," he says. "It's an exciting story, delightful, unlike anything else I've seen. Like Princess Mononoke before it, Spirited Away demonstrates the power and beauty of anime in the hands of a brilliant creator."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

17 March 2006

Irish folk music is the most schizophrenic I have ever heard. How can it be so sad and happy at the same time, even within the same note? Simple and direct, it tells you yes, the world is full of pain, but this is the way through. As long as you're in the music, the bad things stay away.
- Jonathan Carroll

It's St. Patrick's Day! Heck, it's St. Patrick's Month! To mark the official date of this greenest of holidays, the Rambles.NET crew kicks off this week's edition with a bevy -- yes, an entire bevy! -- or Irish music releases. Then, look further down the page for some fascinating Irish books. What could be better? Well, an Irish beer while you read wouldn't go amiss....

The Chieftains celebrate more than 40 years of Irish music with The Essential Chieftains, a two-disc set Tom Knapp cannot recommend highly enough. "The first disc boasts 18 tracks from the Chieftains' extensive solo career, while the second provides 17 tracks from their numerous collaborations. Each track has been newly remastered from the original recordings to provide crystal-clear sound," Tom says. "It's probably best to just go out and buy every CD the Chieftains have ever released. ... But this two-disc set is worth having on its own merits -- every minute of music is a minute of pure Irish pleasure."

Celtic Woman plays to its strengths -- talent, harmony and beauty -- for a self-titled CD full of "soft and lilting airs that evoke images of Ireland's quiet hillsides and streams," Bill Knapp says. "It is worth having around just for the soothing quality of their interpretation of several old Irish standbys. The selections are an eclectic blend from traditional Irish and light classical to more modern pieces."

The Corrs bring their music Home for an exploration of the Irish pop band's traditional roots. "The crossover works brilliantly, turning classic old Irish songs into tracks that would go over quite well on any pop music radio station or dance floor," Tom Knapp says. "What more can I say? Traditional Irish songs given an exciting new spin by one of Ireland's top pop family bands has success written all over it. With any luck, it will bring new listeners into the traditional fold -- and will encourage the Corrs to explore more deeply their rich family legacy and national treasure."

Cormorant's Fancy shares An Evening at the Fairfield Inn. "No small band, this, the CD features the talents of seven devoted musicians," Tom says. "However, rather than hitting their listeners with a full blast of sound from the onset, they restrain that natural tendency in favor of a delicate arrangement that tosses melody and harmony lines back and forth among the group. ... Cormorant's Fancy is a gifted band with a knack for gorgeous arrangements."

Enya breaks a five-year silence with the release of Amarantine. Tom, however, isn't impressed. "Where Enya's earlier music resounded through the listener's imagination, in part because of their unique nature, the songs on Amarantine sound bland and overly familiar," he says. "Don't get me wrong, Amarantine isn't a bad album. If you love what Enya has done in the past, then rejoice -- here's more of the same. But after a couple of decades, I was hoping she might try something new."

Who wants to dance? If you're in the mood for jigs and reels, you need The Set, Vols. 1-4. "The Set is a collection of dance music in the Irish tradition," Tom explains. "The musicians are listed, but not prominently; the titles of the tunes aren't included anywhere. Instead, there are set titles, each of which includes several dance figures, and specific labels identifying the the tunes as jigs, reels, polkas or other Irish style. This is the sort of collection you want to play at a social gathering where there's plenty of hard floor space and an excess of energy."

Andrew Murray ignites the magic of music with Hell or High Water. "This album," Nicky Rossiter says, "is a magical mixture of the old and new, the familiar and the innovative. ... This is a mesmerizing album, well packaged, expertly sung and with accompaniment that lifts the magical to the sublime."

Unison blends acoustic folk rhythms and soulful R&B songs on All Things Considered. "With the recent loss of such R&B legends as Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett, to name but two, it is good to know that three professionally trained singers such as Adrian Gordon, Leo Bradley and Miguel Ruiz are around to pick up the musical torch," Ann Flynt remarks. "My only complaint is that this CD is too short, especially since the group shows great promise. I look forward to hearing more from them."

The Earl Brothers make a strong impression with Troubles to Blame. "On first exposure to the Earl Brothers, you have the impression that you're hearing a band that has picked up on the very first draft of the Stanley Brothers' hard-core mountain-bluegrass sound," Jerome Clark explains. "Lots of bluegrass performers have carried the Stanley influence, which shows little sign of waning. But a closer listening -- and the Earls, who are not in the background-music business, demand that you listen closer -- starts you to wondering, just what in hell is this? It's something that, as it turns out, is a whole lot more peculiar than casual, initial acquaintance leads you to presume."

Junior Brown makes a countrified splash with Live at the Continental Club: The Austin Experience. "While not blessed with the commercial approval of the big Nashville stars, his deep voice, honkytonk rock style and understated sense of humor have earned him fans across the country," Sarah Meador opines. "Throughout the disc, Brown's showmanship is almost as impressive as his musical skills. Half the songs here beg for a sing-along, and Brown is not the man to discourage audience participation."

Joey Calderazzo gets to the meat of varied jazz with Haiku. "Haiku incorporates everything from old-time, two-fisted stride-piano to modern deconstruction of old standards," Ron Bierman says. "And Calderazzo has the knowledge and technique needed to make it all work. ... With its strong originals and talented playing, it's well worth a listen."

The folks at Putumayo shine their light on another slice of the world music pie with Asian Lounge. "Much of the music on the CD is the creative work of DJs, mixing western technology, beats and sound with the trance-like and transformational sounds of the Middle East and central Asia," says Jack Myers. "Here we have sound from the islands of Indonesia to the most cosmopolitan and independently creative areas of Japan. These lounge tracks are an expert blending and tempering of Sufi, Indian, Hindu, Arab, Japanese and Western electronica, all in one work of art."

The Irish culture isn't all dancing and leprechauns, as anyone who knows anything about this proud country can attest. Peter Gray provides a highly detailed look at one of Ireland's darker chapters in The Irish Famine. "Unlike many texts, which provide a gray, unforgiving narrative of the history and related mind-numbing statistics, Gray has divided the story into nuggets, brief chapters and sidebars that make the overall picture easier to see," Tom Knapp says. "The presentation in article form prevents the story from overwhelming the reader, while the bite-sized pieces are easy to absorb and understand."

Marcus Tanner expounds on The Last of the Celts as he explores the perilous situation of the six Celtic languages. "While he's a sympathetic observer -- he's half Welsh -- his observations are depressing," says David Cox. "Tanner has done his homework, and has done a thorough accounting of each of the six imperiled Celtic tongues. At the very least, The Last of the Celts is a good primer in modern Celtic history, a good read at that. I just wish he had better news to report."

Patricia A. McKillip conjures a new fantasy world with Od Magic. "As always, McKillip's lyrical writing is a pleasure to read and to savor. Her characters are vibrant people in vivid settings, the whole seeming to leap off the page into colorful life," Laurie Thayer says. "There are only a few authors whose new works I await with the breathless anticipation of a child on Christmas morning, and Patricia A. McKillip is definitely one of them."

Roy Campbell sings the Song of the Jackalope with this series of fables about Molly, a mythical denizen of the American West. "The stories are quaint, humorous and clear, but subtle, in their lessons. They are well-written, and leave you wanting more," says Chris McCallister. "They would make excellent bedtime stories for children 3 to 7, as well as read-along stories for children 5 to 7."

Sharon Shinn begins her Samaria Trilogy with Archangel. "I typically stay away from science fiction, avoid books centered around romance and scoff at the idea of angels and other religious matters," says Jennifer Mo. "Needless to say, no one was more astonished than I was to find that I loved Archangel. It definitely ranks among my favorite five books."

Gregory Frost tells the tale of Fitcher's Brides in this 19th-century reworking of an old fairy tale. "Frost creates a vivid and accurate, if bleakly creepy milieu for his take on Bluebeard," Stephen Richmond says. "Frost provides some very engaging and aptly retro prose."

Susan Kearney describes her novels The Challenge and The Dare as "paranormal romances," Robert Tilendis reports. "They are actually space-operas cum bodice-rippers, an uneasy alliance at best. ... I'm not sure that it was at all a good idea to blend the two genres, since both seem to suffer."

Tom Knapp might have guessed a world populated almost entirely of women would be something like Heaven for the last man alive. Not so, as Y: The Last Man shows in Unmanned. "The concept here is fantastic and provides plenty of potential grist for the mill," Tom says. "This first collection, Unmanned, gets the ball rolling, but it's definitely hooked me to the story and has me jonesing for the next volume."

Mary Harvey returns to Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel series with Persepolis 2. "It is a sign of a good story when, in an ever-darkening world, the tale only becomes more and more engaging and the heroine more heroic for standing up for her right to be free," Mary says. "It is a sign of a great story when the tale that's being told ends without a happy ending but with a sense of hope that defies the odds, and the heroine is even more of a hero simply for enduring the unendurable. It is empathy for the heroine, not her triumph over difficult circumstances, that is the heart and soul of Satrapi's story."

Alex Robinson's Tricked "is a graphic novel that fully exploits its medium," Sarah Meador says. "The emotional pull of the story, the train-wreck fascination created by the pacing and the immediate intimacy with a half-dozen point-of-view characters would be lost in a straight prose novel. But Tricked is also a good story, period, a pitch-perfect exploration of the connections that bind us and the power they give us all."

William Kates is ready to Walk the Line with Johnny and June. "For those who want something more than the stereotypical celebrity biopic, there's the great love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter, skillfully directed by James Mangold," William says. "But what really puts Walk the Line over the top is the masterful job T-Bone Burnett did with the music."

Tom Knapp slips into the MirrorMask, an artful creation by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. "MirrorMask might not hold the attention of the very young, but it's a movie youngsters and adults can enjoy over and over again," Tom says. "There are layers to explore, nuances to discover and, if you're able, books to catch in a butterfly net. MirrorMask is a landmark film that resets the bar for modern fantasy."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Come again soon! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

11 March 2006

The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that 999,999,999,999 times out of 1,000,000,000,000 it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it.
- Douglas Adams

We're solidly into St. Patrick's Month now, and everyone wants to be Irish! (No, that does not mean eating Lucky Charms, drinking green beer or bathing with Irish Spring!) Today's edition has a few Irish CDs, a concert review featuring one of Ireland's favorite sons and a book that lays out the heart and soul of Irish social gatherings. Next week's edition might go up a day or so early, just to slip a few more Irish items in before St. Paddy's Day officially begins. Cheers!

Marc Gunn & the Dubliners' Tabby Cats promote two great obsessions with their new CD, Irish Drinking Songs for Cat Lovers. "Anyone out there who loves cats and Celtic music might go into apoplectic shock with this one," Tom Knapp says. "Celtic cat lovers, rejoice! Marc Gunn has made an album just for you."

Frank Emerson "has a voice like honey," Nicky Rossiter says. "He entices us in and wraps us in warm sweet sentiment. His love of America, of folk music and of Ireland is tangible." For more on Emerson's latest music, read Nicky's review of There's a Story Told.

Pipedreams is ready to Kick Out the Ghosts with Celtic music featuring the pipes, electric violin and percussion. "Be warned this is not the pipes and drums of the Black Watch," Nicky warns. "This is modern music for today's audience with its roots in the Scottish tradition but branches everywhere."

Karen & Helene cross the line between Scandinavian and Celtic music with Solen. "While I don't understand the Danish lyrics, I am struck by how beautifully unique each woman's voice is," says Kaitlin Hahn. "Karen Mose's voice is full and strong, while Helene Blum's has a purer sound. The differences in their voices make the CD very interesting listening because there is a lot of dimension within each song."

Camp Susannah is Happy Today. "Every doubt and trouble that shows itself in Camp Susannah's songs is answered with defiant optimism and an insistence on enjoying the moment," Sarah Meador says. "It's an unflaggingly sweet message, with even the saddest songs only carrying a touch of regret. But that confident message, delivered with lead singer Susannah Blinkoff's soft, almost shy voice in the echoing open spaces of her arrangements, often takes on a strange melancholy."

Joe LaMay and Sherri Reese supply the music for a traditional Americana sound on Cumberland Rose. "Featuring traditional instruments, Cumberland Rose is primarily an album of old folk, country/bluegrass and gospel songs -- traditionals, covers and a fair number of original pieces -- in the style of the Carter Family and Bill Monroe," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Joe's original songs sound like they came out of the mountains many years ago."

Bobby Earl Smith sings the Turn Row Blues on this new, country/blues mix. "The sound on this splendidly accomplished recording brings to mind the words of another, more widely recognized Texas artist, Guy Clark," Jerome Clark says. "It's Smith's warm, friendly, intimate voice, those unfailingly melodic songs and uncomplicated lyrics about basic human emotions. He doesn't make me wish, as a lesser talent might, that he were more ambitious in his storytelling or farther reaching in his metaphors." Please hoot and holler for Jerome, who today marks his 100th Rambles.NET review!

Mary Flower reminds us of the blues tradition of New Orleans on Bywater Dance. "Recorded before the devastation of Katrina in 2005, it features some of the immortals of the Big Easy and perhaps will act as an incentive to people to ensure that the unique culture of that city is not abandoned," Nicky Rossiter says. "On guitar, lap guitar and vocals, Mary Flower brings us a wonderful concoction of the best of blues -- but not always in a sad style."

Richard Freitas carries his stride jazz piano into the spotlight with Tootsie Tunes. "You've heard stride jazz before; it's the soundtrack of flickering black-and-white voiceless movies where the hero faints and the villain twirls his mustache, the music of old cartoons where the furniture dances. It's unavoidably nostalgic, irresistibly cheerful music," Sarah Meador says. "With Tootsie Tunes, Richard Freitas fully embraces that nostalgia, with delightful results. From the first notes of 'Tootsie Toes,' his piano doesn't just stride; it jaunts, it jives, it positively struts along the open arrangements and colorful melodies Freitas creates for it."

Glen the Owl offers a "musical experience" on this self-titled CD. "The tracks have a magical, new-age quality and are delivered in a non-dramatic way," Nicky Rossiter says. "Listen without prejudice and you will be rewarded with an inner peace and the discovery of a very interesting album."

Ronan Tynan, late of the Irish Tenors, brought his music to life for Bill Knapp and a crowd of enthusiasts in Lancaster, Pa. "His voice alone would be enough for any audience, but he quickly showed why he is also a highly sought-after motivational speaker," Bill said. "Between songs, he joked about his adjustable height, his prominent ears and bald head, and how such imperfections help make human beings unique and beautiful. All of this while keeping the packed house enthralled with what they came to hear: an electrifying tenor voice." Be sure to read Bill's review for more!

Eric Roth recalls many a fine pint in The Parting Glass: A Toast to the Traditional Pubs of Ireland. The book, heavily laden with photos, also benefits from the writing of Eileen McNamara. "Roth's photos are gorgeous, rich in color, detail and personality," Tom Knapp says. "McNamara's narrative is equally colorful, historically informative and evocative of the pub experience. Combined, they create a desire to dive through the pages, take a seat and order a pint. This volume is as satisfying as a deep draught of the black -- although I wouldn't say no to having both book and beer together."

Bill Mauldin examines the life of the common Revolutionary War soldier in Mud & Guts. "Mauldin has some interesting things to tell us, but the brevity of the book constrains him to basically just jump around from one story to another without marshalling any strong sense of cohesiveness," Daniel Jolley says. "Of course, my opinion reflects the fact that I look at this subject through an historian's eyes, and Mauldin freely admits he's no historian."

Glenn Yeffeth is at it again, this time collecting thoughts and theories on Five Seasons of Angel. "Five Seasons of Angel is another interesting examination of popular television from the folks at BenBella," Tom Knapp says. "As long as they continue to produce such interesting, intelligent collections delving into the nooks and crannies of popular culture, I'll be here to read -- and heartily recommend -- their books."

Stephen King treads new ground with The Colorado Kid. "Most likely, hard-boiled crime story enthusiasts will have more problems than King fans with The Colorado Kid -- although a right many of King's most loyal subjects may well balk at what the master has done in this odd endeavor off the beaten path," says Daniel Jolley. "As long as I was flipping the pages, though, I was fully engrossed in the story -- it's not vintage Stephen King storytelling, but it's pretty darn good."

Peter Carver attempts to scare youngsters with The Horrors: Terrifying Tales, Book I. "There's certainly some creepiness and the occasional chill, but only a couple of the 15 stories in The Horrors succeed at being truly scary," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "At well under 200 pages The Horrors is a decidedly thin volume, and one suspects that a little hard-nosed editing could have cut about a third of the tales from the line-up."

Philip Reeve continues the story from Mortal Engines in Predator's Gold. "The sheer excitement of moving through this strange new land would be enough to distract most readers from any number of plot holes and cast shadows of depth from even the thinnest characters," Sarah Meador reports. "But this darkly brilliant world is only a setting for an adventure that puts summer blockbusters to shame, and characters more solid than many people walking the street of the current world."

Winston Graham concludes the Poldark saga with Bella Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1818-1820. "Fortunately, there's a ton of Poldark books to go back and start reading again," says Stephen Richmond. "I can't wait."

Charles de Lint gazes into a vastly different future in Svaha. "The world he portrays is frighteningly loathsome -- and feasible," says Chris McCallister. "The story takes time to get rolling, as de Lint lays a lot of cultural and character groundwork (this early slow pace is another de Lint trademark), and then becomes a juggernaut. This is an astounding book that you will never forget."

Nicholas Sparks demonstrates how men and women view relationships differently in At First Sight. "His books are always part story, part self-help guide," Wil Owen explains. "He knows how to tell a story, yet he will often add in bits of advice in the guise of dialogue."

Tom Knapp is caught between two Supergirls in Many Happy Returns. "In 2002, with the ongoing Supergirl series on the verge of cancellation, writer Peter David introduced a new (and surprisingly popular) twist: the arrival on Earth of Kara Zor-El, the original Kryptonian incarnation of Supergirl, in the same reality with current incarnation Linda Danvers," Tom says. "The story twists in unexpected directions when the Supergirls learn Kara was diverted from another reality, one in which she was destined to die."

Tom says Star Wars: Union, in which Luke Skywalker marries Mara Jade, is a fitting chapter in the Star Wars saga. "The colors are vibrant, the story is fun and the characters look like they should," he says. "Union isn't about galactic peril or anything so dire. It's fun, as weddings should be."

Stephen Richmond is Dreaming as he passes Through the Gates of Horn & Ivory. "Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics series is categorically a classic in the field. Certainly, a certain trepidation about other authors mucking about with his uniquely defined characters is not only understandable, but expected," says Stephen. Not to worry, he says. "The stories are all handsomely sophisticated, with even more than a touch of Gaimanesque erudition."

Judy Lind is back for more carnage in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Kill Bill 2 wraps up the story in a neat package, and if it's hardly believable, so what? The films were never about substance, although Kill Bill 2 has more than the first movie; they were all about style, and on that basis they more than hold their own," she says. "Like its predecessor, Kill Bill 2 doesn't measure up to Pulp Fiction, Tarantino's masterpiece, but it's great fun in its own right.

Despite a strong scriptwriter, director and cast, the making of this film was Cursed, Daniel Jolley warns. "It's almost painfully predictable, shows no spark of life whatsoever and comes off as nothing more than exceedingly competent," he explains. "It's hard to say why this movie doesn't seem to work. In the end, it comes down to the fact that there just isn't any oomph here. I was about as emotionally invested in Cursed as I would be in any old after-school special."

That's all for today here at Rambles.NET. Hurry back, we'll leave a light on for ya! (And please feel free to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)