21 August 2010 to 16 October 2010

16 October 2010

France's notorious "let them eat cake" Queen Marie Antoinette was beheaded on this day in 1793.

On this date in 1859, abolitionist John Brown and a band of about 20 men seized the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W.Va. They failed to free the slaves, however; they were captured a few days later, and Brown was quickly tried and executed.

America got its first department store on this date in 1868, when Brigham Young found ZCMI (Zion's Co-Operative Mercantile Institution) in Salt Lake City, Utah. Brigham Young University was founded in Provo, Utah, on this date in 1875.

On this date in 1916, Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood by opening the first birth control clinic in the United States. In 1923, Walt and Roy Disney founded the Walt Disney Co.

In 1940, the Warsaw Ghetto was established under Nazi rule in Poland. In 1946, 10 Nazi war criminals -- Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Julius Streicher, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Arthur von Seyss-Inquart -- were executed following conviction at Nuremberg. Hermann Goering escaped execution by committing suicide in his cell.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on this date in 1973 to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho and in 1984 to Desmond Tutu.

There are 74 days remaining until the end of the year.

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

- Henry David Thoreau

The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to. As an artist, I feel that we must try many things -- but above all we must dare to fail. You must have the courage to be bad -- to be willing to risk everything to really express it all.

- John Cassavetes

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

- Paul Winter

• • • MUSIC

Michael Coyne gives the accordion a twirl on You're the World. "My one reservation about this album is that people seeing the accordion featured so prominently on the cover may misjudge the content. You do so at your peril. The instrument is used sensitively on all tracks and is never overpowering," Nicky Rossiter says.

"This CD is a good introduction to Coyne, if you have not heard him before. It would be a nice sing-along or Irish party album for the coming winter nights and gatherings."

Afro Celt Sound System relives 15 great years on Capture 1995-2010. "Fusing Irish traditional music, African rhythms and an electronic groove, the Afro Celts trade in a unique blend of the rollicking and the sublime," Sean Walsh says.

"Capture comprises 25 tracks and is split between two CDs. The first, Verse, features songs; while the second, Chorus is made up of instrumental tracks. Individually, the discs are strong. Together they display an incredible music-making unit, filled with ambition, intelligence and soul. The Afro Celts are not just a great idea, they are a cracking outfit."

Lawrence Lebo gets jazzy on Don't Call Her Larry, Vol. 3: American Roots. "Lebo runs a wide gamut here, mixing lounge standards with Western swing and added jazz and folk influences," Dave Howell says.

"The production is not perfect, since not all the instruments are balanced in the mixes, but this is a largely acoustic CD that is not cluttered with electronics or samples. All told, this is an honest and heartfelt effort by a singer with a different outlook."

Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights are gulping down a little Black Coffee with the blues. "The ambience is atmospheric and saloonish," Jerome Clark says.

"If the music is easily accessible -- and it certainly is -- it is not so easily done. But the doing is exquisite, and these six musicians, masters all, couldn't manage false notes, melodic or emotional, if they tried."


It's time again for the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton, and Rambles.NET writers Kaitlin Hahn and Virginia MacIsaac are on the scene. (Oh, how I envy them! - editor) Virginia makes the first report from opening ceremonies in Port Hawkesbury, where the festival week was launched with Home is Where the Heart Is, a concert featuring Beolach, the Liz Doherty Connection, Bruce Guthro, Dawn & Helen MacDonald, Chris Stout & Catriona McKay, Rita MacNeil, Madison Violet, Men of the Deeps, Seudan and the Pellerin Brothers.

"I had a quick trek up Route 19 along the Ceilidh Trail with the wide blue vista of St. George's Bay melding into the Strait of Canso on the sunset side of Cape Breton Island," Virginia recalls.


Tom Knapp shares an interview with Northern Ireland songstress Fil Campbell in working for a living. "Fil Campbell has certainly made a successful career out of music, both as a contemporary singer/songwriter and as an interpretor of old Irish standards," Tom writes.

"It started for her in Belleek, a small town in Co. Fermanagh, Ulster, that's best known for its exquisite china. There, just a short stone's toss from the border dividing her native Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland to the south, Campbell learned Irish traditional songs at her mother's knee."


William Peter Blatty, of The Exorcist fame, has gone Elsewhere for inspiration. "Elsewhere takes its sweet time getting to the meat of the story and, once there, is often more unsettling than downright scary. The reader follows the characters through a disorienting labyrinth of odd impressions and occasional frights, but only once did the book really bang down the door with actual terror," Tom Knapp says.

"The book is, in many ways, more an exploration of the concepts of death and afterlife than it is a true haunting. The conclusion may leave readers more satisfied than scared, and no one will see the big twist coming -- but the unexpected revelation isn't as original as one might hope, so it's a bit of a letdown."

Stephen King's early classic, The Dead Zone, gets examined in depth. "The Dead Zone is one of Stephen King's best novels, a tale rich in every way. It's well-told, with excellent characters, loaded with symbolism and shocking events (oftentimes both) and full of the plainspoken yet lyrical prose that is King at his best. There is little in King's long and excellent list of titles that can surpass this novel," Jay Whelan -- obviously a fan -- opines.

"It is a cornerstone of a King library, and should definitely be in yours right now."


Tom Knapp's pair of graphic novel reviews begins this week with We Will Bury You. "We Will Bury You is your standard zombie story. Set in New York in 1927, it features the a pair of women in love who hook up with a group of circus freaks as they battle the hungry dead," he says.

"Artwork by Kyle Strahm is, well, really bad. I think sometimes he might be striving for a Crumb-like flavor, but I think I might have enjoyed the book more if I could look forward to turning the page."

Next, Tom looks at The Life Eaters. "In David Brin's alternate World War II history, the Nazis didn't operate massive death camps simply as a means of genocide. Rather, they were the focal points of a massive occult summoning that returned the Aesir -- Odin, Thor, Loki and all the rest -- to the world ... on the side of the Nazis. And, with them on their side, the Nazis defeat the Allies at Normandy and begin global conquest," he explains.

"This book, adapted and expanded from Brin's original short fiction, takes place in the aftermath, beginning with an apparent suicide mission against the stronghold of the gods. This is by far the strongest part of the book, with a symbolic gesture at the end that is brilliant in its execution."


Richard Southall explains How to be a Ghost Hunter to interested spirits. "As someone very interested in the paranormal field, I really enjoyed reading this book. In fact, I have now read it twice," Michael Gooch says.

"This is a good book written by a true believer. I highly recommend it."


Mitch Horowitz approaches history from an angle in Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation. "Horowitz's contention in Occult America is that the United States was shaped by behind-the-scenes mysticism and other occult ideas as much as by the grand events taking place on the main stage of history," Laurie Thayer states.

"For people interested in what's going on in the wings and in the audience as much as what's happening on history's stage, Horowitz's book will prove fascinating. It will also be a valuable resource for those interested in mystical movements or historical personalities touched by the occult."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley takes a peek at Little Erin Merryweather. "You know, a lot of the classic fairy-tales are really quite dark stories, especially in their original form, what with witches trying to cook kids alive, girls being locked up in high towers, a girl being poisoned just for being beautiful and, of course, wolves stalking little girls in the woods and eating grandmothers. It seems only natural that a modern-day horror movie could be built around such a story, yet such a blending of reality and fantasy as what you see in Little Erin Merryweather is a breath of fresh air to the genre," he says.

"This is a film that compels the viewer to watch it in a different if not unique way, and its element of high strangeness gives it a power all its own."

Daniel also continues his examination of Jason's bloody heritage with Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood. "There's just no two ways about it -- Kane Hodder was born to play Jason," Dan says.

"Thank goodness for that because the story itself is pieced together with spit and gum, the ending is a little north of over the top, and virtually every death scene was mercilessly cut to satisfy the infernal blowhards at the MPAA. I can understand the necessity for this cinematic butchery in terms of the theatrical release, as an X rating would have seriously cut into box office returns -- I don't like it one bit, but I can understand it."

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

9 October 2010

Many years ago, he and his mates pondered life at 64. Today, if not for a madman's bullet, John Lennon would have turned 70.

On this date in 768, Carloman I and Charlemagne were crowned kings of the Franks. In 1514, Louis XII of France and Mary Tudor were wed.

For reasons that are not clear to me, because of the implementation of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, October 9 did not exist that year in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

On this date in 1635, Rhode Island founder Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a religious dissident after speaking out against punishments for religious offenses and giving away Native American land. In 1701, the Collegiate School of Connecticut (later renamed Yale University) was chartered in Old Saybrook. On this day in 1888, the Washington Monument opened to the public. In 1967, Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara was executed -- one day after he was captured -- for attempting to incite a revolution in Bolivia. In 1986, the musical The Phantom of the Opera had its first performance at Her Majesty's Theatre in London.

There are 83 days remaining until the end of the year.

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

- Charles de Lint

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

- Thomas Fuller

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or to bend a knotted oak.

- William Congreve

• • • MUSIC

Fil Campbell falls back on her forebears with Songbirds: The First Ladies of Irish Song. "Songbirds is not the typical collection of songs you might hear in pubs and Irish festivals today. Instead, they are mostly the type of songs that would have been heard in Irish homes and other more intimate settings years ago. It's packed with lullabies and laments that so poignantly marked the troubled Irish experience," Bill Knapp says.

"Campbell's voice is the perfect instrument to illustrate and preserve the spirit of that important part of Ireland's folk era. Her voice is at once gentle but full of emotion and passion. You know at once she did not learn these songs recently; they are a part of her upbringing."

Dean Station is Raising the Root in folk music. "From the opening bars of 'Feather,' the first song on Dean Station's second album Raising the Root, the listener is treated to a warm, welcoming experience, the aural equivalent of dangling one's feet in a lazy river on a summer's day. It doesn't last -- summer days never do -- and well before it's over clouds have swept in from the horizon. But even though it lasts too briefly, while it does last it's a delight," Jay Whelan says.

"Raising the Root is a good CD that, through slightly better sequencing and maybe a little judicious cutting of the playlist, could have been a great CD. There's a lot of fine music here, and a lot of promise ... and with a little luck and some hard work, Dean Station can live up to that promise in the future."

The Blue Shadows are walking On the Floor of Heaven. "Mostly, to be frank, I am no fan of country-rock, most of which -- in my judgment at least -- fails on either side of the equation. The Blue Shadows made the most of it, however, and I've never heard it better," Jerome Clark says.

"They remind me of what used to float out of AM radios half a century ago, a tuneful guitar-pop music that spoke directly to the most elemental emotions. Even so, the Blue Shadows were only occasional imitators; what they set out to do was to make something of their own out of found musical materials. They succeeded. There are no second-rate songs or performances here."


Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts expound on Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era. "Most of the places in the book have disappeared, largely due to urban development that began in the '60s," Dave Howell says.

"It is impossible to turn back the clock as many of the interviewees would like, but at least we have this book for a snapshot of a great time for American music."


Cherie Priest returns to her Clockwork Century with a triumphant roar in Dreadnought. "Boneshaker introduced readers to a rich, complex world where the Civil War has raged for two decades and technology -- particularly in the military arts -- has outpaced the reality of our own 19th-century advancements. Clementine added a new layer of swashbuckling adventure to that world," Tom Knapp says.

"But Dreadnought is a whole new ballgame. Priest, already high on my checklist for contemporary fantasy, has thrashed out a story that I simply could not put down."

Richard W. Kelly offers this Testament for your consideration. "This is the debut novel by Richard W. Kelly, and the writing is very good for a first effort. The pace is fast, the characters are well-developed, the word usage is very good and the plot is complex enough to be engaging without getting bogged down with forced or contrived sub-plots," Chris McCallister says.

"There is a real creepy feel to this book. ... The premise is of a vampire who finds God, defies other vampires who curse God because of their fate and ends up dueling with the oldest of all vampires, their king."

J.P. Morgan solves crime with The Copper Indian. "The Copper Indian comes from the pen of a man whose life reads like a crime epic covering two decades of law enforcement practice and a similar period in academia," Nicky Rossiter says.

"The early section of the book is confusing with its juxtaposed timing, but when this settles down we get into a rollicking ride with dead men booked, junkies entrapped and police corruption investigations."

Cherish D'Angelo takes a tropical turn with Lancelot's Lady. "Lancelot's Lady is a great beach read, even if you can't be on the beach. How someone can pull off a gothic feel in a tropical paradise, I will never know, but the author has managed to do just that," Becky Kyle says.

"The story's strong on character and suspense. Both kept me turning pages well into the night. Add to that, a couple of twists that even a DuMaurier or Bronte would be proud of, and you've got a winner."


Tom Knapp thinks WildStorm lost its way with Gen13, as evidenced (again) by World's End. "Time was, I used to mock the Gen13 series for its overuse of teenage cheesecake to make its sales. Truth is, it was always done with a bit of grudging admiration; what Gen13 did, it did well. The characters were shallow, yes, but also light-hearted and fun. The stories were usually entertaining, at least, and I often put a Gen13 book down with a smile on my face, if not a lot of respect," he says.

"Then Gen13 went through a series of ill-planned revisions, and the latest version attempts to be darker, grittier and less sexy-fun. The creative teams have had a little time now to work out the kinks, but frankly, they still haven't gotten it right."

Mary Harvey takes a gander at Skim. "Skim, while a unique work unto itself, exists somewhere between the practical but original approach of the Plain Janes; the harshness of Miss Lakso Gross's tell-it-like-it-is realism; and the whimsicality of Ghostworld. The comparison is not reductionist, however, because the underground battles that comprise life in high school for the misfit girls, are a very rich terrain that writer Mariko Tamaki explores with compassion and an eye for emotional detail that pulls you right in from the first page," Mary says.

"Jillian Tamaki's illustrations are nothing short of wonderful. Alternating between a modern brushed style and the semblance of traditional Japanese woodcutting, the lush art balances earthy and ethereal, using a combination of pencil and black ink."


John B. Kachuba seeks the seekers in Ghosthunters: On the Trail of Mediums, Dowsers, Spirit Seekers & Other Investigators of America's Paranormal World. "The writing in this book is top-notch. The text is crisp, smart and well-constructed. In addition, it has just the right amount of humor. I suspect the author could easily slip into more comedic fare if he chooses to pursue that avenue," says Michael L. Gooch.

"Buy this book if you have even the slightest interest in the subject. The breadth and depth of Ghost Hunters will satisfy."

• • • MOVIES

Say what you will, but He Was a Quiet Man. "I don't know that I've ever seen an actor's performance hailed as implosive (as opposed to explosive), but I think Variety really nailed it on the head when they used that word to describe Christian Slater's performance in this film," Daniel Jolley says.

"I can't truly say that I love He Was a Quiet Man just because it's such a dark, somber and somewhat confusing film, but I can say that I consider this to be a fantastic movie."

Dan goes to Pieces over this next one. "Pieces is a movie you just have to love. On the surface, it looks like a laughably bad horror film relying on fairly graphic blood-letting for its appeal, a movie that gives us absolutely no character we can possibly like, not even the bad guy, and a film whose killer is easily identifiable early on. It is all of these things," he says.

"Then you get to the ending, and suddenly the ghastly ordeal of sitting through 90 minutes of Pieces pays off with not just one but two dramatic moments guaranteed to make you laugh hysterically; before your very eyes, a bad movie transforms itself into a cult classic. This is powerful stuff indeed."

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

2 October 2010

Today is the beginning of No Salt Week, a healthful holiday event our editor's wife should celebrate!!

On this date in 1187, Saladin captured Jerusalem after 88 years of Crusader rule. In 1789, George Washington sent the proposed Constitutional amendments (also known as the U.S. Bill of Rights) to the states for ratification. In 1835, the Texas Revolution began with the Battle of Gonzales.

In 1950, Peanuts -- the adventures of Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and, most of all, Charlie Brown -- made its first newspaper appearance and turned Charles M. Schulz into a household name. In 1958, Guinea declared its independence from France. In 1959, The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS television. In 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first African-American justice of U.S. Supreme Court.

On this date in 2006, five Amish school girls were brutally murdered by Charles Carl Roberts in a shooting at a school in Nickel Mines, Pa., before Roberts committed suicide.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (also known as Mahatma Gandhi) was born on this day in 1869. Sharing his birthday are King Richard III of England in 1452, comedian Groucho Marx in 1890, actor George "Spanky" (of Our Gang/Little Rascals fame) McFarland in 1928, singer Don McLean in 1945, photographer Annie Leibovitz in 1949 and singer Sting in 1951.

There are 90 days remaining until the end of the year.

Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks, without knowledge, of things without parallel.

- Ambrose Bierce

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

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.

- Lenny Bruce

• • • MUSIC

Ben Sands asks you to Take My Love With You. "Ben Sands is back and back on great form as usual. This lovely new CD of a dozen tracks carries his usual mixture of philosophy, fun, friendship and fundamentally songs of ordinary life," Nicky Rossiter says.

"Sands is the sort of 'everyman' of song. He writes those songs about everyday things we all experience and when we do experience them we wish we could write a song like his to express our feelings."

Emma Hill & her Gentlemen Callers are orchestrating a Clumsy Seduction. "Hill has blended acoustic instrumentation and sweet alto vocalizations with poignant lyrics on to create a folk/blues/country blend that touches the soul," Wren Dillon says.

"It is hard to believe, after listening to these heartfelt confessions, that Hill is but 22 years of age, but don't think her youth has left her lacking depth or power. The Alaskan-born resident of Portland, Oregon, has obviously been seriously working at her craft to come so far in so short a lifespan. And her fan base has been growing, thanks to exposure via indie and college radio stations and her own touring schedule."

The Lucky Tomblin Band is riding the Honky Tonk Merry Go Round. "All we honkytonkers ask for is that the music be done right, and that's not an issue -- even remotely -- here. The Texas-music veterans who comprise the Lucky Tomblin Band are as good as anybody who's still doing it the tried-and-true way," Jerome Clark enthuses.

"Yes, the Lucky Tomblin Band keeps the grand old sounds swinging. It also serves, however, to remind fans of true country why the music still belongs in the bars and dance halls to which it has long been so perfectly suited. There's not a speck of museum dust in these grooves."


Tom Knapp recently had the pleasure of attending a house concert featuring Fil Campbell, a critically acclaimed singer from Northern Ireland. "Campbell filled the room at the Wood Stove House Concert with a warm and friendly presence -- to say nothing of a wealth of vocal talent and a story to go with every song she sang," Tom reports.

"Say what you will about stadiums and other big-venue concerts. For my money, a house concert is the optimal setting for getting up close and personal with talented artist. Campbell filled the space perfectly, chatting with guests before and after the show and leaving them with a night of music they'll long remember."


Gene Wolfe toys with the time stream in Pirate Freedom. "It works perfectly well as a straightforward pirate yarn," Tom Knapp says.

"But science fiction/fantasy writer Gene Wolfe is rarely content with the straightforward approach. In Pirate Freedom, the young pirate captain Christopher's adventures include boyhood service in a Cuban monastery in modern times and tenure as a priest in mid-20th century New Jersey. Without explanation, Chris slips through time."

Debra Denson casts a Magician's Spell on her first novel. "Clearly an avid reader of her genre, Debra Denson's debut novel features all the mainstays of historical romance," Whitney Mallenby says.

"Denson's plot holds up well to the standards of this genre, but her characters need work. While the reasons and emotions behind their plot follow expected lines, the actual words on the page do little to explain them to the reader. Instead of being taken on an emotional journey with a satisfying conclusion, the reader is given the final results of each emotional turn with a bit of exposition to justify it."

Marjorie M. Liu shines A Wild Light on the third volume of Hunter Kiss. "You couldn't have pried this book out of my fingers with a crowbar. I loved it," Cherise Everhard exclaims.

"Liu has penned a gripping paranormal novel that has everything: multidimensional characters, an intriguing plot, romance, mystery and a little self-discovery, too. This intricate and imaginative read sucks you in quite easily. Have I mentioned that I loved it? I loved it."


Dr. Horrible, Captain Hammer, Penny and Moist all get new backstories in Dr. Horrible: And Other Horrible Stories. "Did you see Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? If so, you'll want to read this," Tom Knapp says.

"This brief collection of stories, all written by Horrible co-creator Zack Whedon and illustrated by a handful of other guys, is a lively, cheerful, fun glance back at the halcyon days of our beloved characters."

Tom also takes a gander at a recent Warren Ellis book, No Hero. "No Hero twists and turns as the story unfolds, and you probably won't enjoy every direction it takes. Also, the blood-soaked art by Ellis collaborator Juan Jose Ryp might be a little too messy for some weak stomachs. And the ending -- by which I mean the very last page -- is a bit of a shock," Tom says.

"But it's nice to see books like this that don't follow the standard pattern. It's good to shake up the genre a little -- something Ellis has always been good at doing."


Christopher Balzano examines the darker side of Freetown in Dark Woods: Cults, Crime & Paranormal in the Freetown State Forest. "From the time settlers hit Massachusetts, the area of Freetown, which covers the land south of Boston to the Rhode Island line, has been a hotbed of paranormal activity," says Michael Scott Cain.

"It's an interesting book, made better by the fact that the author recognizes that at least some of the stories he related can be explained by natural reasons or are urban legends and are not necessarily ghost-related at all. The book is weakened, however, by a lack of editing. Balzano is, shall we say, less than a graceful writer, and some sentences seem to drift on forever, losing their clarity along the way."


The growing genre of Amish romance fiction caught Tom Knapp's eye, in part because he lives in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. He explores the fertile field with two popular authors, Beverly Lewis and Wanda E. Brunstetter, in his article, Plain writing. "Novels about life and love in Amish country ... are flying off the shelves," he says.

"Flouting the notion that sex sells, these popular, G-rated 'bonnet books' are a growing subgenre of romantic and religious fiction."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley gets right to the point in his review of Green River Killer, a 2005 flick about a serial killer from director Ulli Lommel. "This is a disastrously bad, ridiculous excuse of a film," he says.

"Lommel isn't even talented enough to be an amateur filmmaker, in my opinion. Green River Killer is a disgraceful, incompetent film in every possible way. If you're going to exploit the victims of an inhuman serial killer for profit, at least show them or the audience a little respect."

Jay Whelan cracks wise with Monty Python & the Meaning of Life. "I love Monty Python, and even though The Meaning of Life is not my favorite of their films, I still like it a lot. It's a bit uneven, moving forward as it does in fits and starts," Jay says.

"If I had my druthers I'd watch The Holy Grail or The Life of Brian instead, but The Meaning of Life is still worth watching."

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

25 September 2010

Feeling left out? Then head to Thomasville, North Carolina, for the Everybody's Day Festival.

Today on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., people will gather to celebrate R.E.A.D. in America Day. R.E.A.D. stands for "Reading helps Everyone Accomplish Dreams." The annual event, sponsored by the CheeREADing program, has as its motto, "Anything is possible if you read."

On this date in 1066, the Battle of Stamford Bridge marked the end of the Viking invasions of England. Of course, the Normans came later that year. On this date in 1690, the first (and only) edition of Publick Occurrences Both Foreign & Domestick, the first newspaper to be printed in the United States, was published by Benjamin Harris at the London-Coffee-House in Boston, Massachusetts. Authorities considered the newspaper offensive and ordered immediate suppression. In 1789, the U.S. Congress passed 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution: the Congressional Apportionment Amendment (which was never ratified), the Congressional Compensation Amendment and the 10 that are known collectively as the Bill of Rights.

In 1804, members of the Teton Sioux tribe demanded a boat from Lewis & Clark as a toll through their lands. In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor became the 102nd person sworn in as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the first woman to hold the office. Also on Sept. 25 that year, Belize joined the United Nations.

There are 97 days remaining until the end of the year.

There are worlds beyond worlds and times beyond times, all of them true, all of them real, and all of them (as children know) penetrating each other.

- P.L. Travers

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.

- John Steinbeck

There was magic in a forest, on a mountaintop or seashore; in the heart of a desert and, yes, even on a city street. There was beauty in humankind and the creatures with which they shared this world; and there was mystery, too.

- Charles de Lint

• • • MUSIC

Eliza Blue travels The Road Home for this new album. "Although the promotional material makes much of Eliza Blue's interest in old-time Appalachian music, little of that -- beyond her banjo, not usually played particularly traditionally -- is in evidence on The Road Home. Nearly everything on this CD speaks to the influence of early Joni Mitchell, who emerged from the 1960s folk scene without ever being an actual folk singer," Jerome Clark says.

"There is no question that Blue is more than ordinarily talented. The Road Home is eminently listenable if you're attuned to inward-looking singer-songwriters."

Jane Fallon consults her horoscope for Gemini Rising in a Patchwork Sky. "There's nothing like settling in on a chilly night with a mug of tea and snuggling up under a warm quilt; if you don't have a quilt, however, or it's too warm and you're just looking for the aural equivalent, you might want to pick up Jane Fallon's new CD," Jay Whelan says.

"Fallon tries out a variety of styles on Gemini Rising, all filtered through her gentle folk sensibility and her warm, welcoming voice."

Magic Slim & the Teardrops are Raising the Bar for the blues. "To celebrate Magic Slim's 20 years on Blind Pig Records, the label has released Raising the Bar, a collection of songs, old and new, that span Slim's repertoire," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Listening to it, you have to conclude, as I did, that Magic Slim is just about the best electric blues artist working today. Slim & the Teardrops -- John MacDonald on guitar, Andre Howard on bass and BJ Jones on drums -- have been called the last great Chicago blues band, and they live up to that title on this set."

The Grascals are in the spotlight at The Famous Lefty Flynn's. "On their fourth album, the Nashville-based Grascals welcome two new members, award-winning banjo player Kristin Scott Benson and fiddler Jeremy Abshire, while consolidating their reputation as one of the more impressive of the younger bluegrass bands," Jerome Clark says.

"If the sound is slick and modern, it encompasses enough traditional references to make clear theirs is no attempt to expand or defy the broadly accepted definition of bluegrass."


Kage Baker makes a few introductions for The Women of Nell Gwynne's. "The Women of Nell Gwynne's is a darling display of steampunk harlotry," Tom Knapp says.

"Written by Kage Baker, a talented and productive author whose death followed shortly after the publication of this novella, the book is set in an alternate Victorian England and is -- or so I'm assured -- a sort of prequel to Baker's popular series of Company books. I've never read anything from the series, however, and am pleased that this story stands so well on its own."

Robert Kroese brings about the apocalypse in Mercury Falls. "You don't find very many funny novels about the end of the world. Fortunately, Mercury Falls is a funny novel about the end of the world," says Laurie Thayer.

"While it has few laugh-out-loud moments, it's written with a wry humor that can often be far more amusing in the end than those drink-out-the-nose moments. Which are actually fairly uncomfortable, if you think about it."

Steve McGill crawls into The Cave for this piece of modern fiction. "This is a young-adult book, and the reader sees that most clearly in the writing. While the plot has complexity, the writing is very straightforward and concise, almost in a Hemingway-like manner," Chris McCallister says.

"The phrasing is simple, and the vocabulary is not challenging. I make these statements as descriptions and not as criticisms. The writing style used makes for a very rapid, easy reading experience."


David Small tells his story in Stitches: A Memoir. "Stitches is one of those books that's a relatively quick read, but it certainly isn't something I'd rush through. In fact, it's one of those rare graphic novels that I actually had to put down for a few minutes when I felt the pages were turning too fast because I wanted to be sure I absorbed it fully," Mary Harvey relates.

"Simplicity combined with mastery, and an unexpected outcome, are what makes this story so compelling. Artist David Small spent three years on this autobiographical account about losing his voice to cancer at age 13. Small presents this painful episode, warts and all, in perfectly done illustrations that convey worlds in a single scene, painting a picture of a home life that makes you grateful for the parents you have, however screwed up they might be."

Cassie Hack is again plying her trade in Tim Seeley's Hack/Slash #5: Reanimation Games. It is, Tom Knapp says, "a mixed bag of severed heads."

"This is not, in my opinion, one of the high points in the series so far."


Blue Balliett yanks the cover off some Nantucket Ghosts. "This is quite simply one of the best ghost-story collections I have ever read, especially for one that is concerned with such a concise regional area," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"The stories are well varied, the writing is snappy and moves right along, and the storytellers keep nicely to the point. There's no embellished fluff or rehashing of old legends here. ALL of these stories are first-hand accounts witnessed by contemporary people. Some of these tales will make you smile, some will make you chuckle and others will quite effectivley put a lead ball in the pit of your stomach."


William Shatner shares his life Up Till Now. "The book spares us the minutiae of all the behind-the-scenes action -- there is some, but not too much," says Michael Gooch.

"It does provide us with a detailed picture of the events that shaped William Shatner. The risks that he took over the years should be taught in every high school. Call it Risk-taking 101 with the William Shatner Workbook. Those risks defined him as an actor and as a man."

• • • MOVIES

Filmmaker Ken Burns digs deeply into the world of Jazz in this well-made documentary. "Let me ask you a question: Would it have been any better if Jazz was two hours long instead of nearly 20, and if Wynton Marsalis hadn't been involved?" Jay Whelan asks.

"These seem to be two major objections to Ken Burns' epic series about one of the greatest forms of American music. Burns admits to knowing little about jazz when he began this documentary -- but since he didn't write it, it hardly seems fair to fault him for the shortcomings of the script. As it is, I think both Burns and his writer did a pretty good job."

Daniel Jolley invites you to chill with Absolute Zero. "What a sad and depressing world this would be without low-budget disaster B-movies like Absolute Zero to entertain us. Where else, I ask you, are you going to find men and women donning space suits in order to traverse a frozen ledge outside an office building in a suddenly sub-arctic Miami? Or delight in patently fake news stories about fishermen suddenly raking in crate after crate of completely frozen crabs from the ocean?" Dan says.

"This isn't a very good movie, if you want to get all technical about it, but it's just the kind of cheesy science fiction thriller I live for."

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

18 September 2010

Today is Yom Kippur, a day for fasting, repentance and seeking forgiveness, and the holiest Jewish observance.

On this date in 1502, Christopher Columbus landed at Costa Rica during his fourth and final voyage to the New World.

George Washington on this date in 1793 laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. In 1789, the U.S. government took out its first loan -- to pay politicians -- although the debt was repaid within a year. In 1947, the U.S. Air Force was created as a separate branch of the U.S. military.

On this date in 1851, The New York Times was first published -- although its name until 1857 was The New-York Daily Times.

Charles Addams' quirky New Yorker cartoon creations were brought to television with The Addams Family, beginning on this date in 1964. The iconic spy-spoof TV series Get Smart premiered on this date in 1965. In 2009, the soap opera The Guiding Light ended its 72-year run.

Do you find yourself in or near New Harmony, Ind.? If so, get yourself to the Big Whopper Liar's Contest. Or, head over to Fort Wayne for the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

There are 104 days remaining until the end of the year.

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

We are not born all at once, but by bits. The body first, and the spirit later. ... Our mothers are racked with the pains of our physical birth; we ourselves suffer the longer pains of our spiritual growth.

- Mary Antin

Don't be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.

- Richard Bach

• • • MUSIC

Bob Walser is Outward Bound. "On this engaging and accomplished CD, Minneapolis folklorist Bob Walser revives 16 sea shanties obscure or, if familiar, unusual," Jerome Clark says.

"Considering how hard and dangerous the life of the sailor was, one has to marvel at the humor -- as often as not bawdy, at times surreal -- so exuberantly in evidence in shanties, which also are among the most tuneful of work songs. It's easy to forget that this stellar song-making took place amid circumstances nobody today would wish any part of. On the other hand, I suppose that can be said of a whole lot of other traditional music."

Popa Chubby puts up his dukes for The Fight is On. "With Popa Chubby, you never know what you're going to get. He's done albums of solid electric blues, collections that combine blues and rock and even a two-record set of Jimi Hendrix tunes," says Michael Scott Cain.

"This time, he goes all out in the rock direction, putting together an arena rock record that has echoes of Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and various heavy metal bands. It's music that Chubby can play in his sleep, but, fortunately, he stays awake for it."

Jenny Gillespie presents a new-age sound on Kindred. "Kindred is an enjoyable collection of songs that sets out to create a set of atmospheric soundscapes. It generally succeeds -- sometimes it succeeds too well, as I'll explain in a moment -- and Jenny Gillespie comes across as a very talented singer/songwriter," Jay Whelan says.

"Smith is a good producer, but he tends to overpower the songs with echo and multi-layered, multi-tracked instrumentation, sometimes to the detriment of the songs' more delicate moments. The performances on Kindred are uniformly excellent -- of particular note are Steve Moore's fine keyboard work and Dony Wynn's steady percussion -- but Smith tends to mix them so loud or adorn them with so much effect that it winds up reaching the point of negative returns."


Kelley Armstrong is feeling a bit Angelic after penning this new tale. "Armstrong is well-known among urban fantasy fans for her Women of the Otherworld series featuring strong female protagonists who also happen to be not entirely of this world. Eve Levine has just joined their ranks," Laurie Thayer says.

"Angelic is very short, only novella-length, but Subterranean Press specializes in printing novellas. Despite the limited length, Amstrong manages a sufficiently twisty mystery with a likeable heroine that we will hopefully be seeing more of."

Curt Weeden and Richard Marek turn back the cover of the Book of Nathan. "There were many books of the Bible that were left out many, many years ago, either because they were lost, someone felt the need to trim the tome down, someone decided they were unworthy or someone disagree with some of the contents. Now, fast-forward to contemporary times. A French researcher finds one of these lost books, the Book of Nathan, manages to decipher and translate the book from its original Aramaic, and finds something that would be of extreme interest now: Nathan indicated that God had revealed the precise moment of ensoulment," Chris McCallister says.

"The writing here is fast-paced and crisp, after a slow start during the set-up of the characters, premise and setting. The characters are well-developed and almost uniformly quirky. It took me a while to figure out if this was a farce, a mystery, or a combination of the two."

J.R. Lindermuth heads back to Pennsylvania coal country to Watch the Hour. "Watch the Hour has all the elements that make history come alive. The conflict between Irish miners and the mine owners, the police and the 'Coalies,' as they're called, is the backdrop for a dangerous and unexpected romance that shakes the community and makes one man question his assumptions about right and wrong," Mark Bromberg says.

"Watch the Hour is one of those stories that can be read in an evening, or slowly read over days -- and (even better) worth re-reading for its deeper lessons of life and love in difficult times."


Tom Knapp dodges the Clashing Blades and comes back with praise for the latest installment of Zorro. "The first volume of Matt Wagner's new series, Zorro, was overly burdened with its own backstory. The second volume, Clashing Blades, is where things get good," he says.

"There are plots and machinations aplenty in this story, and Wagner's narrative is greatly enhanced by the glowing art of Cezar Razek. Razek's work certainly exceeds that put forth in the preceding volume, so I hope this artist sticks around."

Tom also paged through the Diary of the Black Widow. "The story is about a woman so heartbreakingly beautiful that she can murder with impunity and no one will suspect her, no matter how damning the evidence. Any cleverness in the concept is buried beneath amateurish pencil drawings and bad dialogue," he says.

"Diary of the Black Widow is pretty poor fare."


Mark Jasper explores Haunted Cape Cod & the Islands. "If you are interested in Cape Cod and enjoy curling up at night with a good ghost story or two, this book is for you," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"This type of book, which uses mostly contemporary first-hand accounts, is a welcome change from those that rely so heavily upon rehashed tales from the distant past. The stories are presented plainly, with a lack of embellishment that will make even the staunchest detractor wonder what may be possible. These fascinating tales will send chills down your spine!"


Robert Kurson explores the mysteries of a German U-boat in Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II. "Shadow Divers is a gripping tale that combines the best of real-life thrill-seeking adventure, undocumented war-time history, friendships and interpersonal drama. Author Robert Kurson brings the reader 223 feet underwater to the sunken remains of a German U-boat located just off the New Jersey coast," says Jessica Lux-Baumann.

"Kurson takes the reader inside the scientific, practical and physiological realities of deep-sea diving. He lays out the complex moral and ethical issues of disturbing grave sites and keeping personal treasure troves. He also humanizes the German soldiers who served on submarines for their country."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley kicks up his feet at Sam's Lake. "I've seen plenty of movies worse than this one, but there's no getting around the fact that Sam's Lake isn't a very good movie. It had some potential -- a mad killer running around in the woods intent on killing a bunch of young adults isn't what you'd call original, but you can at least hope for a tad of suspense and a lot of blood and gore; plus, you have a fairly attractive redhead in the lead role, and that's never a bad thing," he says.

"Alas and alack, though, the movie just doesn't work. The whole thing basically hinges on one crucial scene just over halfway through, and director Andrew C. Erin's efforts to pull it off just fell a little short, a flaw immediately exacerbated within mere seconds by a rather ridiculous moment. Still, everyone involved in the film seemed to try hard; it's pretty bad, but it's not insufferable."

Dan continues his examination of the Friday the 13th series with Part VI: Jason Lives. "Not only do we get the real Jason back, he's bigger and badder than ever. We also return to Camp Crystal Lake (now renamed Forest Green in a rather transparent attempt to excise the whole Jason 'legend' from the area), where we not only have camp counselors but -- for the first and only time in the series -- actual campers," he says.

"It's pretty easy to see why many a Jason fan considers this the best Friday the 13th film of them all."

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

11 September 2010

Today is, of course, the ninth anniversary of a massive terrorist attack on the United States, resulting in the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers and surrounding buildings in Manhattan, as well as part of the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. The attack, carried out by members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist organization, claimed the lives of some 3,000 civilians.

Ironically, Sept. 11 also marks the date in 1609 when Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan Island and the indigenous people living there, as well as the date in 1941 when ground was broken for the construction of the Pentagon.

On this date in 1297, Scotsmen led by William Wallace and Andrew Moray defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. In 1847, Stephen Foster's well-known song "Oh! Susanna" was performed at a saloon in Pittsburgh, Pa., for the first time. In 1961, the World Wildlife Fund was created. In 1985, Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's baseball record for most career hits with No. 4,192. In 1997, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor reached Mars and, after a nationwide referendum, Scotland voted to establish a devolved parliament within the United Kingdom.

There are 111 days remaining until the end of the year.

Modern man lives increasingly in the future and neglects the present.

- Loren Eiseley

There is a difference between getting money for what you do, and doing it for money. If you don't do it for love, or because you think it needs doing, get out and let somebody else do it. If nobody else does it, maybe that means it shouldn't be done.

- Emma Bull

There was no difference at all between the richest man and the poorest beggar, apart from the fact that the former had lots of money, food, power, fine clothes, and good health. But at least he wasn't any better. Just richer, fatter, more powerful, better dressed and healthier.

- Terry Pratchett

• • • MUSIC

Steve and Ruth Smith have An Appalachian Aire to share. "This CD delivers on the cover notes' promise of a 'gentle blend of Celtic, Classical and Appalachian music.' Steve and Ruth Smith set out to honor their Scots-Irish heritage while showcasing their own musical roots," Michelle Doyle remarks.

"Their skill and passion is evident from the opening notes of the title track."

J. Shogren is back in the spotlight with Bird Bones & Muscle. "On Bird Bones & Muscle, singer-songwriter and environmental economist -- two occupations not ordinarily linked -- J. Shogren, resident of Wyoming and Sweden, explores what he calls 'pulp Americana'," Jerome Clark says.

"Shogren bears the same approximate relationship to traditional music that the latter Bob Dylan does, namely as the major point of reference, not quite the thing itself."

John Nemeth is ready to Name the Day. "A strong horn-driven Memphis and Muscle Shoals-type soul band accompanies Nemeth on this disc, and their playing moves like a NASCAR driver in the midst of a record-setting lap," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Nemeth's voice fits into the mix perfectly, the tires on the car, and when he goes into the harp solo, you know you've come home."


We don't use it all that often, but we would like to remind our readers (and staff members!) of the Ramblings, section, which is neither for reviews nor interviews. Rather, the section is a free-for-all for essays and ponderings on a multitude of subjects, from Shakespeare and Plymouth Rock to Santa Claus and Walden Pond. Check it out!


Julian Stockwin sends naval seaman Tom Kydd to the Quarterdeck in this, the fifth novel of the series. "This is, perhaps, an example of the greatest weakness in Julian Stockwin's otherwise excellent series of seafaring adventures. Kydd is just so durned nice, apparently, that everyone he meets wants to lend him a hand and advance his position in life," Tom Knapp says.

"On the other hand, he's so awesomely good at everything he does, it's a wonder he's not captain of his own ship yet. And that's the problem: Kydd either excels at whatever he tries, or else someone gives him some subtle assistance, and the readers is left wondering if he ever really had to work at anything in his life."

Greg Bear tunes in on Darwin's Radio for a little sci-fi fun. "While it is not as gripping as Slant nor as magnificent in scope as Moving Mars, Darwin's Radio is still prime Bear," Jay Whelan says.

"His fascinating idea, that viruses exist encoded in human DNA and trigger evolutionary changes, has of course been approached before (notably by Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash), but Bear takes an entirely fresh approach, linking his virus to racism, fascism and the horrific examples of ethnic cleansing that keep cropping up in central and eastern Europe. Humanity, the most basic paradigm of what it is to be human, is changing, Bear suggests in this novel -- and as always, the new and different frightens those who don't understand it."

Stephen King and Peter Straub get it together on The Talisman. "The Talisman is a collaboration between two markedly different authors, a collision of worlds that produced an unexpected classic of fantastic literature. It is a brilliant, glowing, fantasy/quest adventure that, despite a slow start and some odd turns here and there, succeeds on just about every level," Jay says.

"The story does move slowly at first -- sedate is perhaps the best word, and I think that's as it should be. The Lord of the Rings didn't exactly get off to a slambang start either, and look at what Tolkien did with it. In any event, once you get into the story, the pages fly by."


Tom Knapp recalls sunnier days in the Marvel Universe with Mary Jane: You Just Hit the Jackpot. "Most mainstream comics are ostensibly about superheroes and supervillains punching each other a lot. Still, for all that these people go around in spandex and, in the real world, probably couldn't even get a date, there's a lot of romance in comics. Some, like Clark and Lois, are enduring. Others, like Ollie and Dinah, are tumultuous. But none in my opinion has been as well handled or fully developed as the love that grew between Peter 'Spider-Man' Parker and Mary Jane Watson," Tom says.

"It was nice to take this little trip down Memory Lane with my favorite comic-book couple. It's sad, though, especially after rereading their rich background, to realize how much was lost when Marvel showed Mary Jane the door and erased all memory of their marriage from the entire Marvel Universe population."

Tom goes West with this Western Triple Play from the Moonstone stable. "The tales here focus on three luminaries of the age: legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, during his term of duty in Dodge City and his first meeting with Doc Holliday; fiery outlaw Belle Starr, the details of her life possibly not destined to appear in her contemporary biography; and the Cisco Kid, a fictional antihero created by O. Henry who trades gunfire here with real-life outlaw Billy the Kid and Moonstone's variation on the Lone Ranger," he explains.

"I'm not a huge fan of the American western, but these three tales kept me interested with grit and style. Moonstone seems to have a handle on the genre, and I expect to see them keep it up."


Arlene S. Bice takes us on a tour of Haunted Bordentown. "The author changes names and locations in the tales to protect the identity of her sources. This, unfortunately, makes any corroboration of the stories impossible, but the entertainment value of the stories alone make it worth reading," Wren Dillon says.

"These stories are told in the interviewee's own words, giving the easy sense that we are hearing them from the mouths of witnesses. Bice gives the stories as is and invites us to make our own conclusions about what has been read."


Michael Brooks tackles 13 Things that Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time. "The subject matters here are both mystifying and mind-blowing," says Michael Gooch.

"I highly recommend this book for anyone that believes science is the be-all and end-all of our world's problems. While scientists and the work they produce is to be admired and respected, we need to remember there are deep secrets embedded in the universe that are still beyond their capabilities."

• • • MOVIES

The early novels of C.S. Forester came to life in an excellent series of British films starring a young Ioan Gruffudd in the title role. Now, Tom Knapp looks back at an older movie about an older, more experienced captain in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N., starring Gregory Peck. "Modern audiences might well be put off by the dated look and feel of the film. Yes, some of the acting is stilted and the accents are sometimes atrocious. The special effects are limited, and yes, the models that stand in for cities and ships are on occasion painfully obvious," Tom says.

"Horatio Hornblower is a rousing film that, flaws aside, will surely entertain fans of the Age of Sail and Forester's heroic protagonist. Peck, tall and commanding in his naval blues, has a keen grasp on Hornblower's character: a brilliant commander and tactician, an inspiring leader of men, yet awkward and unsure in polite company."

Daniel Jolley rolls the dice with the Nemesis Game. "Maybe this film is meant to serve as a larger metaphor for life -- or maybe there's no meaning whatsoever to take away from it. Personally, I'm going with the latter choice," Dan says.

"With its depressing atmosphere, uninteresting characters, convoluted plot, rather flimsy premise (to my way of thinking), and hackneyed ending, Nemesis Game never succeeded at pulling me in to its cinematic world. Some may find it to be an interesting, thinking person's film, but I found the whole experience pretentious at best. Even if you're one of the lucky ones who actually find something stimulating in this whole ordeal, the ending is likely to leave you feeling cheated."

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

4 September 2010

Today is Newspaper Carrier Day, so celebrate the kid who drops off your newspaper! You do still read a newspaper, right? Right?? Today marks the anniversary of the hiring of the first "newsboy" in the United States, when 10-year-old Barney Flaherty is said to have answered the following classified advertisement in The New York Sun in 1833: "To the Unemployed -- a number of steady men can find employment by vending this paper. A liberal discount is allowed to those who buy to sell again."

The electric light, first unveiled by Thomas Edison in 1879, went public on this date in 1882 when the inventor connected lightbulbs to an underground cable carrying direct current electrical power, providing illumination to offices on Spruce, Wall, Nassau and Pearl streets in lower Manhattan. The great city of Los Angeles was founded on this date in 1781 by 44 Spanish settlers, although the settlement's name initially was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula (that's The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of Porziuncola).

On this date in 1886, Apache leader Geronimo and his remaining warriors surrendered to General Nelson Miles in Arizona after almost 30 years of fighting. In 1950, Darlington Raceway was the site of the inaugural Southern 500, the first 500-mile NASCAR race. In a completely unrelated matter, the first "Beetle Bailey" newspaper strip appeared on the exact same day. In 1956, the IBM RAMAC 305 -- the first commercial computer to use magnetic disk storage -- was introduced and, in 1957, the Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel. In 1972, Mark Spitz became the first competitor to win seven medals at a single Olympic Games. In 1998, Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two students at Stanford University.

There are 118 days remaining until the end of the year.

Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

- William Shakespeare

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

- Johann von Goethe

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it ... Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

• • • MUSIC

Luis Fernando Puente will try to Brighten Up your day with his music. "Puente is a pretty good musician, but he isn't a very good singer," warns Paul de Bruijn.

"For one song Brighten Up is very good. It's too bad most of the other songs on the CD don't live up to that potential."

Michael Hurwitz & the Aimless Drifters are finding their Chrome on the Range. "Backed by his country-folk band, the Aimless Drifters, Wyoming-based guitar picker Michael Hurwitz releases a fine CD of the sort that encourages repeated listening, every few years or so," Jerome Clark says.

"Most of the songs are set in the West, where Hurwitz has spent the bulk of his life holding down a variety of occupations, including cowboy, bronco buster and tourist guide. He is also, of course, a longtime working musician who, having absorbed assorted rooted influences (most deeply, old-fashioned folk balladry for the darker stuff and Western swing for the lighter), has fashioned a personal style out of an engaging perspective and an attractively weathered baritone with which to give it voice."

The Steeldrivers are feeling a bit Reckless about their new CD. "When a group of Nashville's finest and most prominent musicians get together to form a bluegrass band, you can bet the farm the result is going to be worth hearing. And that's certainly the case with the Steeldrivers," Michael Scott Cain proclaims.

"Reckless is not only a first-rate bluegrass album, it also points out the direction that bluegrass music has to go in if it wants to remain a power, instead of just a fringe music. The Steeldrivers, while true to the tradition, extend it, bringing a modern sound to it, one that incorporates aspects of rock, soul and country. Not since the emergence of Newgrass Revival has the music been this energized, this fresh and innovative."

Albert Castiglia is Keepin On. "Castiglia plays fat, tough, heavily amped chords in his version of late-model blues. Nothing unusual about that, of course. It's the lingua franca of a genre that, at least on its electric side, sounds these days as much like a kind of rooted rock -- those roots sometimes no deeper than 1970s Southern rock-and-boogie bands -- as the sort of downhome folk music that blues used to be," Jerome Clark says.

"Fundamentally, Keepin On succeeds because of Castiglia's manifest musical/literary intelligence and his imposing taste in material."


Zydeco musicians C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band made a stopover in Lancaster, Pa., that coincided with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastating landfall in New Orleans. "Chenier, scion of a proud zydeco tradition and with five albums to his credit, has polished the musical merger of Cajun, Creole and blues sounds, and the audience on Sunday responded with tireless zeal," Tom Knapp says.

"Chenier played a few quick riffs on his accordion before crunching into the first song -- and the dance floor in front of the stage filled in record time." Read Tom's complete review for a full account of the performance.


Tom Knapp shares his thoughts on a pop song tearing up the charts ... and teaching kids the wrong way to love. In Love hurts?, he says, "It tears my heart a little every time this song comes on the radio and I know, out there somewhere, a kid is learning that violence in a relationship is par for the course. It happens; just say you're sorry and move on, if you're the villain of the piece, and if you're the victim, just take it, learn to like it, and never ever try to leave him."


Cherie Priest has wowed a lot of readers in the present ... but how about in the past? Tom Knapp takes a look at her novel debut, Four & Twenty Blackbirds, for the answer.

"As first books go, Priest produced a winner," he says. "The narrative bogs down a time or two along the way, but the story is compelling enough to pull you over the rough patches. Your skin will crawl while reading this one -- and not just because you can feel the mosquitoes on your arms, the heavy air in your lungs and the hungry eyes of a gator on your back as you walk."

Scott Thomas goes for the scare -- but doesn't quite get there -- with Midnight in New England. "The blurb on the back cover of Midnight in New England compares author Scott Thomas to Poe and Lovecraft. It's an impressive claim -- but only if the work within can live up to the claim," Tom says.

"Thomas, sadly, falls short of the mark. It's not that he doesn't make a strong effort -- he has a knack for evoking a certain atmosphere, certainly -- but the payoff isn't there."

Tanya Huff spreads a little Smoke & Ashes on the Canadian vampire scene. "In this third book of the Smoke series, a Demonic Convergence threatens to loose the demons from hell and end the world as we know it," Becky Kyle warns.

"There are some slow spots at the end, but overall this book is funny and fast-paced. The series is picking up and I certainly hope there are more of them."


Jennifer Love Hewitt, "with the level of expertise that comes with playing someone who interacts with ghosts on TV, has teamed up with writer Scott Lobdell to tell horror stories in comic-book form," Tom Knapp says.

"The stories in Music Box are presented in a Twilight Zone format, a series of loosely related vignettes that touch briefly on the lives of people who are about to ... well, they're gonna have very bad things happen to them. ... The writing is pretty good, so full credit to Lobdell. The art is a mixed bag. I'm not really sure what Hewitt's input here is; I suppose it's enough that she lends her likeness to some of the covers."

Tom doesn't think Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars hits its mark. "Perhaps it would help if I'd read Frank Beddor's novel, The Looking Glass War. I don't think so," he says.

"The story, which includes zombies, vampires and thieves of the imagination, is a trainwreck, with everything pretty much coming down to the Hatter flashing some blades, throwing his hat and spilling some blood. I was bored fairly quickly."


David J. Pitkin examines the Ghosts of the Northeast. "Pitkin writes primarily about his regional area of New York. His writing style is inquisitive, with much information based in fact," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"I enjoyed his well-researched historical information about the places he visits, as well as the photos he includes. He then pulls it all together with contemporary stories, including eyewitnesses, credibly told and concisely written. He writes with just enough speculation to make you think, and I also enjoyed his wry sense of humor."


Mary Kay Carson gets up close and personal with The Bat Scientists -- and a whole lot of bats. "The photographs are startling in their beauty," Tom Knapp reports.

"But the heart of The Bat Scientists is Mary Kay Carson's informative, easy-to-understand text. Her subject here is twofold: she imparts a vast amount of knowledge about bats and, as the title suggests, an equal amount of detail on the people who study them, strive to protect them and do their best to explode the myths that lead people to fear, hate and kill them."


Lonn Friend tells it like it is in Life on Planet Rock: From Guns N' Roses to Nirvana, a Backstage Journey through Rock's Most Debauched Decade. "What can a book reviewer say about a memoir written by the editor of RIP magazine and endorsed by Cameron Crowe, Scott Ian, Paul Stanley, Alice Cooper, Lemmy Kilmister and one of the founders of MTV?" asks Jessica Lux-Baumann.

"Friend's memoir marks a critical contribution to the history of heavy metal. It reads like an impeccably verified collection of bar-room tales from a top notch storyteller."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley spends a little time with The Living & the Dead. "I would never dare claim to understand all of the nuances of this film, and I can see how a good many viewers will not find it appealing in the least, but I personally consider The Living & the Dead a brilliant motion picture. This may well be the darkest, most depressing film I've ever seen; it's certainly among the most powerful, as it reaches parts of your heart and mind that are rarely if ever touched by anything other than personal tragedy," he says.

"Get any notions of visceral horror out of your head right now, as The Living & the Dead curls up in its very own corner of the horror genre, where the divide between horror and tragedy is at its thinnest."

Daniel also notices Winter Passing. "You look at this film, especially the cover, and you think quirky comedy. Will Ferrell is in it, so you know it has to be a comedy. Well, it is quirky, but Winter Passing is not a comedy; it's actually a pretty bleak, depressing film. Seemingly by design, the film defies your attempts to get your mind around what is going on," he says.

"This is an excellent, albeit unconventional, film. The film is probably too dark and weird for some people, and others may just be mad because they expected it to be funny, but it's really quite a touching film in its own way, and it has a lot to say about life in general."

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28 August 2010

If you're in Denmark, the place to be on Aug. 28 is the small town of Ho, near Esbjerg, which annually holds its annual sheep market on the last Saturday of the month and expects to draw 50,000 people to the fair. If you're in Ohio, on the other hand, be sure to visit Columbus and check out the Ferret Buckeye Bash, one of the largest ferret shows in the United States.

On this date in 475, the Roman general Orestes forced western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos to flee his capital city, Ravenna. In 1189, Crusaders began the Siege of Acre under Guy of Lusignan during the Third Crusade. In 1349, 6,000 Jews were killed in Mainz, accused of being the cause of the plague. In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca while, in 1521, the Ottoman Turks occupied Belgrade.

In 1609, Henry Hudson discovered the Delaware Bay. In 1619, Ferdinand II was elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1859, a geomagnetic storm caused the Aurora Borealis to shine so brightly that it could be seen clearly over parts of the United States, Europe and Japan. In 1879, Cetshwayo, last king of the Zulus, was captured by the British.

On this date in 1955, black teenager Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi, galvanizing the nascent American Civil Rights Movement. Eight years later, in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. In 1996, England's Prince Charles and Princess Diana were formally divorced.

There are 125 days remaining until the end of the year.

The awesome splendour of the universe is much easier to deal with if you think of it as a series of small chunks.

- Terry Pratchett

INFINITE: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that, in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real 'wow, that's big' time. Infinity is so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort of concept we're trying to get across here.

- Douglas Adams

Anything over four hundred is basically just lots.

- Tom Holt

• • • MUSIC

John Graham Leslie supplies music on The Land, the River, the Sea. "Leslie proves himself an accomplished artist on this collection of 11 tracks," Nicky Rossiter says.

"He defies categorization with his mixture of influences, from Celtic to Americana, on The Land, the River, the Sea, but I think rock could be an appellation to append with the driving beat that permeates the songs on offer. ... This is a thoughtful writer and performer who knows his stuff."

Yarn offers a folksy New York state of mind on Come On In. "You might say that, in effect if not in intention, Yarn reimagines New York City as a kind of rural village. Not that nobody's ever done that before, of course. The city has hosted folk revivalists since the 1930s, not to mention bluegrass and honkytonk bands, though where its rooted products are concerned only the folk singers -- among Yarn's most immediately recognizable antecedents -- ever have had much of a national impact," Jerome Clark says.

"Possibly, with some adjustments, Yarn could be something like an innovative bluegrass band, but it's all right as it is, which is not yet another iteration of the wimpy, smooth-harmony California 'country-rock' ensemble. Yarn's sound has an edge, both attitudinal and electrical, that conjures up fond memories of Steve Earle's brilliant early records."

Cydney A. Robinson appoints herself a Spokesman for the Shoeless on this recording. "Sometimes the instruments used on a CD give it the feel that the songs could have been played in one part of a house or another. When it comes to Cydney Robinson's Spokesman for the Shoeless, much of it feels like it could come from the porch or maybe the parlor. And her voice fits the songs to a tee, slight rasp and all," Paul de Bruijn remarks.

"Sometimes, as I am sure I have said before and will say again, I hate classifying music and just want to say it is good -- listen to it. Sometimes the music here edges a bit more to the bluegrass side of things, sometimes maybe a bit of country or the kitchen sink (and less than useful) category loosely called folk. But no matter where you'd place it, Cydney Robinson is very good."

Harper is prepared to Stand Together for his music. "Harper is an Australian blues-rock musician who, in an effort to bring his own culture to the blues, has added the didgeridoo to his music. A master Chicago-style harmonica player, with elements of Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson in his playing, he also possesses a strong voice and a deep, almost mystical approach to music," says Michael Scott Cain.

"At this point, he has pretty much left the blues behind and is working at creating his own genre. His is exciting, deep and mysterious music that deserve the widest possible audience."


Maggie Pouncey provides the Perfect Reader in this new novel. "Perfect Reader is a novel that demands to be read on several levels. It's a coming-of-age story, a story of fathers and daughters, as well as daughters and mothers, an examination of the ultimate worth of a man's life and work and, of course, a brutal satire on small-town university life," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Whatever level you read it on, Perfect Reader is a good novel, one that would have better if attention had been paid to a couple of small flaws: for one, it suffers from a slow start."

Marcus Alexander Hart passes a little time with The Oblivion Society. "Hart can turn a phrase like almost no other. I would be so bold as to call his talent almost Twain-like -- had Mark Twain written comical post-apocalyptic satire," Daniel Jolley remarks.

"Some people say this novel has no real plot, no destination. I don't agree, but this is definitely a case where the journey is what really matters. The dialogue between these characters is a cornucopia of fast and furious zingers, but Hart takes things even farther, penning some of the most brilliantly witty descriptions you're likely to find."

Stephen King and Peter Straub get together in Black House. "Black House is, to paraphrase a line from an early Peter Straub novel, a great ghost story in which the ghost is underutilized. It's an impressive piece of writing, however, and one I enjoyed a great deal. It works a little better as a stand-alone novel than as a sequel, oddly enough, and deals well and (for the most part) fairly with its characters and the reader," Jay Whelan says.

"The novel is the authors' sequel to The Talisman, and that is using the term 'sequel' very freely indeed. As a whole Black House has more on the ball than off, with moments of humor and horror, drama and wonder, what I thought was a very appropriate ending, with more than one mythical resonance, and that's pretty good."

Kenneth Roberts intended to write a historical novel but, by dying before its completion, left behind a valuable historical resource in The Battle of Cowpens. "Roberts intended to set the record straight about the battle, which historians had written about as a series of mistakes and tactical errors on both sides," Mark Bromberg says.

"Roberts makes history come alive hour-by-hour as the battle forces draw near. South Carolina militia volunteers had been victorious at Kings Mountain in North Carolina, and the British were concerned these forces would join with regulars of the the upstart Continental Army and create an unstoppable opponent. As history proves, that's just what happened."


The last big Marvel Comics "event" gets moving in Siege Prelude. "The book credits nine writers and nine artists on the back cover, and I don't think that's everyone. Perhaps it's a matter of too many cooks, but this collection is disjointed, disorganized and uninteresting," Tom Knapp says.

"Tossing in a couple of Spider-Man stories from the 1970s just demonstrates how hard they were trying to pad this book. But quantity does not equal quality, and it shows."

The Highlander series keeps moving along with Dark Quickening. "The art in volume one of Dynamite's Highlander series scared me away for a while. When I finally worked up my nerve to try again, I found volume two ... better," Tom says.

"It's still not great. But artist Fabio Laguna at least has a journeyman's knowledge of the appearance of the iconic characters from the cult film and TV series. The people here look enough like the actors who played them that you at least know who's who."


Brad Steiger takes a closer look at Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits & Haunted Places. "Some critics claim a large share of the stories here were pulled from various Internet sites -- but what is wrong with that? The Internet is chock full of garbage, and Steiger has helped to distill those stories into a compilation of the best," Michael Gooch says.

"This is a rather large volume, so I appreciated that it is divided into many small, stand-alone chapters. This made for a very easy read with convenient stopping-off places."


William Lobdell explores matters of faith in Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America & Found Unexpected Peace. "Lobdell's journey from believer to nonbeliever is the best book I have read in the past 12 months. The subject matter is engrossing and the writing is world-class," Michael Gooch relates.

"This book did not turn me into an atheist nor cause me to question my beliefs. However, after reading this, I can fully understand why others -- and especially Lobdell -- would chose to release their belief in a god or gods."

• • • MOVIES

The latest Leonardo DiCaprio blockbuster Inception would have been a lot better, Tom Knapp argues, if viewers weren't already on their guard. "A decade ago, this film would've impressed the hell out of me. But Inception is too little, too late, although writer/director Christopher Nolan is obviously in love with his own cleverness," Tom says.

"In this multi-layered story, the viewer is never sure what to believe. Once the movie starts playing with our perception of realities, everything we see is suspect; unfortunately for Nolan, we've all seen movies like The Matrix and The Sixth Sense, so we already know to be on our guard and doubt everything."

Daniel Jolley wants to Thank You for Smoking. "This is an intelligent, excellent satirical film, so don't get caught up in the title, for I think it can be misleading. Smokers, for example, will likely suspect this film of being a vengeful attempt to make Big Tobacco look like Satan's most loyal servants, while anti-tobacco's attack dogs may suspect some hidden agenda to actually make smoking look cool. Neither would be correct," he says.

"Thank You for Smoking launches its barbs into both sides of the tobacco conflict, shining a good bit of the harsh light of truth onto both. No matter which side you're on, you can enjoy this brilliant little film."

Dan's rundown of the Friday the 13th series of slasher films continues with Part V: A New Beginning. "someone will write a dissertation on why some horror movie franchises eventually have that one movie that basically sticks a middle finger down the throats of its fans, betraying everything the whole series has been and should be about. Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning may well be the worst offender of the bunch," he mourns.

"It's a stupid story with idiotic characters, unimpressive gore, absolutely no suspense, no effort to deliver a single scare to the audience and a horrible two-tiered twist ending."

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21 August 2010

On this day in 1192, Minamoto Yoritomo became Seii Tai Shogun and the de facto ruler of Japan. In 1770, James Cook formally claimed eastern Australia for Great Britain, naming it New South Wales. In 1772, King Gustav III completed his coup d'etat by adopting a new Constitution, ending half a century of parliamentary rule in Sweden and installing himself as an enlightened despot. In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order proclaiming Hawaii the 50th state of the union. In 1991, Latvia declared renewal of its full independence after the occupation of Soviet Union. And in 1993, NASA lost contact with the Mars Observer spacecraft.

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the launch of Gemini 5, which carried astronauts Lieutenant Colonel Cooper and Lieutenant Commander Conrad to orbit the Earth 128 times for a new international record of eight days. Today is also Poet's Day.

There are 132 days remaining until the end of the year.

Why did men worship in churches, locking themselves away in the dark, when the world lay beyond its doors in all its real glory?

- Charles de Lint

My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds.

- Albert Einstein

Randomness scares people. Religion is a way to explain randomness.

- Fran Lebowitz

• • • MUSIC

Ronan Tynan performs All Kinds of Everything on his latest release. "All Kinds of Everything is unquestionably Ronan's best -- and that's saying something," Bill Knapp says.

"There's something about Ronan's voice that is at once soothing, inspirational and just purely enjoyable. Just listening to him evokes images of Ireland, cathedrals and a real zest for life."

Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky are Red Horse on Red Horse. "Not exactly a trio, certainly not a band, Red Horse consists of three prominent singer-songwriters long signed to the St. Paul-based Red House label," Jerome Clark explains.

"Put this CD on just about anywhere in the proceedings, and you'll hear something striking. In an era of instantly disposable songwriting, Red Horse is the singer-songwriter trade doing what it too often fails to do: telling stories and making melodies for the long ride."

The Bards of Balance just don't click on Restoring Balance. "There is undoubtedly good amateur music out there. It is not to be found on Restoring Balance. And while there may be some very good ideas expressed in the lyrics, it would certainly help if the vessel for those ideas made you want to listen to them," Paul de Bruijn says.

"The elements that compose the songs in Restoring Balance aren't all bad. However, they aren't good enough, nor do the blend well enough, for me to come anywhere close to recommending this disc."

Peter Karp and Sue Foley make their arguments in He Said, She Said. "When Peter Karp and Sue Foley, both accomplished roots and blues artists, began exchanging emails and letters, they were at first discussing the things they had in common: the loneliness of the road, being away from their homes and families and their love of music. Over a period of time, though, the correspondence grew into something quite different as the singers delved into more personal and deeper ideas. Finally, an album's worth of songs grew out of the correspondence. After road-testing the songs on tour, they went into the studio and made this duet album," Michael Scott Cain recounts.

"This is honest writing and it's characteristic of the quality of the lyrics on this album. On He Said, She Said, we have fine singing, fine playing, heartfelt lyrics cast in really nice blues tunes and a narrative that contains depth and maturity."

Susan Hickman gets things going on her self-titled debut. "With Susan Hickman, you get to hear the debut disc of a strong singer, a woman with a great set of pipes and an adventurous soul," says Michael.

Unfortunately, he adds, "somebody -- either Hickman or the producer -- wanted a radio-friendly album and was willing to sacrifice her uniqueness to get it."


Carole King and James Taylor made reviewer Corinne Smith's night when they performed together at the TD Garden in Boston this summer. "These veteran performers looked great, they sounded great and their music was as moving as ever," she says. "What a joy to witness an event in which all of the participants fully liked and respected one another!" Read her review for more than this exceptional performance.


M. Salahuddin Khan's Sikander is "the story of one 17-year-old Pakistani boy and his journey from a child's view of war to a man's understanding of peace. If that sounds like a well-worn tale, it's an exciting one here: the novel turns 25 years of recent Afghan and Pakistani history into a fast-paced story of family, relationships, separation and duty that readers will find familiar," Mark Bromberg explains.

"In describing one man's attempt at reconciliation between his duty and his conscience, the author shows us that our own sense of right and wrong may sweep us along with a force even greater than war -- a force just as strong, and just as unstoppable."

Julian Stockwin turns Tom Kydd's life upside down in Mutiny, the fourth book in his seafaring series. "The first portion of Mutiny seemed listless and uninteresting, like a sturdy sail that just can't catch a breath of wind," Tom Knapp says. "But the meat of this story waits for the latter half, set in 1797, when Kydd sails home to England and into the midst of a massive mutiny....

"I came away from Mutiny with mixed emotions. Stockwin remains one of the best novelists of the nautical age, climbing further toward the ranks of Forester and O'Brian with each new volume. However, he needs to realize that conflict in the plot and conflict for the protagonist aren't always the same thing and, while he places Kydd amid historically monumental events, Kydd himself seems to plod through them with little effort."

Tanya Huff continues Tony's story in Smoke & Mirrors, the sequel to Smoke & Shadows. "Mirrors is definitely a good, fast-paced read, but not the book it could have been. The backstory from the first book is necessary for new readers and even those of us who bought Shadows in hardcover a year or so ago," Becky Kyle warns.

"Still, I'll go out on a limb and say I'll still buy the next book in the series."


Warren Ellis keeps his eye on the sky in Ignition City. "Warren Ellis's Ignition City owes much to the science-fiction serials of the mid-20th century. But it's the characters -- down-on-their-luck space hoppers, pilots and engineers still dreaming of space -- that make this book soar," Tom Knapp says.

"Ellis's tale is supported by Gianluca Pagliarani's art. Pagliarani handles the broken-down science and laser blasts well, but his people are a little awkward and misshapen. That one failing aside, this is a series I would love to see continue."

Alan Moore's revitalization of Swamp Thing makes its mark in Saga of the Swamp Thing #2. "Moore worked nothing short of a small miracle: he made a comic book about a humanoid mass of vegetable matter into a compelling read about society whose issues are still relevant today," Mary Harvey remarks.

"It would turn out to be a watershed moment in comics history that would ultimately be part of a real renaissance in the industry."


Susan Smitten shares Ghost Stories of New England. "There is a dose of good old-fashioned New England folklore here, as well as a tour of several New England lighthouses that are reputed to be haunted, but overall I did not find the author's prose engrossing," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"This book has more of a school project feel than that of a polished professional product."

Scott Lefebvre takes a gander at Spooky Creepy Long Island. "Here you will meet a ghost who continues to fold laundry in the basement of a long-ago decommissioned mental hospital. The well-known tale of the Amityville murders and hauntings are recounted for objective review of the readers. Several hauntings of lighthouses up and down the Long Island sound are shared for consideration and amusement," Wren Dillon reports.

"This book would make wonderful Halloween seasonal reading."


Michio Kaku tackles hard science in Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation & Time Travel. "This book gave me a couple of nights of sleep deprivation. The material ... was so compelling and the writing by Michio Kaku so engaging that I couldn't put the book down and turn off the light," Michael Gooch says.

"This book is a fascinating weaving of fiction and fact; of fantasy and reality. I can imagine that few physicists would put themselves on the line to produce a book of this nature."

• • • MOVIES

Jay Whelan examines one of the many film interpretations over the years of William Shakespeare's classic Hamlet. "As someone who estimates Ken Branagh's films with no small regard, I was thrilled to hear about this full-length version of Hamlet. I thought that if anyone was capable of such a gargantuan task, it was Branagh ... and you know what? He almost pulled it off," Jay says.

"Ah well, perchance to dream and all that. I do like this version of Hamlet in spite of all its flaws -- though I will admit that it's one of my 'rainy day' movies, meaning I put it on when I know I've got an afternoon to kill. Beats the heck out of golf, if you ask me. This may not be Branagh's best movie -- that's still Henry V in my estimation -- but it's still pretty good. So, to steal from the play itself: For this relief, much thanks."

Daniel Jolley, meanwhile, delves into one of the great secrets of World War II Germany in Dead Men's Secrets: Hitler's Nuclear Arsenal. "This is one untold story of World War II that should no longer remain obscure, yet most history books seemingly continue to ignore it. Fortunately, Dead Men's Secrets: Hitler's Nuclear Arsenal lays bare the scope and breadth of the Nazi nuclear program and reveals just how close the Allies -- and America in particular -- came to unprecedented disaster," Dan says.

"But for the short-sightedness of Hitler in 1940 and 1941, it's not hard to imagine a very different outcome to the entire war. This is a fascinating story that needs to be told, and this documentary does a great job of doing just that. I highly recommend this for history and military buffs."

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