4 November 2006 to 6 January 2007

6 January 2007

I am not solitary whilst I read and write,
though nobody is with me.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mark Dvorak is singing Every Step of the Way. "Dvorak, a Chicago singer-songwriter, reminds me of another Chicago singer-songwriter, the late Steve Goodman (1948-1984), whose memory and musical presence have not faded on the Windy City's folk scene," Jerome Clark says. "Dvorak even sings like him, in the same sort of conversational, open-hearted voice. Their influences are pretty much identical: folk-revival music and Billie Holiday records, mostly."

Have another mug of the good stuff with Strange Coincidences in Specialty Tea Trading II, Nicky Rossiter urges. "If you find a great item, you always want more. If you produce a good product, give the public the chance to experience it," he says. "Terra Nova Music is to be applauded for giving us -- the listening public -- an affordable chance to experience more of the best of contemporary music at a very, very good price, knowing we will not be able to resist purchasing more. Good marketing, lads."

Sensible Tom rides with an Acoustic Caravan for this contemporary folk release. "I appreciated the gentle folk sound of this CD and the guitar playing by Tom," Virginia MacIsaac relates. "The CD didn't pick me up and carry me away, but it's a good solid representation of Tom Bolton, who will probably take this experience and go do something a little less safe the next time."

James Hill takes A Flying Leap into instrumental music with his faithful ukulele. "Too often, the humble instrument is content to be a toy of those who like to pretend they're playing Hawaiian music, long-time backup instrument in a dozen different folk albums, reliable, sweet and chronically overlooked," says Sarah Meador. "Until now, when Hill convinces his ukulele to kick up its heels."

Raymond McCullough invites us along on The Great China Bike Ride. "I must say that I felt a little cheated when I found out that not only was this a short CD, but that there were tracks that had nothing to do with China," Wil Owen laments. Still, he says, "The Great China Bike Ride is not a bad EP."

John Martyn unites One World with this new double-disc compilation. "Most of the music here is very appealing blue-eyed soul, light funk or smooth jazz, depending on your outlook," says Charlie Ricci. "Instrumentally it is all top drawer, with great arrangements. Listening to Martyn on the surface can be a very pleasurable experience because you have to dig deeper to find the music's flaws."

The Adam Rafferty Trio gets jazzy with its blues on Three Souls. "Three Souls is an album for people who love guitar music," says Ester Eggert. "Rafferty offers a number of stylish licks for listeners to enjoy. Although, as mentioned above, his writing is soft, it still unites various elements, which makes the music interesting to follow."

Think of One's Trafico "is an album to hear with an open mind," Nicky Rossiter warns. However, he adds, "There is a wonderful liberation in this that allows you to feel as if you are taking part in a sort of Mardi Gras as the upbeat sounds sweep you along."

Celtic Colours is one of the world's great music festivals, and the Rambles.NET staff is fortunate to have an opportunity to cover the various events there this year. Kait Hahn kicks off the new year with a look back at the Pipers' Ceilidh, which featured performances by Matt MacIsaac, Ryan J. MacNeil, Ellen MacPhee and Carlos Nunez.

Steven E. Wedel tackles lycanthropy in Shara. "Not since Robert McCammon's The Wolf's Hour have I seen such an excellent approach to the werewolf mythos," Gregg Winkler enthuses. "Wedel blends traditional werewolf folklore with modern life, creating an amazing novel that goes down like a horror smoothie."

Eric Brown experiences a Threshold Shift with this new collection of SF stories. "These stories tend to be filled, not with space battles and ray guns, but with people dealing with the sorts of quiet human conflicts that will inevitably arise from the development of new technologies or from encounters with extraterrestrials," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "This is not to say that the tales in Threshold Shift are devoid of scenes that would have Hollywood special effects artists salivating."

Susan Kearney makes herself known to our reviewer through The Ultimatum. "This is a book of well conceived and written science fiction with heart," Nicky Rossiter says. "This story hits all the right notes of science fiction without losing the fact that readers need real characters regardless of the location of the action or the flights of inventive fancy."

Jon Scieszka gets to the dirt behind the hype in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. "Finally, after all this time, Alexander T. Wolf (alias 'the Big Bad Wolf') emerges to tell his side of the 3 Little Pigs tragedy," Daniel Jolley says. "It makes for a delightful, colorful, witty romp that almost all children (and most of their parents) will relish."

A.H. Holt is up Silver Creek for this old-fashioned western novel. "Reading this novel is like watching a western movie," says Liana Metal. "Vivid scenes of fights and mysterious encounters liven up the plot, while a love story unfolds in an old western setting. As the story gradually progresses, readers will feel the suspense and mystery envelop them."

James Patterson is stalking back to his roots for the Season of the Machete. "If you prefer a little guidance and reason when you are reading/listening to people getting killed in novels, then this story might be a little jumbled for your taste. This tale includes international killers, the U.S. government, casino-running crime syndicates, a young 'general' with dreams of being more famous than Castro, and several blond, male models," Wil Owen says. "With all the threads, the double crossing and more characters than an evening watching Saturday Night Live, you will be forgiven if, even after finishing Season of the Machete, you are still not sure how everything tied together (assuming it did)."

Mary Harvey learns a little bit about appreciating life from Marissa Acocella Marchetto's atypical graphic novel, Cancer Vixen. "Turning her pain to art, she details the difficulties and indignities of her 11-month treatment -- one lumpectomy, eight chemo injections and 33 radiation treatments -- with a warmth and humor that makes it impossible to put the book down until you've finished the last, color-drenched, completely hysterical while simultaneously tear-jerking page," Mary says. "It is possible to survive cancer and do it in wonderful shoes."

Tom Knapp attempts to puzzle out the knotted history of Power Girl, and finds at least some answers in this new collection of stories from the ages. "So, does Power Girl make Our Heroine's origins clear to modern readers? Well, no," he says. "The new yarn involves alternate Earths ... but with a mishmash of false memories, variable powers and impossible cameo appearances that add confusion, not concrete, to the mix. I suspect it's just another in a long line of retcons trying to shoehorn a semi-popular character into a universe in which she was never meant to exist."

Tom wants more from #8 of the Y: The Last Man series, Kimono Dragons. "Action takes a back seat to exposition, and much of this book provides missing background on a couple of key personalities," he says. "Perhaps it's just me, being too eager for this story to move forward and reveal its secrets, but I found the backstory a little tiresome; it seemed like more than I needed to know."

Tom pays a long-overdue visit to Howard Chaykin's City of Tomorrow. "The story is fast-paced and action-packed -- and that's its major weakness," he says. "Unfortunately, the action unfolds so quickly that readers never get a solid sense of Chaykin's society. ... Chaykin's writing is strong and his art makes it a pleasant visual experience; it's a shame there are so many gaps in its construction."

Next, feeling a mite pecking, Tom shares a rotting feast with Marvel Zombies. "One of the coolest things to come out of the Ultimate Fantastic Four was the parallel Earth populated solely by Marvel superzombies," he says. "Marvel Zombies is a lot of fun, mostly because of the comedic trials of the former heroes who are losing bits of themselves at every turn."

Liam Gaul details the lives and actions of the Masters of Irish Music in this invaluable tome. "This is an accessible, bright and comprehensive guide to the true masters of Irish music in all its guises," Nicky Rossiter exclaims. "This book provides a wealth of information for the specialist or the general reader. It will be of infinite use to those writing liner or programme notes for CDs or concerts and will no doubt give many performers a fund of anecdotes to introduce songs or tunes."

Matthew Shenoda makes use of water as a central symbol in Somewhere Else. "Shenoda's poems reveal him to be a person living in several worlds, both geographical and mental," says Michael Scott Cain. "This is a book you'll find yourself picking up off of the shelf a lot. That being the case, I recommend you pick it up, read it and place it in an easy to reach spot so you won't have to search for it when you feel compelled to read it again."

James B. South gathers the essays and theories behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Philosophy: Fear & Trembling in Sunnydale. "Since the essayists are for the most part philosophy professors or teachers in training, you can be assured that they know their stuff and have some experience in drilling it into the heads of recalcitrant students," says Laurie Thayer. "It is designed both to make philosophical concepts easier to grasp and to allow the authors to discuss a favorite television show on their own terms."

Tom Knapp needed to check his Pulse after watching this horror flop. "This high-tech ghost story, which has spirits of the dead living in the Internet, PDAs and cell phone signals, boasts plenty of the scratchy, unfocused and jittery cinematography that brought the undead world to life in movies from Thirteen Ghosts to The Grudge and The Ring," he says. "Pulse is erratic, numbingly slow at times and hyperactive at others. It all winds to a conclusion that, not to mince words, sucks."

Tom is at the top of the world, however, with White Heat, a James Cagney classic that caught him off guard like a slug in the back. "White Heat is far from the standard gangster drama I was expecting," Tom says. "This is a gem."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

30 December 2006

Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
- Mary Schmich

Is everyone ready for 2007? I suspect it will be a wild ride...!

The Unusual Suspects are making music Live in Scotland. "This has to be one of the most ambitious musical projects to have come out of Scotland in recent years," Mike Wilson says. "Musical directors Corrina Hewat and David Milligan have put together a 22-piece band that fuses traditional instruments with a brass section to create an essentially Celtic sound but with the added jazz tinges of a big band. Then they recorded the whole thing live! This review could have been so easy to write, I could have done it with just one word -- fun!"

Brother is back with Pax Romana MMV. "This CD blends Celtic rock with tribal drums and, on occasion, a Middle-Eastern flair," Wil Owen says. "While it is hard to categorize the music as it is quite varied, it is all good."

Ewan MacColl & A.L. Lloyd get the Empire Musicwerks treatment with Blow Boys Blow: Songs of the Sea. "Here, then, is a taste of salt, sea, shore and a life abovedecks and in the rigging," says Gilbert Head. "It speaks of an age nearly lost, and captures a moment in which the hard life of the sea is leavened by a stirring tune and a closely held sense of humor. I recommend the disc highly to all who yearn for the age of sail and sailors."

Larkin McLean "sounds like playful sex," Tom Knapp says. "In her aptly named CD X-Rated Musical, Larkin serves up a light-hearted scoop of lust, Los Angeles style. Her songs (written together with producer/arranger Kenny Lyon) drip with bourbon and sweat, with the musky scent of sex, cigarettes and satin lingering in the air."

American Zen's Level 1 puts reviewer Dave Howell off his philosophy. "I think the applause for this CD may be the sound of one hand clapping," he says. "Listening to all 22 tracks on this CD could cause an out-of-body experience, but perhaps not to nirvana."

Andrew Calhoun sparks a few memories with Staring at the Sun: Songs 1973-1981. "It is easy to haul out the pale praise, to remark with faint damn that this is, after all, the testimony of an earnest, if clever, young man," Jerome Clark says. "That happens to be true, of course. Less certain is where one goes with that not so profound understanding. Though one keeps expecting it to be, Staring is never quaint or embarrassing."

Amy Speace sings Songs for Bright Street on this country/folk/pop blend. "Her musical style reminds me of artists like Lucinda Williams, Kathleen Edwards, Ryan Adams and the Jayhawks," Dave Townsend says. "While her music is a little less gritty than some of those artists, she has an ability to tell thoughtful stories with her songs, combining them with good melodies and a very pleasing voice."

Michael Reno Harrell is ready to Drive. "This is far from his first album, though the first I've heard," Jerome Clark says. "On Drive, acoustic guitarist Harrell sets his own songs to spare accompaniment, to light, relaxed effect devoid of overweening ambition or energy. ... As a pro he does it decently enough, coming across as an amiable presence who will not grab you by the collar and demand that you listen up."

Papa John Kolstad and Clint Hoover are Alive & Well at the Gingko. "You say you love a live concert but hate the crowds? You want some old-fashioned blues and some rock 'n' roll, too, but you don't want to dig out your vinyls? You like hearing performers banter with the audience and each other, but you don't actually want to leave the house?" Sarah Meador asks. "Then Papa John Kolstad and Clint Hoover have a treat for you: 14 tracks, more than a full hour, of down-home and back-in-the-alley blues, bluegrass and country, all from one solid performance."

Oskorri exposes the Basque heritage on The Pub Ibiltaria 8. "I can't explain the content of the songs, but the music is wonderful," Virginia MacIsaac admits. "The CD contains a lineup of folk songs to music that resonates well in any language."

Coverage of the Celtic Colours festival continues next week!

John Pelan orchestrates a collection of Dark Arts for your reading pleasure. "The application of the theme of art within the 22 entries of the latest Horror Writers Association collection, Dark Arts, does not limit the scope of the stories as much as I feared," Gary Cramer opines, "even if there are more than a few clunker tales here with authors setting up pedestrian scenarios with no payoff or overreaching themselves in metaphysical mumbo jumbo."

Cormac McCarthy follows The Road to "a work of stunning, savage, heartbreaking beauty," according to reader Judy Lind. "Set in the post-apocalyptic hell of an unending nuclear winter, Cormac McCarthy writes about a nameless man and his young son, wandering through a world gone crazy -- bleak, cold, dark, where the snow falls down gray -- looking somewhere, anywhere, for life and warmth. ... Living in such a hell, why would anyone want to survive?"

Ann Lawrence wonders Do You Believe? in a new novel set in the quaint English town of Marleton. "Do You Believe? is a creepy, well-paced mystery with horror overtones," Laurie Thayer says. "Several disparate threads come together under Ann Lawrence's hand to create a tapestry as intricate as that of the Marleton church."

Dawn Cook provides a strong female protagonist in Princess at Sea. "I always love to read about strong women who can easily outwit and outfight their male competitors," says Risa Duff. "The story did not disappoint as Tess, the main character, is a tenacious, swashbuckling woman who will do anything to defend her sister Queen Contessa and Prince Alex."

Douglas Adams wrapped up his infamous Hitchhiker's trilogy with book 5, Mostly Harmless. "It is impossible not to have some mixed feelings about this novel. It does stand as a return to the wild frivolity and cuttingly biting humor of the first three books, yet it is certainly less than upbeat, all things considered," Daniel Jolley says. "I should not complain about the way Adams chose to close this delightful series of novels of his own imaginative creation, yet I cannot help feeling disappointed if not a little cheated by the way in which everything ended."

Faye Kellerman has finally won our reviewer over with The Garden of Eden & Other Criminal Delights. "This audiobook is an example of something that is greater than the sum of its parts," Wil Owen says. "Together, these short stories are well presented and easily digested in bite-sized chunks."

Tom Knapp stops by Astro City to pay his respects to some Local Heroes, a collection of short tales. "Astro City is a great place to visit, and Local Heroes can tell you why," Tom says. "Most moving of all is 'After the Fire,' an immensely personal tale written for and printed in an anthology inspired by the 9-11 attacks. In Busiek's story, a young boy struggles to understand the sacrifice a firefighter made to save his life."

Tom hits the streets of Paris with Jason and The Left Bank Gang: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and James Joyce redefined as cartoonists in the 1920s. "Jason is an endlessly creative and expressive writer and artist whose anthropomorphic stories draw you into his skewed world view," Tom says. "I love Jason's sparse, self-contained stories. I wish there were more writers and artists out there with his gift for economical presentation. I wish more creators would develop his sense of soul."

Tom keeps unusually quiet on 'Nuff Said. "How hard is it to tell a story without words?" he asks. "That was the challenge posed to various writers and artists in Marvel Comics' working stable -- not only to craft an entirely wordless issue, but to fit it into the continuity of the various ongoing series. ... By and large, the creative teams stuck to the assignment, which had to be tough -- and they succeeded admirably overall."

Next, Tom joins the Batman and Huntress in a Cry for Blood. "It drags a bit at times, as there is a great deal of exposition and family history to explore," he says, "but overall, it's a solid chapter in Bat continuity, giving readers much to ponder -- including some new questions -- regarding the Huntress."

And, lastly, Tom joins Piers Anthony On a Pale Horse. "For a few years, I read Piers Anthony's novels avidly. As I matured through my teen years, I found them less and less to my liking and quickly gave up on Anthony altogether. But, while much of his writing is, in my memory, dreck churned out for adolescent readers who don't know better, I always had a soft spot for his Incarnations of Immortality series, particular the opening novel, On a Pale Horse," Tom says. "Adapted and edited down to a six-issue mini-series and released by Innovation Books, this version of Anthony's novel is lovingly and colorfully painted to perfection."

Five well-known Canadian poets present their thoughts in A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory. "The jumping-off point for the book was a panel discussion at the Association of Writers & Writing Program Conference of 2005," Michael Scott Cain explains. "A Ragged Pen is a good book for academics and college libraries. It probably won't thrill an average reader but, then again, it's not meant to."

Michael Adams gets all kinds of linguistic with Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. "This is not a book I'd recommend for the casual reader; not even the most dedicated BtVS fan would find it easy going," says Laurie Thayer. "But if you're a fan of both the series and of language, then it's fascinating and entertaining reading."

Tom Knapp remembers The Alamo ... again. "For a lot of people, the Alamo is a brick in the Great Wall of John Wayne, but his version of the story, for many reasons, does not stand the test of time," he says. "In 2004, a new version hit the big screens but, believing the flood of negative reviews, I decided not to see it. ... In this case, the groundswell of opposition was unjustified."

Tom also visits the superhero set with X-Men: The Last Stand. "X-Men was an amazing superhero movie. X2, the inevitable sequel, faltered. And now there's the third in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand, which strives for a greatness it fails to achieve," Tom says. "After a steady decline in quality, let's hope Hollywood gives the X-franchise a rest -- or, if an X4 proves unavoidable, let's pray they put someone at the helm who has a better grasp of the concept."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

23 December 2006

Ho ho ho.
- Santa Claus

A few days ago my daughter Molly, just turned 9, asked me a question I'd been dreading. No, it wasn't the sex question, but it was every bit as important in a young child's life: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?" Buying time, I asked her why she'd brought the subject up. "Kids at school are talking about it," she said.

She looked worried. And I understood why. A big chunk of my childhood was stolen when my first-grade teacher, too eager by far to share her faith with her class, told all of her impressionable young students that Santa Claus didn't exist. What a terrible, dreadful thing to say! Molly, at least, deserves better. "Of course he exists," I told her. "There are so few pieces of real magic left in the world, wouldn't it be a shame to lose this one?"

Molly still looked doubtful, so I decided it was time to acknowledge that, at age 9, it's hard to accept certain things that an 8-year-old believes without question. "Not all of the stories about Santa are true," I explained. "For instance, he doesn't really come down the chimney. I mean, chimneys are so small. And besides, not all houses have them. I grew up in a house without a chimney, and Santa didn't have any problems." I was warming to the subject now. "It's just like a lot of important people, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. There are a lot of stories about them that aren't true, but they were real. Frankly," I confided to Molly, with a conspiratorial whisper, "I'm not even sure if the whole Rudolph thing is true. But Santa is." Molly seemed quite content with the answer, and visibly relieved, too.

Please, I silently pleaded to Santa, let us have one more year. And I think that wish has been granted. Thank you, Santa! And to all of our readers and the staff here at Rambles.NET, let me wish a Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

The classic songs of the season are repackaged for the 21st century in The Merriest Christmas Album. "This album brings back so many memories of Christmas with the songs and the singers who made them memorable," Tom Knapp enthuses. "These are the classics."

Blackmore's Night sings a selection of Winter Carols on this new seasonal recording. "The angelic voice of Candice Night is the package and the lush rock-orchestral sounds of Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore are the wrapping that make Winter Carols an exquisite Christmas gift," Tom says. "If you love traditional carols and enjoy a modern sound, add this one to your collection this year."

You won't catch Jethro Tull performing "Rudolph" or "Frosty" on The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. "Progressive rock just doesn't say Christmas to me," Tom says. "That matter aside, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is an excellent progressive rock album that manages to inject a little holiday spirit into Tull's trademark sound."

Mitzie Collins wishes everyone a cheerful Nowell with the help of musicians Glennda Dove and Roxanne Ziegler. "The music on Nowell is more of a religious and classical flavour as opposed to the cutesy commercial songs that are so popular today," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Thus, 20-year-old Nowell is a refreshing change from the typical Christmas album you'll find dominating the music racks at this time of year."

Katie Knapp shares some animated Christmas with her daughter as they watch Eloise: Little Miss Christmas. "Of course, Eloise is as charming as usual in this pleasantly upbeat holiday video," Katie says.

Emerald Rose compiles the Archives of Ages to Come. "The lyric content of many of these songs is infused with both Celtic and Pagan canon, and the vocals at times remind me of hymn singing at a camp meeting," says Gilbert Head. "I say that not to denigrate the efforts of the vocalists, but to underscore the impression that these are folks who may not always sing with technical polish, but they nearly always bring the passion, and really, isn't that the greater part of what shared music should be about?"

Lunasa wows Mike Wilson with Se. "For me, the most satisfying aspect of Lunasa's sound is when all instruments come together in unison and let rip with their rhythmic concoction," he says. "To a lover of traditional Irish music, there is surely no greater sound than the tonal blend offered by the combination of uilleann pipes, fiddle, flute and whistles, and this blend is something that Lunasa have mastered to perfection on Se, achieving just the right balance."

Mary Knickle's CD Weave "contains 12 original songs that are mostly stories from the sea," Dave Townsend says. "Weave is a strong collection of songs that contains many pleasing melodies. Combined with thoughtful storytelling, it gives us a good insight into several aspects of maritime life."

Leadbelly gets fine treatment with The Legend of Leadbelly, newly released by Empire Musicwerks. "Whatever he's singing, from his first few notes, you know you're in the hands of a master," says Michael Scott Cain. "The Legend of Leadbelly is an album of historical importance but it's also damn fine music that everyone with any interest in folk or the blues will want to listen to again and again. You might know the cover versions but you don't know the music until you've heard the originals. And to not know this music is a shame."

Zachary Oberzan works up a sweat but little emotion on Athletes of Romance, Virginia MacIsaac complains. "Romancing oneself, or even someone else, might seem a waste of time in this difficult existence we share on a planet going nowhere but around and around, and that's the message I get from the endless round of 17 songs on this futile CD," she explains. "The songs are futile, the lyrics futile, they go off like empty fireworks sputtering in the air and dying with no tail."

Oscar Brand is revisited with Pie in the Sky & Other Folk Song Satires. "Here then is a 40-plus-year-old artifact of an even earlier time, in which the twinned lenses of looking at the past show how relentlessly time moves on," Gilbert Head ruminates. "In an age of data overload, there is something to be said for a piece of work that allows one the privilege of moving at a slower pace. The patient listener will be rewarded with a look back, but also a reminder that, the more we change, the more we remain at least somewhat the same."

The spotlight is on Canadian guitar talent for Six Strings North of the Border, Vol. 3. "There are 17 guitarists on the CD, including several of the founders of Borealis, and combined they put on a wonderful display," says Paul de Bruijn. "It is a great showcase of talent and serves as a fitting reminder that there is a lot of excellent music out there for the taking."

David Holt & the Lightning Bolts have some Appalachian fun on their self-titled CD. "Holt performs traditional Appalachian music, but no one would mistake him for Ralph Stanley or Roscoe Holcomb or Dock Boggs," Jerome Clark says. "His is no fierce, menacing, guilt-haunted, God-stalked, old-weird-America approach. Holt has had tragedies in his life -- an unimaginably dreadful one inspired his previous album, Let It Slide (High Windy, 2005) -- but his voice is smooth and warm, and his music is mostly sunshine and good humor."

The Salt Miners and the Shiftless Rounders are both unfairly labeled as bluegrass bands -- but they're not, Jerome insists. "What we have here is a deeper music that was there before Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys put the mountain stringband sound into overdrive. The traditions from which the Rounders and Miners draw are from broader Southern folk styles as filtered through the 1960s folk revival, which itself appears undergoing something of a revival." Learn more in Jerome's reviews of the bands' recent CDs, Dressed for Excess and Places.

James Hunter generated an R&B buzz in Britain with People Gonna Talk. "No less than Van Morrison has called Hunter 'the best voice and best-kept secret in British R&B and soul,'" Dave Howell remarks. "Hunter has delivered a finely crafted CD that expands the soul and R&B songbook while paying tribute to its tradition."

The Music from Montenegro is explored in this compilation disc from Caprice. "Caprice's series of recordings of traditional music from around the world is a highly rewarding one for those interested in learning about other musical traditions -- as in this case, the notes are usually instructive, and the illustrations give a sense of the richness of these cultures," Robert M. Tilendis says. "This is a welcome addition to the series, with some new insights on the musical traditions of the Balkans."

More from Celtic Colours coming soon!

Don't forget you can give a holiday greeting to Rambles.NET and get some last-minute shopping done on Amazon.com. Remember, all orders placed through our links to Amazon help to support the cost of operating this site. Need some holiday suggestions? How about the Baltimore Consort's Bright Day Star or Johnny Cunningham's The Soul of Christmas: A Celtic Music Celebration with Thomas Moore? Maybe you have a soft spot in your heart for A Christmas Together with John Denver and the Muppets! Or, if the weather is getting you down, summon Loreena McKennitt To Drive the Cold Winter Away. If you're in a movie mood, slip back in time for a Miracle on 34th Street or get away from it all on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. There are a lot more seasonal offerings up for grabs here. Ho ho ho!

Jay Caselberg blends genres in a Metal Sky. "Metal Sky is an interesting blend of science fiction and mystery, but the story isn't about the science fiction --that's just the setting, the world in which the mystery takes place," Laurie Thayer says. "In other words, this isn't all about starships and technobabble. Instead, it's the unfolding mystery that keeps the reader enthralled."

Mercedes Lackey recasts an opera in her novel, The Black Swan. "Mercedes Lackey is adept at ornamentation, and there is quite a lot here -- fabulous dresses, balls, etc. Unfortunately, the characters are very unevenly fleshed out," says Jennifer Mo. "The Black Swan seemed to be altogether lighter in weight than Lackey's previous retellings."

Patrick McGrath, in his short-story collection Blood & Water & Other Tales, "has written some really original gothic horror," Theo deRoth opines. "Blood & Water is a collection for the darkness in the human heart, for the gothic yearnings that too often have to be satisfied with hackneyed vampires and dull suicides. McGrath writes stories like you always hoped your elderly relatives could tell them, with elegance, wit and charm, masking a taste for the horrible and disturbing."

Frank MacDonald steeps in the Cape Breton culture and lifestyle in A Forest for Calum. "MacDonald pries open the shutters and wipes the window clean to show us life in a way that hasn't been expressed by any other writer I've read yet," says Virginia MacIsaac. "Descriptions are almost painted onto the pages."

Tom Knapp says Bomb Queen: Woman of Mass Destruction had potential as a new graphic-novel series, but it killed its momentum by crossing the line. "Bomb Queen passes into unforgivable territory with its use of rape, incest and pedophilia as comic set pieces," he explains. "I'm sorry, Jimmie, but that's just not funny under any circumstance, and even dark comedy has its boundaries. You crossed it, and Bomb Queen flops as a result."

Tom tries to avoid all things X in the Marvel Universe -- but he was lured in by the first collection of the Ultimate X-Men called The Tomorrow People. "Mark Millar proved up to the challenge, giving the Ultimate X-Men an edginess they've never before achieved," Tom says. "I have to admire Millar's ability to make the old and tired seem new and fresh."

Warily, Tom descends into Steve Niles' Cellar of Nastiness for a collection of short tales. "This set of stories is occasionally cute, occasionally spooky, but sets no great new benchmarks in Niles' career," Tom says. "It's more of a curiosity for your collection than a necessity, but it's still a pleasant reading experience."

With equal fear and trepidation, Tom experiences some Mighty Love in spandex. "Mighty Love is a soap opera for the superhero set," he says. "The interaction between characters is fun enough to make me wonder what happens next."

And, wrapping up a banner day in the graphic arts, Tom dips into the supernatural realm of crimefighting with Ghost in Nocturnes. "Ghost is a fun series with plenty of serious overtones and an appealingly different main character," he says. "I wish there were more like this on the shelves!"

Superman gets the star treatment in The Man from Krypton, edited by Glenn Yeffeth. "Superman might not seem like an enigmatic fellow. After all, he flies around in a bright blue-red-and-yellow costume and his exploits are certainly on public display," Tom Knapp says. "But it turns out the man has layers -- and I don't just mean the spitcurl and glasses that are all that stand between Superman and his alter-ego, Clark Kent."

Jim Palmer had it made, but lost it and found it again as he explains in Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God. "His was not, as he thought it was at first, a fall from grace. Actually, as he came to learn, it was a fall into grace," says Michael Scott Cain. "The author relates his journey in straightforward, unadorned prose that sounds like a guy speaking over a beer."

Tom Knapp enjoys some next-generation adventure with the Princess of Thieves, starring a young Keira Knightley. "Princess of Thieves is a fun, next-generation romp in Sherwood Forest," Tom says. "This family-friendly film is relatively bloodless, and Knightley handles her role far more maturely than most 15-year-olds could hope. While the swordplay is no great shakes, it's a good action-adventure story that parents and children can enjoy together."

Daniel Jolley sits back to enjoy An American Vampire Story. Alas. "Imagine, if you will, a low-budget horror film with a vampire called Moondoggie (which is so much easier to say that Count Eric von Zipper), a vampire-hunter called the Big Kahuna, almost no blood whatsoever, a soundtrack of we-can't-actually-pay-you quality and barely enough plot to hold 99 minutes of low-quality video together," he says. "By all means, throw Carmen Electra in there, but you're still left with one of the worst vampire films ever made."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And we'll see you next year!!)

16 December 2006

Since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation -- every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition and their economic and social history -- from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.
- Douglas Adams

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat! Please to put a penny in the old man's hat.

The Watersons invite you to join them in A Yorkshire Christmas. "The singing is unaccompanied, as the Watersons' usually was, but the sound is so full that one barely notices," Jerome Clark says. "Inasmuch as, over the course of their storied career, the Watersons had every possible flattering adjective thrown at them, I will hurl no more myself and simply observe that ... well, these are the Watersons.

Celtic Woman asks the whole world to A Christmas Celebration. "Even if it's too late to get a copy before the holidays, get it for next year's Christmas season," Bill Knapp urges. "If you do, you can discard the rest of your Christmas music; this recording has everything. After all, Celtic Woman has to be good to garner the top two spots on the world charts."

John Fluker's new Christmas recording, J is for Joy, is in perfect time to become a part of Laurie Thayer's holiday listening. "Fluker's smooth voice is well-suited to his arrangements, and this CD is sure to itself become a Christmas tradition," she says.

Craig Chaquico, once with Jefferson Starship, celebrates the Holiday in a jazz/new age spirit. "Chaquico's rock 'n' roll roots are never obvious anywhere on the album," says Charlie Ricci. "Musically, Holiday is never less than pleasant and at the same time it is never anything more. A case can be made that the disc demonstrates there is often no difference between smooth jazz and new age music. It's a good disc to listen to as background music or as part of a mix on your CD shuffle player."

Robin Bullock got A Guitar for Christmas, and he's sharing the joy with his fans. "John Fahey may be gone, but folk music still needs an acoustic guitarist to carry on his legacy," says Charlie. "Fortunately we have Robin Bullock, who does his best to keep Fahey alive. Bullock's A Guitar for Christmas is a 16-track, all-instrumental, solo, acoustic guitar CD. ... The bottom line is, if you like Fahey, chances are you'll like this CD, too."

Mitzie Collins spreads the spirit with a White Dulcimer Christmas. "Considered one of the nation's top hammered dulcimer players, this virtuoso takes you through a musical journey of the winter holidays," says Sherrill Fulghum. "The 17 tracks on White Dulcimer Christmas make a collection of traditional songs of the season from around the world."

Ivan Tucakov & the Tambura Rasa combine a multiplicity of styles and sounds on Viaje. "The combination works," Dave Howell opines. "In the midst of a lot of gimmicky fusion, Tambura Rasa stands out as a group that has formed a worthwhile synthesis of music from many cultures."

Kevin MacLeod rests his music on Dorney Rock. "Mandolins to the fore as Kevin MacLeod from the Occasionals brings us on a tour of the best in Scottish and Irish music, as well as new and old tunes from other locations ranging over 14 excellent tracks," Nicky Rossiter says. "For the mandolin aficionado or the lover of world music, this is the album to seek out and devour."

Capercaillie rides the Crosswinds for its second recording. "There is an impressive musical unity as one track naturally leads into another," Andy Jurgis says. "It is exciting to realize how assured the band were at such a young age."

Chuck Brodsky serves us Tulips for Lunch, but the songs, Michael Scott Cain complains, don't satisfy his appetite. "It simply doesn't go anywhere," he says. "On the positive side, Brodsky's voice is pleasant and the playing, consisting mostly of Brodsky's guitar and multi-instrumentalist producer J.P. Cormier, frames the songs well. But the CD fails on the basic songwriting level."

Mark Nathan's CD Out of Nowhere is aptly named, Kevin Shlosberg believes. "It not only comes from out of nowhere, it quickly becomes apparent that it's going nowhere either," he says. "Nathan's monotonous voice and syllabic singing do little more than give a bad name to striving independent folk musicians. The only thing more monotonous than his voice is the music itself."

Without Gravity says hello from Iceland with Tenderfoot. "The uncluttered arrangements result in sweeping soundscapes that create a haunting ambience," says Mike Wilson. "Lead singer Karl Henry has an astounding voice that just floats in and out of the mix, oozing poise and serenity. I quickly came to the conclusion that Without Gravity is not merely the name of the band, but a most fitting description for the sound they create."

Dave Tilton apologizes for The Late Our with the final release from D-Side Records. "The songs are well written with thoughtful lyrics, and the sound achieved is excellent," says Nicky Rossiter. "The tracks vary from nice little songs of around one minute to nine-minute mini-epics."

Sheri Kling joins her Passions & Prodigals on an album that blew our reviewer out of the water. "Kling has a deep, unadorned voice, and she accompanies herself on guitar just enough to keep it clean and easy," Virginia MacIsaac says. "A woman and guitar, a voice that sounds comfortable at any table, and a true folk sound that will never get old mark this excellent CD. It's filled with traditionals and original folk songs that, on this CD, always sound fresh and revitalizing to the listener."

Miranda Lambert lights a little Kerosene to add sizzle to her new country CD. "Her little voice is clear and entirely suited to all the songs on the CD," Virginia MacIsaac reports. "Everything on here is enjoyable. Some good lively country, some sad, mellow songs and something a little different to round it all out."

Pat Wictor fails to deliver on the promise of Heaven is So High & I'm So Far Down, Michael Scott Cain believes. "If all of it lived up to its best parts, Heaven is So High & I'm So Far Down would be a wonderful album."

Katharine Whalen, co-founder of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, has a Dirty Little Secret she's willing to share. "The Squirrel Nut Zippers were popular during the resurgence of swing music in the 1990s. But it doesn't take long for Whalen to depart from those days," Sherrill Fulghum says. "While each of the songs on this album have a bit of a different sound, they all fall into the realm of pop jazz -- an area well suited to Whalen's voice."

Borg & Vella are prepared to Dream Out Loud on this CD. "While Borg & Vella's music at times has a new age feel to it, their music resembles more of a flamenco jazz," Sherrill says. "Borg & Vella's sound very much resembles that of Otmar Lieber, although at times it is more of a cross between Lieber and a stripped-down Yanni."

More from Celtic Colours coming soon!

Celebrate the season with an Irish flair with The Bells of Dublin and the Chieftains. Share some Christmas Turkey with the Arrogant Worms. Or jump back in time to England, 1957, with Alan Lomax and Sing Christmas & the Turn of the Year. Spend a very odd Christmas indeed with Christopher Moore and The Stupidest Angel. Or remember one really bad Christmas misstep with a Star Wars Holiday Special. Ho ho ho!

Joan Shaddox Isom ignites a bit of holiday magic with Offerings in the Snow: A Christmas Story. "The small miracle of this Christmas never strains belief, and will leave some wondering ... if there is any miracle at all," Sarah Meador says. "But in the season and with the right spirit it's clear the magic is there, even if it's something as small as a perfectly told story."

Andre Norton's Three Hands for Scorpio is "a very confusing book," Laurie Thayer reports. "In the end, Three Hands for Scorpio is a disappointment. Norton demonstrated long ago that she could do far better."

Robert Holdstock returns to Ryhope Wood in The Hollowing, the third book in his Mythago Cycle. "The Hollowing is by turns earthy, sensual, beautiful in description and frightening," Laurie says. "I will be on the lookout for the other books in the series."

Minette Walters carries The Devil's Feather through a thriller starting in wartorn Iraq and ending in rural Dorset, England. "This is the best thriller that I have read this year and yet, looking back on it, I find it hard to describe as a mere thriller. There are certainly thrills, tension and crimes, but there is more," Nicky Rossiter says. "I normally despair upon books or films that constantly jump backward or forward in time, but by the sheer power of her narrative author Minette Walters had me seesawing in time without even noticing it."

Dana Reinhardt relates A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life in this new, young-adult novel. "Reinhardt's debut novel presents dozens of strands relating to religion, civil liberties, tradition and the meaning of family," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "The plot should serve to remind teens to be open about lifestyles different from their own. However, the execution is merely satisfactory, so this isn't an A-list book. Plot developments are touching but visible from pages away, and the book wraps up with a predictable warm-fuzzy of an ending."

James Patterson marks the 4th of July with the Women's Murder Club. "If you are not familiar with this series but enjoy Patterson's other work (Alex Cross or the winged children books), you could just as easily start with this book as you could 1st to Die," Wil Owen says. "If you have never heard of Patterson, I can only assume you do not read murder-mystery novels."

Tom Knapp spends some time with a lot of Girls in Conception. "At first glance, some readers might be put off by what appears to be a book filled with naked women running around," he says. "This book sold itself to me because Brian Michael Bendis, a comics professional I greatly admire, said the Luna Brothers are 'the future of comics' and this volume is 'essential to your collection.' I'm not sure Conception alone is enough to convince me that's true, but it's hooked me enough that I'll be back for another round."

Next, Tom plays a little game of cowboys and vampires with Wynonna Earp. "I mean, who can mess with a story that pits a wily law enforcement officer descended from Wyatt Earp himself against a host of undead beasts and bad guys?" he asks. "Well, the writing on Earp, all by creator Beau Smith, is good but uneven. The art, on the other hand, is inconsistent to the point of distraction."

Tom enters the N-Zone with the Ultimate Fantastic Four. "While writer Warren Ellis didn't snag my attention with his treatment of Doctor Doom in the second UFF story arc, he got it for sure with arc three, which takes the young team into a whole 'nother universe," Tom says. "Adam Kubert continues to wow readers with his art, which in this book includes numerous one- and two-page spreads that are simply breathtaking."

And, wrapping up today's sequential arts extravaganza, Tom walks On the Razor's Edge with Nightwing. "On the Razor's Edge is as much about the women orbiting Nightwing's life as it is about Nightwing himself," Tom says. "It's another fun chapter in the life of a hero who is a lot like Batman but is never so grim. Dick Grayson is a strong favorite among readers, and the quality of the writing here is a good reason why."

Anita Renfroe dissects the "Momwich" in If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother. "While this is a mostly breezy, funny discussion of what it is like to be both a mother and a daughter, Renfroe does occasionally get preachy," Laurie Thayer warns. "Still, it's a fun way to spend an hour or two, and maybe something to share with your own mother."

Tom Knapp shares a flagon of mead with Beowulf & Grendel but, fine spirits aside, cannot recommend this movie. "The movie stars Gerard Butler as the Geat hero Beowulf, and he works hard with the material provided. But he cannot rise above the level of the script, some bad plot choices and mediocre acting around him," Tom says. "But the movie draws no new conclusions from the grand epic that is Beowulf and adds nothing to its mythology. It simply strips the story of all magic and emotion and gives us a story in which no one really wins and no one (on screen or in the audience) is very happy."

Daniel Jolley has a date with a Shopgirl. "Somehow managing to be both superficial and introspective, this film easily drew me in, but I never really felt comfortable in this world of lovers and choices," he says. "For me, there's just something unsettling about the whole thing; it plays like a special romantic episode of The Twilight Zone."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

9 December 2006

Have another drink and just listen to the music.
- Charles de Lint

Doesn't anyone want to help me clean my office??! OK, with that pathetic plea out of the way, let's move along. I don't know about your neck of the woods, but it's brr-cold frigid outside here, so I recommend snuggling up by a warm computer with a hot chai latte while reading some new reviews. Festive, eh?

Mark Holdaway celebrates the holidays his way with Christmas Kalimba. "Mark has chosen an ancient African instrument for his Christmas album," says Sherrill Fulghum. "While using a kalimba to play Christmas fare provides for a change, this is not a CD for use at a party or as background music. Listeners must pay close attention to each piece in order to follow the tunes."

The Peanuts are back with a new, remixed and remastered version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. "Just in time for the Christmas season, it's a perfect, subtle accent to any holiday festivities," Tom Knapp says. "It's pleasantly familiar. It's gentle and soothing, resting comfortably in the back of your head like an old security blanket."

Simon Mayor brings us Music From a Small Island to enjoy. "Mayor is one of those people who really can draw magic from wood and strings," says Nicky Rossiter. "Although we do not hear his voice, he exudes joy in the sounds he produces. If ever you hear music speak, it is on albums like this."

Shoormal offers up a gem titled Turning Tide. "Come with Shoormal on a beautiful journey through music to an enchanting place," Nicky urges. "This is music born of the wild, wonderful Shetland Islands, but it is also redolent of the warm feelings of community, love and contentment."

Frank Morey's music is Made in USA. "My favourite songs from Morey are the slower ones, and I was mesmerized by 'North Atlantic Line,'" says Nicky Rossiter. "There is that wonderful authentic sound and you can almost live the life."

Lui Collins gets Closer with this mixed bag of music. "Sticking pretty close to a nature theme, the album features Lui Collin's recited poetry between her songs," says Michael Scott Cain. "Using the poems is not a wholly successful strategy. For one thing, the recitations break the flow of the album. Rather than building to a peak, the album continually seems to be starting and stopping. There's no real flow."

Jennifer Friedman plays it safe on You are Creation. "The lyrics are well-written and nice, yet they're lacking an overly distinctive quality," says C. Nathan Coyle. "Performance-wise, Friedman has a nice voice, but similar to the lyrics, there's a distinctive quality missing."

The Zozo Sisters -- better known as Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy -- bid Adieu False Heart on this recording of Creole folk and country splendor. "Their voices blend together like oil and vinegar to produce a sound that is solid, substantial, challenging and always tasty," says Michael Scott Cain. "The arrangements, while always in the Creole tradition, are imaginative and clever, caressing the songs and enhancing them."

The instrumental music found on Bryan Sutton's Not Too Far from the Tree gets compared to the collection of artists on the Friends of Fahey Tribute. "I like both of these CDs, both of them based in traditional folk music but radically different in approach and mood," Jerome Clark says. "If Fahey's music is clouded moonlight on a slow-moving river, Sutton's is bright sunshine on a summer lakeshore. Between these two discs, in other words, you've got one entire, very pleasant day."

Various artists, led by drummer Jamie Oldaker, gather for Mad Dogs & Okies. "The performers range from the superstar likes of Willie Nelson, Vince Gill and Eric Clapton to the obscurer but no less worthy Zadig & Marcella, Joe & Ellen and Wiley Hunt," Jerome Clark says. "Mad Dogs & Okies settles early on into a sweet, agreeable groove and never lets up. Nobody, including the unthreatening-looking beagle on the cover, seems pissed off at much of anything, not even the no-good men and women without whom the blues would only barely exist."

Postmodern Jazz shares Love Not Truth on this recording featuring Roy Ayers on vibes and vocals. "The music is light and smoothed out by production, but avoids the 'smooth jazz' sound thanks to insistent, polyrhythmic beats and solid backing that features sax, trumpet and understated guitar," Dave Howell says. "Love Not Truth is a hybrid of jazz and pop. Some jazz listeners might find it to be a bit light. But it is pleasant enough, and the mixture of styles makes it quite listenable, especially for those who have a taste for contemporary R&B."

Lura brings her music from Cape Verde on Di Korpu Ku Alma. "The CD contains 14 songs that mix the beats and percussion sounds from Africa with the flamenco guitar of the Latin countries and the contemporary music of Europe to form a sound that takes you to the islands," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Lura did not begin singing until she was 17 years old, but to hear her contralto voice on the album you would think that she had been singing all of her life."

Ryan Farish comes From the Sky with this new age selection. "Farish is the most played musician you've never heard of. His music has been played on the Weather Channel -- the theme to Storm Stories and as a part of Weather on the 8's -- as well as the Freedom Towers documentary, the playlist on Music Choice's Soundscapes channel and XM radio's Audio Visions channel, and in the soundtrack for the Steven Seagal movie Into the Sun," says Sherrill Fulghum. "His compositions come from the life around him."

Katie Knapp gets into the teen-pop groove with the soundtrack to Disney's Hannah Montana. "Fourteen-year-old Miley Cyrus, daughter of country music star Billy Ray, plays Hannah Montana on the hit Disney Channel show of the same name," she explains. "Hannah Montana is a nice kid! This may not seem like a news flash, but in these days of questionable role models for young girls, it's refreshing to see one we can really cheer on."

More from Celtic Colours coming soon!

Hey! In the mood for some Christmas? How about you listen to It's Christmas, Man by Brave Combo, Mittens for Christmas by Kirkmount or Winter in Scotland by Steve McDonald and Hollie Smith? If you prefer a book to music, curl up with the relatively new classic The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg or Li'l Santa by Lewis Trondheim and Thierry Robin. Or, you could learn the true meaning of Christmas in Scrooge, a great holiday movie musical starring Albert Finney as everyone's favorite miser. Ho ho ho!

Warren Stockholm presents "a comic book without the pictures" with Scorpion Magazine, No. 1: The Sting of the Scorpion. "Stockholm's writing is adequate, and he manages to capture the noir mood in the standard ways," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But there's no real spark to lift this beyond the ordinary."

Julian Mahikan bungles his efforts on Cryos, a science-fiction novel badly written and poorly translated into English. "Coming into this novel, I knew nothing of the author, his previous work or the novel itself," Gregg Winkler confesses. "As I sat down on the couch to dive into Cryos, with my lemonade in my hand and a pillow under my head, I found myself thinking more and more about mowing the lawn. Or giving the dog a bath. Or counting the silverware."

Lynne Reid Banks rethinks The Adventures of King Midas in this diverting tale. "In this work, the old Greek myth is dusted off, given a thorough polishing and made into a lively and entertaining children's story," says Jennifer Mo. "While Banks takes extreme liberties with the myth, the result is something so fresh and fun it doesn't matter."

Patricia Reilly Giff's Water Street is "a charming book about New York's Brooklyn in the l800s when modernity in New York was really beginning to develop, with such revelations as the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge that would eventually connect the New York boroughs," says Risa Duff. "As a native New Yorker, I do admit that books about New York and its development naturally appeal to me, but this is a read that puts a tear in your eye and smile on your face simultaneously, which nowadays is a real find."

Annie Wang makes a wag on the Sex & the City genre with The People's Republic of Desire -- but, instead of New York City, these gals live in Beijing. "They might live a life full of New York fashion, pastimes and careers, but there is an underlying element of cultural change (which does not come without conflict)," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "The slang phrases used and then defined at the end of each chapter get to the heart of the cultural conflict between old and new China."

Karen Kingsbury crafts a tale about an adoption nightmare in Like Dandelion Dust. "As usual, Kingsbury's characters are just like you and me, everyday people in tough situations. She paints them well, and loves each of them," says Virginia MacIsaac. "This book has the true Kingsbury touch, and if you haven't read her yet and you like sentimental but spiritually difficult entanglements you'll enjoy paging through this one."

Tom Knapp finds himself entranced by 1001 Nights of Snowfall, a stand-alone book based on Bill Willingham's Fables series. "This is a masterwork of prose and artistic storytelling," Tom says. "Set apart from the regular series and yet deeply grounded within it, 1001 Nights of Snowfall is a richer, fuller, more satisfying collection than anything the series has yet produced."

And next, Tom gets a fantasy fix with She-Devil with a Sword. "Born in the same forge that spawned Conan, Robert E. Howard's flame-tressed heroine Red Sonja has found new life with Dynamite Entertainment," he says. "She-Devil with a Sword is the first collection of the new graphic series, and frankly it puts the old Marvel Comics series to shame."

Tom sticks with the JSA as Darkness Falls. "The JSA, newly reformed as a team, doesn't ease back into the hero biz slowly," he says. "More and more, the allure of this older set of superheroes (predating the JLA in DC Comics' history) is becoming clear. I'm glad they're back, and I'm glad I found them."

Completing this week's graphic grand slam, Tom sees both the alpha and omega of the Marvel mutant Wolverine in Origin and The End. Read his review to see why both books were met with high expectations -- and flopped.

Mercedes Lackey leads the charge in Mapping the World of Harry Potter. "One of the best things about BenBella's Smart Pop series is the way in which the essays make the reader think and yet have fun at the same time," Laurie Thayer says. "This book is no exception."

Bob Dole tells One Soldier's Story in "this moving, sometimes humorous, always straightforward memoir," Chris McCallister says. "I am not, in general, a big fan of autobiographies or memoirs, but I really enjoyed this fine book about a good man. There is very little about Dole the politician in the book; as suggested by the title, this book is mainly about how Dole's military experience impacted his life."

Tom Knapp hopes a pair of deuces will win the table at Casino Royale, a highly successful reboot of the James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig as the new Bond. "It begins with what must be one of the most amazing foot chases in movie history. By the end of that pulse-pounding scene, you'll be ready to acknowledge Craig as a fitting (and admirably fit) Bond," Tom says. "This Bond is raw and unpolished, reinventing himself as a 00 agent as he goes, developing the character's notorious emotional detachment and ruthless sense of duty as we watch."

Next, Tom gets Hoodwinked -- finally! "Hoodwinked is a zany gem that did not deserve to fall through the cracks in 2005; those of us who missed it should rectify that mistake quick on DVD," he says. "My entire family laughed -- heck, we outright guffawed -- pretty much straight through all 80 minutes."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

2 December 2006

I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery
than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.
- Henry Emerson Fosdick

Another glorious Indian summer comes crashing to an end with cold and rain ... but heck, it's time to decorate for the yuletide season anyway, and who wants to do that in warm weather, anyway? OK, I admit it'd be nice, but I'm trying to work with what I have and keep a cheery mien, y'know?

Al Petteway and Amy White continue their musical collaborations with Winter Tidings. "Holiday music should be cozy but not trite or drippingly sentimental. It should evoke both the crispness of winter and the warmth of a blazing hearth," says Jennifer Mo. "And perhaps most importantly, it should be genuinely good music, as enjoyable to listen to in June as it is in December. Just a handful of CDs fit this bill: a few Windham Hill collections, the two Loreena McKennitt winter recordings -- and this latest CD by Al Petteway and Amy White, Winter Tidings, which has been in my CD player for the last week straight, despite the fact Christmas is months away."

The Glencraig Scottish Dance Band is bringing the party with The Ceilidh: Are Ye Dancin'? -- and Nicky Rossiter is manning the music. "I defy anyone to keep their feet or fingers still as they listen to the 17 tracks on offer," he says. "For a happy Hogmanay or any other celebration take the following ingredients, a group of friends, a supply of drink (soft or hard), an open floor and The Ceilidh, mix well, warm to room temperature and beyond and enjoy. It's as simple as that."

Capercaillie unleashes a Cascade on this debut recording. "There is no doubt you can sense the band's excitement and confidence some 22 years ago," says Andy Jurgis. "Capercaillie started out not playing vaguely Celtic music but creating a sound with a clear Gaelic identity. Indeed, all the songs on Cascade are in Gaelic, and through the language Matheson stamps her authority on the album."

The Dreamsicles share a collection of Luv Songs for Grownups. With a title like that, you just know it's "going to be smarmy, kitschy and too cute for words," Tom Knapp says. "But it's not. ... When I listened to this collection of songs about love in all its ooey-gooey glory, I rather enjoyed the image of this giggling, hand-holding couple writing and playing these songs."

Marti Rogers evokes the sound of Jean Ritchie on Plain & Fancy. "Her approach is the mostly unadorned one that you may remember from records on Sandy and Caroline Paton's Folk-Legacy label: spare, entirely acoustic, sweet-voiced, deeply experiment-averse," Jerome Clark says. "You don't hear that sort of thing much these days. This collection of folk and folk-based songs and ballads reminds me that people other than authentic, direct tradition-carriers have made perfectly decent and honorable music that way."

Brianna Lane may be overheating her Radiator with this sophmore release. "There are a few good songs on Radiator that hint at a potential that isn't quite realised throughout the entirety of the album," Mike Wilson says. "It's an oft-repeated cliche, but maybe this is Lane's 'difficult' second album."

Dale Ann Bradley makes a bluegrass incursion onto the Compass label with Catch Tomorrow. "Bradley operates in a twilight zone bounded on one side by tradition, on the other by innovation," Jerome Clark says. "Her approach is sharper, smarter and strikingly original. In the fashion of a folk singer, she takes to narrative songs with interesting tales to tell, stories that sometimes seem subtly to shift meaning with each successive hearing."

Richmond Fontaine, a prolific band from Oregon, has released its seventh country-rock album, Post to Wire. "Lyricist and singer Willy Vlautin writes the kind of songs Raymond Carver would surely have written if songs were the medium he chose rather than the short story," says Sean Walsh. "Vlautin's songs are filled with losers, fugitives, frightened everybodies and the minutiae of their lives."

Gerry Gibbs & the Thrasher Big Band comes to you Live at Luna for two nights of jazz. "A jazz fan, bandleader and drummer, Gerry Gibbs tends to lean more toward a jazz fusion or progressive sound than the big band of the 1930s and '40s," says Sherrill Fulghum. "Even so, Gibbs & the Thrashers bring back the days when Count Basie and Glen Miller ruled the airwaves, a time when worries were forgotten for a few hours on the dance floor Saturday nights."

Paul Avgerinos "calls on his Greek ancestry not only for the music but for his album title as well," Sherrill Fulghum says. "Gnosis means knowledge and knowing, and Avgerinos demonstrates his knowledge of music composition with this, his eighth recording. ... Using Greek chants, an Indian drum known as a tabla and Middle Eastern string instruments called an oud and a sangari, Avgerinos weaves his magic of musical love and unity."

Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan rewards the patient on Gayaki Ang. "If you know that a raga is always good for experimenting with the elasticity of time during a nice, relaxing evening at home, then certainly give it a twirl," Kevin Shlosberg urges. "For those well versed in the intricacies of ragas, I can't imagine that the craftsmanship and inspiration are lacking in any way. Those familiar with the works of Ravi Shankar and Husain Khan's father will feel that Husain Khan is sure to be remembered as great a sitar player as either of them."

Tom Knapp slides the soundtrack to the 2004 film King Arthur into the stereo and gallops along with the gallant calvary. "While borrowing the lovely voice of Clannad's Moya Brennan for one track, ... the soundtrack relies far more on clarion brass and heavily percussive orchestration, blasting along with each hoof beat and sword stroke," he says. "Choral elements add a timeless feel; the score is both martial and primal, striding across the landscape like a legend."

More from Celtic Colours coming soon!

Here are a few holiday flashbacks to whet your appetite for the coming season!

Music: The Boston Camerata recreates A Renaissance Christmas for your listening pleasure. Deana Carter celebrates Father Christmas. Deborah Friou and Julia Lane invite the party to A British Isles Winter Celebration. And Christine Lavin sings a song about The Runaway Christmas Tree with the help of her Mistletones.

Books: Patrick Stewart reads aloud Charles Dickens' most famous work, A Christmas Carol, in a stunning recreation of his one-man Broadway show. Chet Williamson revisits a childhood favorite with A Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas. Eric Kimmel tells a tale of holiday bravery in Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins. And British humorist Terry Pratchett spoofs the season with the hilarious Hogfather.

Movies: Tim Burton crosses the boundaries between the holidays with The Nightmare Before Christmas. Christmas gets weird in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. And, of course, a seasonal must-see is Dr. Seuss' classic animated adventure, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, newly reissued for 2006.


Hampton Sides conjures Blood & Thunder in his telling of the conquest of the American West. "Sides does not romanticize," John Lindermuth says. "He is a storyteller, and his words keep one turning the pages; no dry history this. He reveals the good and the bad about all the people in this book. It is a grand book, one that should be required reading in high schools and colleges to inform future generations of how we came to our present place in history."

Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling issue invitations to the Salon Fantastique. "The 15 stories here are not quite fantasy and not quite mainstream," Laurie Thayer reports. "Instead, they are semi-literary tales with quite a bit more than a soupçon of the fantastic. ... Salon Fantastique is furnished as richly with stories as the original salons were with carefully chosen artwork or guests."

The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2 "features stories that either won or were shortlisted for the annual James Tiptree Jr. Award honoring those works that best expand our perceptions of gender," Karen Trimbath explains. "As with any collection, some stories are stronger than others, more evocative, more 'literary.' Others are more matter of fact, less concerned with verbal artistry than in presenting their dilemmas in direct, unadorned prose."

Larry Ketchersid opens his Enlightenment Cycle with Dusk Before the Dawn. "What did I like about this book? A lot. It includes some interesting debates over environmental issues, and much information about the philosophy behind Asian religions and martial arts. The book moves at a fast pace and has plenty of action," Chris McCallister says. "But...."

Jack Priest kills a lot of people, conjures small green lizards (and one very big one), deals in slaves, pornography and torture and evokes an ancient Maori legend in Gecko. "This is a well-written, very fast-paced story with interesting characters and some nice supernatural touches," Chris says. "Once you start, it's hard to stop. It is horror, and it's a fast, fun read."

D.J. MacHale comes up short with Black Water, the fifth book of the Pendragon cycle. "If you like your action-driven fantasy unadulterated by such things as subtlety and character depth, by all means, read D.J. MacHale's Pendragon series," says Jennifer Mo. "It's full of non-stop action, dangerous fantasy worlds, toothy monsters and teenage protagonists who actually sound like ordinary teenagers. In other words, if you happen to be a male reader between the ages of 10 and 14, you stand a good chance of liking Bobby Pendragon and the books about him in the ongoing series."

Charlotte Forbes describes The Good Works of Ayela Linde in a novel that set Michael Scott Cain on his ear. "It's the thrill of discovering a major writer at the very beginning so that you can enjoy the immediate gift of her talents while anticipating how they will unfold and grow in the future," he says. "Charlotte Forbes is that good."

David Beasley invites us to join him on Sarah's Journey. "Sarah, a half-negro girl, is born into slavery in Virginia but flees in 1820 to freedom in Canada, where there is no slavery," Liana Metal explains. "This story is a document against racial prejudice and is based on real events and characters."

Josepha Sherman rides The Horse of Flame into this retold fairytale based on Russian lore. "Despite its few faults, The Horse of Flame is a very fun fantasy adventure book," Jennifer Mo reports.

Tom Knapp follows the adventures of X-villain Mystique in Tinker, Tailor, Mutant, Spy, the second volume in her solo series. "Unlike the films, Mystique here keeps her clothes on, but on the plus side she has actual character development, making her a far more interesting person to star in her own title," Tom says. "I didn't expect to enjoy this series, which I wrongly assumed would attempt to cash in on Mystique's Hollywood notoriety without offering anything of substance. But with glossy, high-quality art and Brian K. Vaughan's clever writing, this has become a book to relish."

Next, Tom takes a seat in the Sandman Mystery Theatre for a feature presentation of The Face & the Brute, a pair of noirish crime stories. "Comic-book crime is often colorful, committed by costumed villains so grand and entertaining it's hard to take them seriously," he says. "But crime in Sandman Mystery Theatre is ugly, brutal and harsh. In a word, it's real. And the Sandman is the sort of crimefighter needed to stop or punish it."

Tom draws his bow along with Thorgal and The Archers. "Thorgal is a mystery, a science-fiction conundrum in a Scandinavian fantasy world," he says. "First unleashed on the world in 1980, he is the creation of Belgian author Jean Van Hamme and the Polish artist Grzegorz Rosinski who, combined, made Thorgal a character who still jars readers' imaginations today."

Michael Vance is tuning in to Headstatic. "No presentation on these paper walls is less than one or greater than 20 pages in length," he says. "Many of these vignettes were probably assignments in college meant to force students to try new styles. Jay A. Hacker III must have embraced each assignment (if, indeed, there were any) with enthusiasm and an inherent and impressive talent."

Woe is Daniel Jolley, who has witnessed the dreck that is the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special! "Was it a hoax? A mindless prank played on Lucas? A Communist plot? Or something even more insidious?" he asks. "How do we explain what is arguably the most ridiculous two hours in network television history?"

Tom Knapp calls for his extra-hot salsa to spice up Nacho Libre. "Jack Black is a funny guy and a talented actor. Nacho Libre seems to base its entire substance on the hope that Black, given a ludicrous situation, will keep the audience laughing no matter how bare the plot or development," he says. "It doesn't work, for all that Black seems to give it his best effort."

Tom reveals an unknown chapter in history with his review of Gandhi at the Bat. "If theaters are going to give us 15 minutes of commercials before a movie, they should reinstate the pre-film featurette," he says. "Short independent clips like Gandhi at the Bat are exactly the sort of thing for the job." And a big woohoo for Tom's 1,600th Rambles.NET review!!

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

25 November 2006

We hanker after the unnatural or supernatural,
that which does not exist, a miracle.
As if ordinary reality isn't enigmatic enough!
- M.C. Escher

We hope our readers from the States had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! Let me take this opportunity to again thank the Rambles.NET team, who consistently make this site one of the best review sources on the World Wide Web. Thanks, folks!

On a sad note, we must bid farewell to Cape Breton's "godfather of Celtic music," John Allan Cameron, who died Wednesday in Toronto. Born Dec. 16, 1938, in Glencoe Station, John Allan trained for the priesthood before setting his sights instead on spreading Scottish and Nova Scotian music to the masses. The guitar was his instrument of choice, and he was blessed with a gift he delighted in sharing. He will be missed.

I have my own fond memories of numerous encounters with John Allan during my visits to Cape Breton, particularly of a night in the "craic house" after hours at the Festival Club at Celtic Colours. I had the opportunity that night to sit beside John Allan, joining my fiddle and drum to his guitar and his enthusiastic singing. He was a talented and gracious musician, a real treat.

The Pogues made their initial splash in 1984 with Red Roses for Me; Tom Knapp reviews the newly reissued disc with bonus tracks. "In the ever-expanding field of Celtic rock, many bands have been said to 'redefine the tradition' with their modern approach to the sound," Tom says. "Well, bugger all that when the Pogues come to call. They didn't 'redefine' anything; they knee-capped the tradition while it wasn't looking, knocked it to the ground and kicked it a bit more as it lay in the mud and puddles of beer."

Jody Marshall invites us to her Cottage in the Glen for a "warm, cozy listening experience that conjures up images of blazing hearths, flowing ale and hearty friendships," Jennifer Mo announces. "Recognizably Celtic, yet quirkily individualistic, these 12 sprightly tracks are never too concerned with their own dignity and may even cost you yours: just try to keep your foot from tapping or your head from nodding along to the beat of the opening track!"

Eleanor McEvoy is Out There with music you should hear. "McEvoy has a unique style and a mesmerizing delivery of her own lyrics," Nicky Rossiter says. "In fact, it is sometimes her least known items that will linger longest in the mind."

Beck Sian is Unfurling her music for a new generation. "There are certain things we associate with Celtic music -- a lilting voice, guitar, tin whistle, harp," John Lindermuth says. "Beck Sian, an Australian singer-songwriter, adds a few less familiar elements from her homeland."

Anonymous 4 joins forces with with Darol Anger and Mike Marshall in Gloryland. "While not quite every song has an explicitly sacred theme, in A4's handling they all shimmer with an otherworldly luminosity," Jerome Clark says. "The feeling of all of this, of course, is anything but modern, more like a portal opened in time through which voices of an earlier America chant their ghostly anthems."

Eliza Gilkyson books a room at the Paradise Hotel and invites everyone in for a song. "Once heard, you will never forget or mistake the voice of Eliza Gilkyson," Nicky Rossiter says. "She has a sweet lyrical delivery ideally suited to the material she writes."

Nathan's sound is defined by the interwoven voices of Keri Latimer ... and Shelley Marshall," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "Latimer's reedy lead is nicely balanced by Marshall's fuller-throated backing vocals. There's an attention to harmony that elevates the choruses, causing them to soar above the solo vocal verses of many of the 14 songs featured on Jimson Weed."

Chris Knight rises above the comparisons to other country music stars with Enough Rope. "Knight's songs feel real because they are as real as all those struggling towns and failing farms and polluted waters out beyond the city limits," Jerome Clark says. "Knight doesn't preach. He just tells the stories, and they tell you all you need to know to figure out the rest."

Loudon Wainwright III shows himself to be "an unadulterated genius" with his recent release, Here Come the Choppers, says Risa Duff. "A fusion of folk and country, blues and bluegrass, I suppose you could say it has an Americana twist. Here Come the Choppers is a great album. Period."

Two CDs of Swedish fiddle music caught reviewer Dave Howell's ear. Read his report on Bondernas Underverk by Lennart Gybrant and Anders Norudde, and Bara for Ros Skull by Anders Svensson.

Govi thrusts open its Jewel Box to release some "pleasantly chilled, ambient new age music," Jennifer Mo reveals. "The 10 tracks with their appropriately lapidary names offer an easygoing, melodious blend of jazz, new age and world music." However, she adds, "Previous Govi recordings like Silk & Saffron have been both pleasant and interesting to listen to; Jewel Box remains pretty, if overproduced and polished into inoffensive blandness."

Antoinette Montague is singing her Pretty Blues. "There is music so familiar we listen to it with jaded ear, absorbing, possibly even enjoying it without giving full attention to the performer," John Lindermuth says. "That can't happen with Antoinette Montague. She's an original, and you've got to heed the passion in her voice, even when she's performing what some might consider the most tired of songs."

Imaginary Homeland is ready to Jump for George on this worldbeat/jazz blend. "Much of the music sounds improvised, and the tracks are long, ranging from seven to 12 minutes," Dave Howell describes it. "Imaginary Homeland has only been together a few years, but they work quite well, seamlessly combining many types of music."

Kaitlin Hahn takes a look at the various extracurricular activities that occupy the time of a devoted Celtic Colours patron. Most of it, as you might imagine, involves music!

Edward Gorey's final works are collected in Amphigorey Again. "Here, Gorey's imagination runs free," Tom Knapp says. "The opening piece -- a brief verse and drab portrait -- reads simply thus: Frivolity, at the edge of a Moral Swamp, hears Hymn-Singing in the Distance and dons the Galoshes of Remorse. How perfectly evocative and bewildering!"

Michael Waters embraces Darling Vulgarity in his poetry. "Waters writes as though everything is a poem," Michael Scott Cain concludes. "Waters is a very good poet and this is a very good book. Read it."

Vicki Ward offers up a set of Life's Spices from Seasoned Sistahs, subtitled "A collection of life stories from mature women of color." "This book is an exciting combination of prose and poetry that touches the readers' inner chords with the writers' life experiences," Liana Metal says. "The authors share their emotional struggles with the readers via their heartfelt true stories. Most writings are hilarious, other are just overwhelming, but every story is unique."

Karen Chance is willing to Touch the Dark for the sake of modern vampire lore. "Filled with great characters -- historical vampires, were-creatures, witches, an irascible pixie, ghosts -- the story grabs you on the first page and doesn't let go until the end," says Laurie Thayer. "It's a worthy addition to the burgeoning field of dark urban fantasy, and I'll be impatiently awaiting a sequel."

Alex Archer, a.k.a. Mel Odom, "writes a fast-paced, rousing adventure tale that is hard to put down," Chris McCallister says. "Incredible things keep happening, but are described in a coherent fashion, thus one's ability to suspend disbelief is not pushed too far." The book in question? Rogue Angel: Destiny -- check it out!

Jeffrey Ford reigns over The Empire of Ice Cream with flair, Gregg Thurlbeck says. "This is a gourmet assortment of flavors. No bland, air-infused, ice-milk confections here," he says. "This is a group of tales with great creative range; the plots strike off in wildly divergent directions. But there's also a consistently high standard to the writing. The sentences flow, easily and beautifully. There's a relaxed playfulness to the language, suggesting that Ford revels in the textures of words, that he pays careful attention to the interplay between his sentences."

Daniel Krummenacher's Tierrazul "opens with an elegant bit of parable disguised as science fiction," Sarah Meador says. However, "it doesn't help that of all the elements in the story of Tierrazul, the actual story is the simplest and least developed. The world of Tierrazul is deep and well textured, complete with pasts both real and mythic. But it's clear that Krummenacher's heart lies with the philosophical debates in Tierrazul. They are long, passionate and extremely complicated, littered with often unnecessary invented words and over explained principles."

Sherwood Smith sends Wren to the Rescue in this young-adult fantasy novel. "Smith must be one of the best -- and least appreciated -- young-adult fantasy writers out there," says Jennifer Mo. "Hurtling along at breakneck speed, Wren to the Rescue is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure quest fantasy."

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child lead us in a Dance of Death in this new FBI thriller. "On its own, Dance of Death is only so-so," Wil Owen warns. "Fans of the authors, on the other hand, will see this book as another stone on the path to all things Pendergast and will be happy with what they read."

Tom Knapp spends some quality alone time with Shanna the She-Devil, Frank Cho's latest creation. "Talk about your action-adventure delights. Let's see, you've got a heavily-armed paramilitary group marooned on a distant island. You've got a Lost World environment, with dinosaurs and other giant predators galore. You've got copious death and maimings. You've got a lost Nazi fortress where scientists labored over illegal genetic experiments. You've got a plague, little medication and dwindling supplies," he says. "And you've got Shanna, a biologically engineered killing machine with a body that ... well, while the dying won't be pleasant, at least the view will be nice as you go."

Next, Tom looks at wooden villainy in Scarface: A Psychodrama. "It certainly raises the question of who's the dummy in the partnership," he says.

Mark Allen spins off of the Judge Dredd mythos with Anderson Psi Division: Shamballa. "Written by Alan Grant, Shamballa combines science fiction, high adventure and horror to produce a story as chilling as it is exciting to read," Mark says. "Grant's well-paced storytelling keeps the reader engaged from start to finish. His characterization also hits home, especially where the main character is concerned."

Daniel Jolley sees service overseas with Jarhead. "It isn't about some soldier ascending to the plateau of hero or some impossible mission miraculously being achieved or even a slanted commentary on the dehumanization of the soldier experience," Daniel says. "Jarhead is a personal war story, a truth-based depiction of military life and the Gulf War as one Marine lived it."

Tom Knapp has a pint and a laugh with The Brylcreem Boys in jolly old Ireland during World War II. "This film is less about the war and more about those who are no longer involved," Tom says. "Undeservedly overlooked by many, The Brylcreem Boys is worth picking up. It is an enjoyable film from every angle."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

18 November 2006

In order to act, you must be somewhat insane.
A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.
- Georges Clemenceau

Anyone wanna haul away a decrepit old sofa and three rotten ol' bookcases?

Liz McNicholl is making her play in Grand Central Station. "What can you say bad about an album featuring a lilting voice, unique style, traditional Irish fare and contemporary folk music and, last but not least, a tribute to the firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001?" John Lindermuth asks. "It's a thoroughly enjoyable collection."

John Jacob Niles is remembered with An Evening with John Jacob Niles. "Niles' is the voice you hear in the graveyard at night, the voice you hear in your dreams," says Michael Scott Cain. "To put it simply, it is like none you have heard before."

New Monsoon "continues its worldbeat style of folk-rock 'n' roll with The Sound," Sherrill Fulghum says. "New Monsoon creates a musical rainstorm making it sound as if a bluegrass banjo, a screaming guitar and a jazz piano belong together and always have."

Brian Joseph rides the folk scene to become King of Echo Park. "His songs offer a mix of political and social commentary, humor and the occasional quirky ballad," says Jennifer Hanson. "Joseph has a talent for writing about affection and happiness in a way that isn't sappy, a rare skill indeed."

The Joel Penner Sextet worships today at The Church of the Little Black Dog. "Penner's sextet has an upbeat, propulsive sound," Dave Howell says. "It has a big band feel, lively and solidly arranged, without any of the jarring nature of be-bop or experimental jazz."

Pete Mitchell is Cutting the Mustard with the best of them on this album of country-blues. "Can't sit still to these easy lyrics, smooth voice and sulfurized guitar licks," Virginia MacIsaac says. "I tried not to like this CD because he's hard on women ... but I still can't take a thing away from the music."

Rancho Deluxe and Eleven Hundred Springs get compared and contrasted by country/bluegrass critic, Jerome Clark. "For better and worse, country-rock has proved a remarkably resilient strain," he opines. "They're both making first-rate bar and dancehall music, writing solid, workmanlike songs and carrying on the style -- is it old enough to be called a tradition? -- in a fashion that does credit to both themselves and their influences."

The Derailers manage to bypass the end of the line, surging from the station with Soldiers of Love. "The standard rap against the old Derailers, originally a sort of Texas answer to Buck Owens's revered Buckaroos, was the unevenness of their material. No such complaint is likely to be hurled against the 14 consistently strong cuts here," Jerome says.

Romica Puceanu & the Gore Brothers are resurrected in Sounds from a Bygone Age, Vol. 2. "The music is hard to describe -- there is an air of mystery about it, as with the Gypsies themselves," says Dave Howell. "For those who have an interest in the recent resurgence of Gypsy music, there is no better introduction than this CD, which sounds as clear as if it was recorded yesterday."

Zemog el Gallo Bueno adds a tinge of psychedelia to a Latin big band sound on Cama de le Conga. "At times it sounds like Frank Zappa meets Latin," Dave says, bemused. "Each of the 10 songs has a different sound, using different chords and combinations of instruments. Cama de le Conga is a brilliant exploration of new areas and forms for Latin jazz."

Kevin Welch discusses the process of writing songs -- and forming your own music label -- in this inteview with Michael Scott Cain. "Sure, you're going to feel bad, you're going to get discouraged, you're going to feel like you're going after something you can't reach, but you have to go on," Welch tells Michael. "You have to do it anyway."

Richard Foerster recalls The Burning of Troy in this book of poems about the death of a lover. "Foerster writes honestly and deeply of loss and can't help but experience it in the goings on of daily life," says Michael Scott Cain. "His poems celebrate that life while mourning deeply the loss of one of the reasons for living it."

Leslie J. McClinton didn't get it right in this lifetime, but maybe in the next she'll do better with Dinner With Da Vinci: The Road Royale Through Rebirth. "It's an incoherent jumble of out-of-order journal entries, interviews with friends and family members, reminiscences and e-mails," Laurie Thayer fumes. "The author's research is somewhat questionable when she strays beyond documented history -- relying on Wikipedia, for instance, is never a good idea, and determining a person's past life by their resemblance to a historical photograph hardly seems scientific."

P.N. Elrod & Roxanne Conrad puzzle out the details in Stepping Through the Stargate: Science, Archaeology & the Military in Stargate SG-1. "This collection of 22 highly literate and extremely articulate fans include science-fiction and fantasy writers, scientists of all stripes, people involved with the filming of the series and a retired Air Force colonel. With such a wide variety of people, essay topics range from the academic to the absurd," Laurie Thayer says. "I can't recommend this anthology highly enough."

Steven Brust brings Vlad Taltos home for dinner in Dzur. "Dzur shows Vlad in top form, doing what he does best, whether that's sneaking, assassination, threatening his goddess or helping those he loves," says Laurie Thayer. "His first-person narration and wry sense of humor are worth the price of admission. The story is framed by descriptions of his dinner at Valabar's, and if that doesn't make you hungry, nothing will."

Vernor Vinge, like all authors, had to start somewhere, and in his case it was Tatja Grimm's World, newly reissued for a modern audience. "Don't pick this up expecting to read something of the caliber of Vinge's Hugo Award-winning books," Gregg Thurlbeck warns. "However, while the novel isn't up to the author's current writing standards, it does have a certain imperfect charm."

Laura Preble mixes a bit of science fiction (a robot) into her young-adult novel, The Queen Geek Social Club. "Preble's novel is cute fluff, pure and simple," says Jessica Lux-Baumann. "Is it terrible? Eh, no. Is it a worthy coming-of-age story? Certainly not. Could one find some positive girl-affirming messages under a story that requires suspension of belief? Sure."

Patrick K. Jassoy says It Isn't Easy Being Johnny Style, and Sarah Meador believes him. The novel, she says, "tells of a private detective in modern Chicago with an old grudge, a penchant for extended flashbacks and a vocabulary that can only be described as anachronistic. ... His story's got drama, pathos, explosions and all the plausibility of the drunk at the local bar who says the FBI is sending messages to his dog. But as long as the drunk stays entertaining, it might be worth it to buy another round."

Tristan Egolf's debut novel lives up to the hype in Lord of the Barnyard: Killing the Fatted Calf & Arming the Aware in the Corn Belt. "His story aims straight for the throat, not forgetting a punch to the gut on its way. It's not for the faint of heart, whether you're talking in terms of violence, truthfulness or style," says Theo deRoth. "But for those with an ear to reality and wild comedy -- or those who've been residents of any small American town -- Lord of the Barnyard provides a wonderful ride and a great time with one interesting farm boy."

James Patterson's first -- and often rejected -- novel gets audio treatment to relate The Thomas Berryman Number. "It's deeper, more complex than many of his later books," John Lindermuth says. "It also has a convoluted plot and more viewpoints than some readers might find comfortable. And the ending is predictable."

Tom Knapp watches with interest as the JSA reunites in Justice Be Done. "Justice Be Done is a neat package in that readers who missed the Golden Age and the team members' various cameos in the present day don't need to know much about these characters," Tom says. "The writers and artists involved dust them off and bring them into the story with just enough backstory to make everything clear."

Tom conjures the origins of Ghost in Stories. "Those who see her, if they can tear their eyes away from her corset, will also notice a pair of big handguns -- the bullets that fire from their transparent barrels are all too real," he says. "I've come late to Ghost, but I enjoyed getting to know her in Ghost Stories and I look forward to seeing more of her soon."

Michael Vance pays his respects to The King in this recent book from Top Shelf. "What more can be done with the old canard that Elvis Presley isn't dead?" he asks. "Can artist and writer Rich Koslowski bring something fresh in the way of characterization, plot and dialogue to his graphic novel The King? Astonishingly, yes."

Tom Knapp spends a little down time at Club Dread. "Sometimes I enjoy kicking back with a mindless feature that does nothing more than entertain me for two hours," he says. "On those days, Club Dread is a perfect selection."

Daniel Jolley thinks The Warrior "is a fantastic film that succeeds on a most challenging level. ... It's a deep, conflicting story that plays strangely on the emotions, relies on disarmingly sparse dialogue and leaves an indelible impression on the viewer."

Chris McCallister is on the trail of The Fugitive -- not the TV series, but the 1993 movie starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. "The main reason that I liked this film was the Oscar-winning performance by Jones," Chris says. "I want to say Ford did a good job portraying Kimble. But the role had the potential to be an Academy-Award winning performance, and Ford did not give us one."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

11 November 2006

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen
and thinking what nobody has thought.
- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Ahh! Indian summer!! Woohoo!

The artists at Greentrax revel in Scotland: The Music & the Song. "For less than the price of most pop albums, you can get a triple CD in a wonderful gatefold cover plus an insert book of song and singer backgrounds," Nicky Rossiter informs us. "The reason for this generosity is that the label celebrates 20 years of bringing us the best of Scottish -- and other music -- this year."

Karen Mal invokes a Dark-Eyed Sailor with her new reading of Anglo-Celtic folk songs and ballads. "Based in recent years in Austin, Texas, Karen Mal is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with an appealing, quietly smoky voice," Jerome Clark says. "Mal's arrangements bring Rusby's to mind: a small, sinewy ensemble wrapping around the lyrics but never threatening their position at the forefront. The difference, no small one, is that whereas Rusby is unmistakably a Yorkshire lass, Mal is very much an American."

Mark Croft finds a Sympathetic Groove to play and sing. "His guitar is strong, the sounds acoustic, and then the rest of the music vamps in and turns the performance up a notch into a modern-day folk beat," Virginia MacIsaac says. "It's easy to see why he's won many awards, and I think his guitar playing is fabulous."

Bob Michel heads for The Farther Shore on his second recording. "A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he is also a fine storyteller in the best sense of the word, and the music assembled for this album is ample demonstration of his talents," says John Lindermuth. "Some of the 12 tracks on this album may remind the listener of traditional songs, but all were composed and arranged by Michel."

Benita Kenn's CD Roads demonstrate the singer's "strong delivery in a voice both cultured and warm, with thoughtful lyrics and expressions that lift our thoughts above everyday internal angst," Virginia MacIsaac says. "And though Kenn often explores turbulent emotions, there is deep comfort and a great sense of life enduring with empathy and a yearning for human contact underlying the self-awareness, finger-pointing and questioning that fills her songs."

Two Tons of Steel gets a workout with Vegas and Two Ton Tuesday Live! From Gruene Hall. "From a pure rockabilly outfit, Two Tons has evolved into ... well, it hasn't strayed all that far from its roots. Call its sound honkabilly, a jumpy, partyin' countrified rock 'n' roll in thrall to Holly, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Feathers and Buck Owens," Jerome Clark states. "If you grew up with rock 'n' roll, you'll take to this, no questions asked. Nothing fancy or experimental is going on here, just the good old stuff served up Texas style."

Norman and Nancy Blake are Back Home in Sulphur Springs. "The entire album is sonically beautiful," Sean Walsh says. "The arrangements are spot on, not overdone, but sufficiently decorated to give a comfortable feel. The interplay and harmonies between Blake and Blake have the kind of intimacy and solidity that can only be achieved by sharing life together."

British guitarist Albert Lee puts American pickers to shame with Road Runner, says Michael Scott Cain. "Road Runner isn't a studied album," he says. "It hasn't, like so much of the product emanating out of Nashville these days, had the life produced out of it. You can feel the fun the artists had making this music and you'll have just as much fun listening to it."

Greg Brown touches down on the country side of blues with The Evening Call. "In its most realized moments, and there are many of them, The Evening Call recalls the best of late-period Dylan in the way it conjures up a world that is at once the one in which we reside in this moment and an otherworldly realm, populated by ghosts who keep the past, in both its lived and larger cultural forms, always near, never escapable, as implacable as hell hounds on trails," Jerome Clark opines. "In particular, the title song -- a minimalist, masterly tale whose aging narrator struggles to contain despair at his mortality and fury at a younger lover's sexual betrayal -- feels as if set in some dark ballad universe. If Dylan had written it, it would be one of his most revered songs."

Charlie Musselwhite adds another to his long list of exceptional blues recordings with Delta Hardware. This one, Jerome says, "manages to be a particular treat, combining crisp modern studio sounds with a raw, tough-minded downhome approach. That approach has a whole lot to do with electricity and virtually nothing to do with rock in any generic sense. Yes, Musselwhite and band rock, but they rock not like rockers but like blues-soaked veterans of lowdown barroom and sweat-stained dancehall. At the base are Delta-inflected Chicago sounds of the 1950s and '60s, at the top jerky, percussive North Mississippi juke-joint rhythms. To sum up: no b.s. 'blues rock,' all straight, natch'l blues."

Lois Deloatch strives for Closure with this jazz CD. "There is a great deal of variety here, with a mixture of vocals and instrumentals and a range of moods, all done with imagination and style," Dave Howell reports.

Andrew Vasquez blends styles of Native American flute on Togo. "Although all the original songs seem written with recording in mind, they have an authentic feel," Dave Howell says. "For listeners who like the soothing music of Native American flute, this CD is a good choice."

The Bagpipes of Greece have been resounding in the Robert M. Tilendis household, and now our reviewer emerges to make his report. "This collection is as much, or more, an ethnographic document as musical entertainment," Robert says. "As a document, I have no complaints, and will happily include this in my ever-growing collection of music from various places around the world. I don't think, however, that it will occupy a frequent place on my CD changer: at 28 tracks running just over an hour, that's a lot of bagpipes."

Max Garland suffers a Hunger as Wide as Heaven. "Poetry is personal, and nowhere is this more apparent than in this thoughtful collection," Karen Trimbath says. "For Garland, the world contains both fullness and emptiness. He is attuned to myriad sensual details, but he also seeks to strip flesh down to the bone."

Sidney Sheldon reveals The Other Side of Me in his new memoir. "Sheldon is a personality who almost seems unreal," Wil Owen says. "He has accomplished more in one lifetime than a dozen regular folks. Yet, this memoir makes him seem quite human."

Bruce Sterling is a Visionary in Residence who shares his latest science-fiction ideas in this short-story collection. "It's full of the sort of mind-expanding stories that first drew me to the science-fiction genre," says Gregg Thurlbeck. "I certainly wouldn't recommend this book as an entry point into science fiction. But for those with a taste for the marvels and absurdities that may well come our way as the future unfolds its techno-mysteries, this is a collection to savor."

MaryJanice Davidson "continues her delightful Betsy Taylor saga in Undead & Unappreciated, the third novel in this humorous romantic horror series," Tom Knapp says. "While less action-oriented than the preceding two books, Unappreciated keeps the story flowing right on into books four and five, already on the shelves."

Janet McNaughton stumbles somewhat in her historical retelling of Tam Lin as An Earthly Knight. "The story of Tam Lin, when dominated by uninspiring protagonists and a truly unconvincing romance, becomes the tale of a rather clingy girl who pulls some bloke off his horse," Jennifer Mo explains. "An Earthly Knight isn't so much steeped in history as it is stuffed with it, to the point where it is actually awkward and intrusive. Jenny can hardly take a sip of wine without being interrupted by chatty narratorial comments on Norman beverage preferences and transportation problems."

Rebecca York, Susan Kearney and Jeanie London join forces for a little paranormal romance in Midnight Magic. "All three stories are fast-paced, with strong heroines who are prepared to do what is necessary to change their lives," says Laurie Thayer. "These aren't deep stories that are going to change the world, but they're certainly perfect for reading pool-side on a hot summer afternoon."

Lori Lansens pens a realistic memoir about craniopagus twins in The Girls. "As you read this mesmerizing life history, you'll have to stop to remind yourself that this is fiction, that you aren't reading a true tale of sisterhood and found families," Jessica Lux-Baumann says. "The Girls is a beautiful book about sisterhood, friendship and family ties, set in a nontraditional family."

Douglas Adams was one of the world's best-loved humorists, and Daniel Jolley reminds us why in his review of So Long, & Thanks for All the Fish. "I myself have a special affinity for this novel; unlike its more humorous predecessors this one seems important and meaningful. Additionally, you have to be happy for Arthur's unprecedented feeling of happiness in a universe he can verifiably assert to be quite off its rocker."

Tom Knapp is off to the rodeo with Whiskey Dickel, International Cowgirl. "There are no superheroics, no angst or in-depth character analyses, no major developments or even a plot. It's just a book about a girl with humble beginnings, big aspirations and a way with a lariat that will pop your jaw."

Amber Benson, Tom reminds us, "is best known as Tara, witchy Willow's girlfriend, partner in spellcasting and soulmate in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Amber Benson is also a writer, and when the spirit moves her, she writes about Willow & Tara. ... She is certainly one of the top few people who should write a Willow and Tara yarn and get those happy-go-lucky lovebirds just right."

Sarah Meador finds satisfyingly good horror in the pages of Closer: Distance Means Nothing, a graphic novel by writer Antony Johnston and artists Mike Norton and Leanne Buckley. "Closer, for all its familiar ambience, never feels predictable," Sarah says. "Few horror stories manage to break away from the shackles of the genre, but Antony Johnston moves Closer so fast that the familiar scenery blurs, the landmark plot points fading into the distance almost before they can announce their presence. I wasn't really shocked by anything in the pages of Closer, but I wasn't bored either."

Tom Knapp arrives at The New World and finds it wanting -- with one great exception. "By all accounts, filmmakers did a tremendous amount of research on the Algonquin people of Virginia and presented an accurate portrait of their culture at the time of the Jamestown colony's founding in 1607," he explains. "For some reason, though, the research into the relationship between Captain John Smith and Pocahontas owes more to Disney than history."

Stefan Abley prepares for the Halloween season with Ju-On 2. "My initial impression after seeing the film was that the director had written a computer program that takes elements of Asian horror and outputs a randomized storyline," Stefan complains. "Maybe I'm becoming immune to these types of films, but I found the viewing experience to be largely apathetic -- which is not to say that it wasn't interesting. There's plenty of creepy activity going on. It's just that I wasn't affected by it."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)

4 November 2006

Clothes that are supposed to be the same size often fit differently.
- Andy Rooney

Halloween is past and it's time to tuck into the holiday season with vigor! Allow me to remind folks who enjoy Rambles.NET and the service we provide that shopping through any of our Amazon.com links helps to support our operations. We appreciate your support. Ho ho ho!

Searson may be overdoing it a bit on Follow, a recording of hard-rockin' Celtic music. "There are some interesting and well-executed fiddle compositions on Follow ... but the actual performance is all too often drowned out by excessive guitars, drums and bass, which detracts from what would otherwise be well-crafted and enjoyable tunes," Mike Wilson says. "Don't get me wrong, I'm an admirer of progressive and contemporary Celtic music, but the balance here is all off-kilter. The emphasis seems to be on pace and volume, which somehow misses the point."

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger are musically revived with the rerelease of Classic Scots Ballads. "This is a wonderful album," Jerome Clark says. "Though there's no doubt it was recorded nearly five decades ago, it sounds miraculously undated."

Chieko Mori explores the merits of the traditional Japanese zither on Katyou Fuugetsu. "This is a CD for quiet, relaxing listening," Dave Howell says. "Even the most casual listener will recognize that Mori's delicate playing has a rare beauty worth exploring."

Carolyn Hester is remembered in The Tradition Years in this reissue of classic folk material. "Hester lives in legend as the person who gave Bob Dylan his first shot in a recording studio and, like many legends, her reputation is better known than her music," says Michael Scott Cain. "The Tradition Years reveals an achingly pure soprano that graces the songs she sings, a voice that never strains, never reaches but seems to soar effortlessly instead. It's intoxicating."

Jason Bennett presents his folky nature on Mindchange. "To those not familiar with Bennett (including me), his music would be expected to be heard performed in many a coffeehouse or workingman's bar," Kevin Shlosberg says. "His songs cover such topics as marriage and love, loss and wandering, fishing and drinking."

Swill & the Swaggerband believes Elvis Lives Here, which may not be entirely true. "Elvis Lives Here is a solid album and Swill fans ought to be pleased," Gregg Thurlbeck says. "But I don't think it has the punch, the distinctiveness, to reach out to a significant new audience."

Sam Bush proves (again!) his musicianship on Laps in Seven. "Having seen Sam's name crop up as a musician with so many other artists, I had rather naively assumed that Sam was 'just' a session musician," Mike Wilson admits. "Laps in Seven was quite a revelation, and left me in absolutely no doubt that Sam is a consummate artist himself, with an unquestionable talent for arranging and performing. This is an artist at the top of his game, surrounded by the very best in the business -- the best musicians, the best songs -- all coming together on this remarkable recording."

Gaylynn Robinson captures the Lone Star sound on Anthology: Songs by a West Texas Songstress. "Anthology showcases Robinson's writing and vocal skills with the sort of material one was more likely to hear in the 1970s, when some terrific women singers -- most, sadly, now forgotten -- made their mark in Nashville with sturdy songs and affecting performances," Jerome Clark says. "Perhaps if this were the '70s, Robinson would be a star."

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison "is a live recording where the performer truly connects with his audience," says Tom Knapp, who ordinarily is not found dancing on the country music side of life. "For the span of these 19 tracks, he was one of them, and his words and music to them touches us all still today."

Fiona Boyes & the Fortunetellers summon Lucky 13 for their introduction to the American blues crowd. "If 'Australian blues singer' doesn't sound like a promising idea to you, you haven't heard Fiona Boyes, and you haven't heard of the Memphis-based Yellow Dog label, which doesn't sign anybody who can't deliver the goods," Jerome Clark says. "With Boyes & the Fortunetellers behind the wheel, the delivery truck is as packed as it can get."

Blues and jazz singer Tom Hunter bares his soul on Here I Go Again. "Hunter's voice and playing may remind the listener of other more famous artists, but that's not to say he lacks his own virtue," John R. Lindermuth says. "He tickles the ivories with passion and uses his voice like another musical instrument."

Aimee Allen is ready for a Dream in jazz. "Allen is well positioned for success," Dave Howell predicts. "If she writes more or looks for more unusual material for her next CD, Allen could become quite a contender."

There's more coming soon from Celtic Colours. Stay tuned!

John Yow discusses the art and inspiration in Wyland: 25 Years at Sea. "I found the story about Wyland, his passion and his work interesting," Tom Knapp says. "But I kept wandering away from the text to enjoy the art that illustrates this heavy tome to the point of distraction. It's everywhere, in bold and bright colors, and I wanted to dive right in and swim with the dolphins and whales. Wyland's art makes that very nearly possible."

Leland Bardwell listens to The Noise of Masonry Settling for this, her fifth collection of poetry, which Sean Walsh says is "a meditative, deeply contemplative work befitting one of the elder stateswomen of Irish letters. ... There is a maturity at work here, an authority that younger poets -- no matter how good they are -- cannot match."

John Kasich touches on hot spots of activism in Stand for Something: The Battle for America's Soul. "We have all heard these sentiments stated before," Wil Owen says. "Kasich is simply a cheerleader attempting to rally enthusiasm over the apathy he sees in the people of this country. He makes his points in what should be thought of as a short audiobook. However, I feel this three-disc audiobook is about two CDs too long."

Natasha Mostert sets Windwalker on an English country estate -- with some unusual characters. "It takes some doing to make a rage-filled murderer, even one attempting to atone for his crime, a sympathetic character, but Mostert does it in a seemingly effortless manner," says Laurie Thayer. "Few novels bring me to tears -- when they do, I can only recommend them while offering a hanky to the next person in line."

Dave Duncan lays out the first half of a new duology in Children of Chaos. "Duncan has a knack for telling an engaging story," says Laurie. "Despite the varying plot threads, it's a fast-paced story that is truly enjoyable."

Mark Andrew Olsen tackles The Assignment in a spiritual mystery set through time. "It is an espionage story packed with a divine twist," says Virginia MacIsaac. "The writer tells a tremendous story, and matter-of-factly throughout the book engages the reader in a type of spiritualism with muscle. ... It's a better than average book."

Okeyo A. Jumal spices fiction with fact in Spiritual Shackles. "Jumal uses deft precision in drawing on his knowledge of black American history whilst creating contemporary mystic and magical characters," says Risa Duff. "Although a long book, it never becomes prosaic or has its intensity mitigated. Stick with it, as you will not be disappointed."

Avi commits murder at sea in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, an engrossing novel for all ages. "As historical fiction, readers will find it filled with details about life on a ship in 1832, and it's obvious Avi has done his research about the period," Tom Knapp says. "As both a nautical adventure story and a murder-mystery, the novel has both a riveting plot and several rich, well-developed characters to hold your attention."

Paula Volsky disappointed our reviewer with The Sorcerer's Lady. "The setting was intriguing, but somewhat sketchy," says Jennifer Mo. "I didn't like any of the characters. ... On the other hand, there was a good deal of suspense and court intrigue, which was enough to give me a reason to finish the book."

L. Frank Baum's famous heroine gets a makeover in Dorothy, Vol. 1, a reimagining of the Oz tale by Mark Masterson. "This Oz is a science-fiction world with dramatic landscaping, robots, witches and scientists -- and a scarecrow completely unlike anything Ray Bolger ever dreamed of," Tom Knapp says. "Told through computer-altered photography in a computer-generated world, Dorothy blends the look of reality and fantasy so clearly, it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins."

Tom enjoys comics, but he would never call himself a Fanboy -- especially after reading this book by Mark Evanier, Sergio Aragones and a bunch of spectacular comic-book artists. "With their aid, Finster solves petty crimes, makes a stand against comic-book censorship and finds a date for the dance," Tom says. "But, eye candy aside, it's not a story that holds your attention unless you're really dedicated to the idea of finishing the book."

Mark Allen takes a ride with The Hire. "Need to get from point A to point B as fast and as safely as possible? Need a read that jacks up your adrenaline level with adventure, humor and mayhem?" he asks. "The answer to both needs is the same: The Hire."

Daniel Jolley catches a nightmare of a film in his Dreamcatcher. "We've all seen Hollywood ruin some of Stephen King's most engrossing novels, but we can't blame Hollywood too much for this cinematic disaster," he says. "Dreamcatcher is just a lousy story; it pains me to say it, as no one loves and respects King more than I do, but this has to be the worst story idea that ever came out of his usually brilliant mind."

Tom Knapp gets back to the classics with the 1933 version of King Kong. "I wish I could have been in a theater in 1933 to see less jaded eyes watching Kong for the first time, back when his fight with a tyrannosaurus would have been astonishing movie magic," he says. "King Kong clearly shows its age to a modern audience, but it wears it with pride and smiles benevolently upon those successors who have followed in its massive footprints. Some classics should never be forgotten, and this is one of them."

More good stuff's on the way! Check back often for updates on this page. (And be sure to browse the archives of our past editions, below.)