8 January 2011 to 5 March 2011

5 March 2011

On this day in history: In 1496, King Henry VII of England issued letters of patent to John Cabot and his sons, authorizing them to explore unknown lands. In 1770, five Americans, including Crispus Attucks and a boy, were killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre, an event that would contribute to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War five years later; at the subsequent trial, the British soldiers were defended by John Adams. In 1836, Samuel Colt made the first production-model revolver, the .34-caliber. In 1933, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party received 43.9 percent of the vote at the Reichstag elections, later allowing the Nazis to pass the Enbabling Act and establish a dictatorship. In 1940, members of Soviet politburo signed an order for the execution of 25,700 Polish intelligentsia, including 14,700 Polish POWs, known also as the Katyn massacre. In 1942, the United States Navy Seabees were established. In 1958, the Explorer 2 spacecraft launched and failed to reach Earth orbit. In 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty went into effect after ratification by 43 nations. In 1979, Soviet probes Venera 11 and Venera 12 and the American solar satellite Helios II all were hit by "off the scale" gamma rays leading to the discovery of soft gamma repeaters. Also in 1979, America's Voyager 1 spacecraft has its closest approach to Jupiter, 172,000 miles. In 1982, the Soviet probe Venera 14 arrived at the planet Venus.

There are 301 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

The Unwanted offer a selection of Music from the Atlantic Fringe. "We got ourselves a trio of diversely talented and richly experienced folks on deck. Now take a look at the music, which is drawn from the rich tradition of cross-Atlantic migration that has carried Irish music to America, from Appalachia to the western plains, and back again," Tom Knapp remarks.

"The music throughout is masterfully arranged, with each singer unearthing the roots of each piece for a fresh, honest delivery. The result is a production that keeps the tradition alive and hearty for purists and dabblers alike."

Becky Kyle experiences a little Jazz Around the World, courtesy of Putumayo. " the most part, the songs are non-English; languages vary from French to Spanish and everything in between," she says.

"As usual, after I've listened to a Putumayo disc, I find myself out looking for more by several of the artists. I believe this label has done more than anyone to bring music from all corners of the world to avid listeners. If you want an enjoyable fusion album that will blow your speakers away, this is the one you're going to want to buy."

Hope Waits sends greetings from Louisiana with this self-titled CD. "Hope has deep, smoky vocals that fit well with the blues and jazz style she croons on this CD. If I had to find a comparison, I would say Hope is a little like Joan Osborne with a hint of Bonnie Raitt," Wil Owen says.

"Of the 12 tracks on Hope Waits, most are covers -- but excellent covers, a few of which are arguably better than the originals."

The Dixie Bee-Liners pay a visit to Susanville. "On their second full-length CD -- an EP preceded both -- the Virginia-based Dixie Bee-Liners present a kind of road diary of the imagination," Jerome Clark says.

"The Bee-Liners delve as often into what might be called alternative country-pop, with flights of harmony and twists of melody that would have irked Bill Monroe and fellow fashioners of foundational bluegrass. Sometimes, to be truthful, they irk me, too, even as nobody with ears can deny the level of skill with which the music is set forth."


David Michael kindles The Summoning Fire. "Bam! This book starts by dumping the reader into the middle of Hell on Earth, a region in Eastern Oklahoma where a rift between Earth and Hell has opened and an entire city of demons, devils, vampires and zombies has developed around it," Chris McCallister says.

"I would liken this book to driving by a horrific traffic accident. Most people would be appalled but some would also be fascinated. This book has literary a gawker's delay factor; it horrifies you but you want to read on."

Deborah Hautzig sets her sights on the Second Star to the Right. "This book was very cheerful, something I wouldn't expect from a story dealing with such a serious subject, and written by an author who was, at the time of the writing, going through her own battle with anorexia," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"I know the author fought this debilitating disorder for many years and is therefore well qualified to speak on the subject, but I don't feel she succeeded in giving an in-depth look at the inner turmoil of the anorexic."

Stephen King takes The Stand as a pinnacle of his career. "Do people ever really learn anything?" Jay Whelan asks.

"It's a good question, and one that Stephen King doesn't quite answer in this masterful, frightening, breathtaking, beautiful -- yes, I said beautiful -- novel. I've read both the original edition and the uncut version; I prefer the uncut. Not for what has been restored so much as for what those restorations have done for the overall novel. The restorations of the cut sequences add immeasurably to The Stand, bringing light to places formerly shadowed, expanding the vistas to a breadth and depth that is truly astonishing."


Mary Harvey considers the plight of the American Born Chinese. "This is one of those graphic novels whose title announces the story pretty clearly. American Born Chinese starts out as a collection of three seemingly disparate stories about life as a Chinese-American and ends with a single message about acceptance of one's identity," she says.

"It could be said that American Born Chinese is kind of thematically obvious. It's pretty clear that the message is concerned with the painful path to self-acceptance of one's personal heritage. But even though ABC is told in a straightforward way, it's by no means an obvious story."

The Ultimates takes a hit in Who Killed the Scarlet Witch? "After wading through a superhero sex tape and suggestions of incest among Earth's mightiest heroes, readers are treated to the assassination of the Scarlet Witch on a New York City street," Tom Knapp says.

"But the 'investigation' that follows the shooting, laughable though it is, takes both heroes and readers in incomprehensible directions and includes cameo appearances by the likes of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ka-Zar and Shanna, apparently for no other reason than their appearance might bolster sales among their fans."


Brian Harris tackles the history of Injustice. "It is basically about state trials from Socrates to Nuremberg, given a broad definition of 'state.' But more than recounting the trials -- which are always fascinating dramas -- it also give an often fresh view of the historical background behind each," says Nicky Rossiter.

"This book is history brought to life and dramas played out in the theatre of the courtroom."

• • • MOVIES

Becky Kyle sits and sups with Julie & Julia. "The performances by the quartet of leading actors is excellent -- and the presentation of food in all segments is daunting," Becky says.

"WARNING: This film may well be a diet buster. Everyone I have talked to says you're going to want to eat after you've seen it, and they are right. You might as well have a dinner at a fine French restaurant planned for afterward -- or at the least, make up a big bowl of buttered popcorn."

The inevitable sequel, Shrek the Third, receives a less-than-stellar review from Chris McCallister. Why? "I kept waiting for a chance to smile or laugh, and waiting, and waiting," he says.

"I am sure there are a dozen ways they could have injected more magic, more fun and more life into this limp story."

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!)

26 February 2011

On this day in history: In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba. In 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the National Currency Act into law. In 1914, HMHS Britannic, sister to the RMS Titanic, was launched at Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. In 1917, the Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded the first jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Co. in New York. In 1919, the U.S. Congress established most of the Grand Canyon as a national park. In 1970, National Public Radio incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. In 1991, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein announced the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. In 1993, in New York City, a truck bomb parked below the North Tower of the World Trade Center exploded, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand.

There are 308 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

The Bilge Pumps bring back a little of that holiday spirit with A Pirate's Christmas Wish. "Let's face it, if you're the sort of person who'd buy a pirate-themed Christmas CD in the first place, you're probably the sort of person who will love A Pirate's Christmas Wish in spite of itself. And really, we have to give the Bilge Pumps credit for persistance; this motley lot of shady singers has recorded several CDs over the past decade or so, and they don't let issues like talent get in the way of their fun," Tom Knapp says.

"And the reality here is this: several of the boys in this band (there are a half-dozen regular members of the Bilge Pump crew) have no business singing anywhere people can hear them. And yet sing they do, and that kind of optimism deserves some reward."

Fairport Convention is heading Over the Next Hill with this recording. "Over the Next Hill is the best from Fairport Convention since Wood & the Wire in 2000," says Becky Kyle.

"It's not quite equivalent to my favorite, 1995's Jewel in the Crown, but it's still an amazing effort."

David Newbould basks beneath a Big Red Sun. "David Newbould might not be a name you recognize, although you might already recognize some of his work if you watched TV shows like Dawson's Creek, Criminal Minds, Joan of Arcadia and Party of Five," Wil Owen says.

"David's music definitely has more of a Southern appeal to it, in my opinion -- lazy and slow-moving. This is probably aided by the fact that he mumbles his way through a lot of the lyrics. I often have trouble understanding what he is singing. For the most part, fortunately, I enjoy the music."

The Grascals do what they do best on The Grascals & Friends. "As their first project after a long, now-concluded run with the roots-music powerhouse Rounder Records, the Grascals -- among the most popular of the younger present-day bluegrass acts -- produce a recording that is pretty much reviewer-proof. Who, after all, is going to pan an album some of whose profits go to the cancer-fighting St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis?" Jerome Clark notes.

"I can state happily and honestly that this CD works just fine. Its satisfactions are many, starting with solid, if familiar, material which on occasion actually improves upon the original."

JW-Jones basks in the Midnight Memphis Sun. "JW-Jones' 2010 Midnight Memphis Sun is really a feel-good album more than anything else, though it provides a number of tracks that are worth a few extra listens," Bryan Frantz opines.

"My only qualm with the album is the vocals; not only does Jones sound too produced for the genre of music he plays, he lacks the soul that so many blues greats maintain. While the music is something to be admired (Charlie Musselwhite's harp playing makes just about every song he's featured on), JW-Jones just sounds too laid back and joyous for the blues."


Tom Knapp had a grand old time last weekend at the Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival & Fair in King of Prussia, Pa. And, while he couldn't take you all along, he hopes you'll enjoy reading about the experience ... which included performances by the likes of Seven Nations, Rathkeltair, Albannach, Annalivia, Seamus Kennedy, the Paul McKenna Band and the Tannahill Weavers.

"Where were you when the lights went out in King of Prussia?" Tom wants to know.


Anne O'Brien unveils The Virgin Widow. "The political and social atmosphere during the War of the Roses is very well portrayed, without getting in the way of the story," Whitney Mallenby says.

"O'Brien takes two of the least likely monarchs to headline a romance novel and pulls it off beautifully. Moreover, she does it without protecting or glorifying her hero."

Valya Dudycz Lupescu pauses to hear The Silence of Trees. "Nearly three years ago, I read the first 5,000 words of this story for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, and author Valya Dudycz Lupescu left me in a Ukranian forest full of German soldiers bent on rape with 16-year-old Nadya seeking her fortune from a clan of gypsies," Becky Kyle remarks.

"Lupescu's prose truly is the stuff that dreams are made of. The narrative voice of her protagonist Nadya remains strong throughout nearly 50 years of her life. You can almost taste the kolachi and feel the willow switches on your backside on Palm Sunday."

David Goodis asks you to please Shoot the Piano Player. "I rank David Goodis at the very top of noir writers, and I've read a lot of noir fiction. A Philadelphian, he wrote some books that got Hollywood interested (his Dark Passage was lensed with Bogart and Bacall), but he ended up back in Philly living in an apartment above the garage next to his parents' house, where he turned out some of the most emotionally stark noir books ever written," Dave Sturm says.

"This book is no lace-hanky weepie. It's filled with danger, chases, narrow escapes and gunplay. But the way Goodis intertwines the action with a budding love story is fascinating. The ending is, incredibly, both violent and poignant."

P.G. Wodehouse finds a little Love Among the Chickens. "In writing Love Among the Chickens, P.G. Wodehouse penned one of the most delightfully comical romances ever set on a poultry farm," Tom Knapp states.

"No, really. This novel, first published in England in 1906, is a work of genius, filled to the brim with some of the most wonderful characters ever devised and a series of events that will keep readers in pleasant spirits from beginning to end."


Zombies overrun paradise in The Last Resort. "The story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, while maintaining the sense of fun that permeates so many classic gross-out horror movies, is much more tense and thrilling than the cover art would imply," Tom Knapp says.

"Zombie stories are, by nature, a little predictable, but I'll be the first to say I didn't see all of these twists coming. And, as deadly as the story is for its characters, you can tell the writers and artist had fun putting it together, giving full release to as much sex and carnage as they could pack into the pages."


Jeannette Walls throws open the gates to The Glass Castle. "This book was recommended by a friend, and I found I could not put it down," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"Jeanette Walls has become successful despite an early life filled with trauma and struggle. Her memoir courageously tells a story of brutal survival, and her ability to tell it without bitterness is impressive."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley responds to his Messages from Heaven. "Messages from Heaven is a truly impressive, definitive, Biblical expose of the growing Marian Movement in the world today. It focuses a laser beam of truth on the apparitions of Mary reportedly taking place all over the world, using the apparition's own words to prove her deception," he says.

"The video also explains why, in the view of its makers, the worship of the Virgin Mary is a violation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, some will condemn this video as anti-Catholic. It should not be seen in this manner, for it is not anti-Catholic, it is pro-Jesus and pro-Gospel."

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

19 February 2011

Here's what happened on this date: In the year 197, Roman Emperor Septimius Severus defeated usurper Clodius Albinus in the Battle of Lugdunum, the bloodiest battle between Roman armies. In 1600, the Peruvian stratovolcano Huaynaputina explodes in the most violent eruption in the recorded history of South America. In 1674, England and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Westminster, ending the Third Anglo-Dutch War and transferring the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam to England, which renamed the city New York. In 1847, the first group of rescuers reached the Donner Party. In 1861, serfdom is abolished in Russia. In 1878, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph. In 1945, about 30,000 U.S. Marines landed on the island of Iwo Jima. In 1953, Georgia approved the first literature censorship board in the United States. In 1963, the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique reawakened the Feminist Movement in the United States as women's organizations and consciousness-raising groups spread. In 1986, the Soviet Union launched its Mir spacecraft, which remained in orbit for 15 years and was occupied for 10. In 2002, NASA's Mars Odyssey space probe began mapping the surface of Mars using thermal emission imaging.

There are 315 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

The Glencraig Scottish Country Dance Band keeps the beat on Scottish Country Dances (Ah'm Askin'). "If you are feeling a little bit low, place the contents of this plastic carton on a suitable reproduction system and be prepared to be uplifted to the point of smiling and possibly even toe tapping. If you are already in a good mood, handle with caution: it could put you into a dancing frenzy," Nicky Rossiter says.

"They give us the usual tunes to be expected at a lively country dance, but they also add in a few lovely surprises."

The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band is resurrected in Almost Acoustic and Ragged But Right. "These two CDs, which come from live concerts Jerry Garcia and friends performed in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco in late 1987, spotlight the Grateful Dead co-founder's longtime devotion to American roots music. That affection has always been discernible in the Dead's self-composed, rock-based repertoire, where melodic or lyric allusions are there for those -- their numbers surely minuscule -- sufficiently informed to recognize them," Jerome Clark says.

"The audience before which this was performed is unrestrained in its enthusiasm. That's because it consists not of folk fans but of Garcia-loving Deadheads who came to hear the electric Dead as soon as Garcia's side project shuffles off the stage."

Claude Hay is Deep Fried Satisfied with this blues recording. "Hay's message is clear: he has an incurable desire for Southern deep-fried food, a noble enough concept to base an album around," says Bryan Frantz.

"While nothing on the record breaks any new ground (aside, arguably, from the Queen cover), it is certainly a piece of work that is worth giving at least a listen to. It makes for great driving music, and most of the songs are entertaining, if nothing else."

The Sultans of String hit their stride with Yalla Yalla! "The nice thing about music criticism is that every once in a while, an album comes along that is a pure joy to hear," Jay Whelan says.

"That's the case with Yalla Yalla! It's a rare album, a well-recorded, crisply produced collection of memorable tunes, played by excellent musicians who amplify each other's strengths and create something that 99 percent of the time is greater than the sum of its parts."


The Tannahill Weavers are one of the grand old bands of Scottish music. Tom Knapp had the opportunity to chat with lead singer Roy Gullane about remaking traditions over the past four decades.

"The big groups at the time were all out of Ireland," Gullane recalls. "Much later on, we discovered we had our own music. It kind of happened overnight. But suddenly, Scottish bands decided to focus on Scottish music."

Tom also had the chance to talk with Bill Reid about bringing the music together. Reid is the organizer of the Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival & Fair in King of Prussia, Pa., which is featuring the Tannahill Weavers (among others) this weekend.

"There's no sense doing a festival with bands people can see every weekend locally," he says.


Patricia A. McKillip unleashes The Bards of Bone Plain. "A modern sage has observed that just because something happens inside your head, that does not make it any less real," says Janet Anderson.

"Patricia McKillip displays, in this book, the very real power of words -- sometimes obvious, sometimes as subtle as a weapon left on a mantelpiece at the beginning of a chapter; sometimes magical, sometimes deceptively mundane; mostly inside one's head -- but not always, or only, there."

Erica Eisdorfer has The Wet Nurse's Tale to share. "I read the first 5,000 words of this book as an excerpt in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest of 2008. The novel was a finalist and a standout in my mind," says Becky Kyle.

"Don't ask me why it's taken me this long to read the book; I would strongly suggest that if you are a fan of historicals that you don't wait!"

Daniel Silva paints a portrait of The Rembrandt Affair. "Master writer and brilliant, thoroughly researched as the newsman as he was, Silva's latest, The Rembrandt Affair, is a story about a stolen Rembrandt of questionable provenance that was 'sold' in a Styronesque, Sophie's Choice manner from a wealthy Jewish prisoner to a Nazi 'art collector' who covets said painting, in return for the life of one of the two daughters of said prisoner, and works a deal with the prisoner so that one child can live," Ann Flynt says.

"As Silva points out so well, many art collections were stolen during World War II from those captured and murdered by the Nazis. A grim portrait is painted of the aid the 'neutral' Swiss gave those who looted, pillaged and murdered their way to 'ownership' of art that in many cases has not been seen again."

Brian Keene takes readers along on a Ghost Walk. "The concept, while not unique, is still inspired. Someone sets up a haunted attraction in the woods of York County, Pa., not realizing the woods are truly haunted," Tom Knapp says.

"But Brian Keene's novel Ghost Walk, a sequel to Dark Hollow, stumbles on several levels. Foremost among them is the villain itself."


Tom Knapp takes a look at Green Hornet's first outing with Kevin Smith at the helm, Sins of the Father. "Smith's Green Hornet isn't groundbreaking by any stretch. There are predictable plot twists and sophomoric gags aplenty," Tom says.

"But it's also a lot of fun, and artist Jonathan Lau brings Smith's vision vividly to life. I'll certainly be back for the next volume to see where they take these characters next."

• • • POETRY

John Yamrus is Doing Cartwheels on Doomsday Afternoon. "There's nothing obscure about the poems in this book, or in his other volumes. No gimmicks, just facts stated in a clear and simple manner. Yet, so profound," John Lindermuth says.

"Yamrus doesn't strive to be profound. He's simply communicating. His themes are everyday life and all the little moments and emotions that fill it."

• • • MOVIES

Becky Kyle examines a recent political scandal through the lens of Fair Game. "The film's a tightly paced combination spy thriller and domestic drama. On one hand, you see the front-page news of 'Plamegate.' Valerie is discredited and her career is dismantled. She goes from being a well-traveled agent with highly critical projects to a secretary or a 'low-level flunky,' depending on what you read," she says.

"On the other, you see the Wilson home life unraveling. The idealistic Joe is counterpointed strongly by his realistic wife as the country turns against them both. They receive countless threats, to the point of Valerie having to remove her children from their home."

Next, Daniel Jolley engages in a Bloodfight. "Bloodfight has to be the most depressing martial arts film I've ever seen. This thing throws on the sackcloth and rolls around in the ashes for a while," he says.

"The big fight scene at the end isn't bad at all, but there's a whole lot of bad movie to wade through in order to get that far. By the midpoint of Bloodfight, I was thinking this was quite possibly the worst martial arts movie I had ever seen."

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!)

12 February 2011

On this day in history: Santiago, Chile was founded in 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia. In 1554, just a year after claiming the throne of England for nine days, Lady Jane Grey was beheaded for treason. In 1733, Englishman James Oglethorpe founded Georgia, the 13th colony of the future United States, and its first city at Savannah. In 1825, the Creek ceded the last of their lands in Georgia to the U.S. government via the Treaty of Indian Springs and migrated west. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909. The Xuantong Emperor, the last emperor of China, abdicated in 1912. In 1914, in Washington, D.C., the first stone of the Lincoln Memorial was put into place. In 1961, the U.S.S.R. launched Venera 1 toward Venus. In 2001, the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft touched down in the "saddle" region of 433 Eros, becoming the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid. And, in 2004, the city of San Francisco, California, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in response to a directive from Mayor Gavin Newsom.

There are 322 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

Susie Hodder-Williams and Chris Caldwell are striding the Mariner's Way. "It is a tone poem about a path between sea ports with unearthly sounds: Susie Hodder-Williams plays flute, alto flute, bass flute and gamelon, while Chris Caldwell plays soprano and baritone sax, bass clarinet, singing bowl and gamelan," says Barbara Spring.

"Judging by the title, I thought the music would be sea chanteys and the like. I was wrong. The title refers to an ancient pathway in Devon, traversing across Dartmoor, England. Sailors took this path to go from one sea port to another."

Fred Eaglesmith dances the Cha Cha Cha. "Eaglesmith is among the many able musicians far better known in his native Canada, where he has a fanatical following, than south of the border down America way. To me, he's a name I've heard, always in flattering contexts, here and there over the years without ever being exposed to anything but the occasional cover of one of his songs," Jerome Clark says.

"Since Eaglesmith's vocals tend toward the mumbled, most likely you'll have to check the printed lyrics -- uniformly impressive, suggesting something of a literary sensibility -- to follow the stories which seem united, more or less, in the common theme of romantic break-up. Depressing love songs are, of course, always to be preferred to their justly dreaded and despised opposite: Positive Love Songs (an actual music-industry trade term)."

Wolfsheart responds to the Call of the Canyons. "Using a Native American flute, resonant drums and an occasional guitar and piano, Wolfsheart produces 12 tracks, for more than an hour of music, that is very relaxing, soothing and uplifting. But is it good?" Chris McCallister asks.

"The instrumentals are clearly the main focus in this music. The Native American flute gives a breathy, wistful feeling to the music, and the great drum-work gives many of the pieces power and resonance. When the piano and guitar kick in, for some pieces, they are a startling contrast, and sometimes seem out of place to me."

John Lee Hooker Jr. is performing Live in Istanbul, Turkey. "Hooker has a fine voice, large and booming, and knows how to sell a song. His band is right at home with old-style '70s soul," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Hooker can cook a ballad and can get funky and bluesy on the uptempo stuff."


Kaitlin Hahn assures us that Brenda Stubbert's Real after witnessing a star-studded performance in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, another show from the 2010 Celtic Colours International Festival. "I was really excited about this one, because I've heard all of the artists before and knew if I didn't have fun at this show, it was definitely my own fault," Kaitlin says.

"So far, out of the shows I've been to at this year's festival, this was by far, the most appreciative and responsive crowd. It made it really fun. I could see how the musicians were feeding off of this energy and playing even harder. They looked like they were really enjoying themselves on stage, as I did, too. I found it hard to keep my feet still, because the music was so full of zest, and that made it a great concert."


Glen E. Page begins the Apocalypse with The Last Plague. "I found the book a difficult and depressing read," says Becky Kyle.

"However do not let my opinion discourage you. Christian literature is on the rise. More and more, readers of faith are demanding books that speak to their values rather than secular novels."

Janet Fitch simply wants to Paint It Black. "In this masterpiece, Los Angeles-area author Janet Fitch paints a vivid image of love lost among the backdrop of the punk rock scene of the 1980s," says Jessica Lux-Baumann.

"Paint it Black delivers a vivid, descriptive experience. The plot is driven by cogitation and observations, by intense sensory and emotional encounters. The dialogue is exquisite, but it plays second fiddle to the unspoken conversations, memories, jealousies and pain of the twisted relationship two women had with a depressed young man. The ending of the novel is pure genius."

P.G. Wodehouse hits the mark with Right Ho, Jeeves. "The crux of the novel is a series of misunderstandings, a situation at which Wodehouse is unparalleled in choreographing. One couple, very much in love, is sundered over angry words about a shark, while another couple, unable to get past that initial stage of shyness, utterly fails to come together. Add to that a slighted French chef, a jealous school chum, a large gambling debt and a spiked jug of orange juice, and you have a comedy farce of the first rate," Tom Knapp says.

"Misunderstandings, confusions and a bit of inebriated hijinks circle around each other like ballroom dancers, and Wodehouse demonstrates his utter mastery of the art with every page. He juggles plot twists like a pierrot, and the dialogue unfolds with a jaunty, refreshing air."

Steven Levenkron continues the story of The Best Little Girl in the World in Kessa. "With this engaging sequel, Levenkron once again goes into the thought process of the anorexic mind. Here, he focuses mainly on Kessa's therapy sessions and explores the isolation and disconnectedness of the disorder, as well as offering hope for recovery," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"Kessa ultimately offers hope and affirmation that recovery from an eating disorder is possible."


Mary Harvey pays a visit to Dash Shaw's BodyWorld. "Originally a web comic, this nine-chapters-long serial is collected into a what can only be described as a strange, psychedelic, fascinating and very inventive graphic novel," she says.

"Writer and artist Dash Shaw's style is rapidly becoming unique. As with Bottomless Belly Button, he continues to experiment with mixed-media representation, seamlessly melding different forms into one big epic. BodyWorld is as thematically bold as it is hugely ambitious but Shaw pulls it off."


Udo Middlemann proclaims The Innocence of God. "In 2007, we were inundated with books about God. We had scientists trying to prove the non-existence of God. We had others taking scientists to task and remonstrating on every point. We had religious tracts and we had humorous pieces about God," Nicky Rossiter says.

"Udo Middleman takes a new tack. With degrees in law and theology and a lecturer on ethics and society, he is ideally suited to bring us a book that seeks to answer that question we all ask in times of tragedy and despair -- how could a good God allow this?"

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley takes his place in Management. "While her character in Management isn't one of the sweeter and more personable characters she's played, you really just can't go wrong with any Jennifer Aniston movie. Admittedly, I was a little worried about Steve Zahn's ability to hold his own alongside her, but he turned in a terrific performance," he says.

"It's not easy to play a sort of dumb character in a serious, natural and completely honest manner, but Zahn does it. There are laughs aplenty to be found here, but this is no dumb comedy -- not by a long shot."

Dan also has a bite with Dahmer. "I've seen several recent films based upon the lives of prolific serial killers (Bundy, B.T.K., etc.), and none of them have been any good. Dahmer is no exception; in fact, it is worse than the others. I'm afraid I can't buy into any of the artsy-fartsy, pseudo-intellectual spin this film gets in some quarters," he says.

"If you already know a good bit about Jeffrey Dahmer, you won't learn anything new in this film. If you know nothing about Dahmer going in, you won't know much more about him at the end -- but you may think you have some insight into his character. That, in my opinion, is the crux of this film's many problems."

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5 February 2011

On this day in history: South Carolina in 1778 became the first state to ratify the Articles of Confederation. In 1859, Wallachia and Moldavia were united under Alexander John Cuza as the United Principalities, an autonomous region within the Ottoman Empire, ushering in the birth of the modern Romanian state. In 1869, the largest alluvial gold nugget in history, called the "Welcome Stranger," was found in Moliagul in Victoria, Australia. In 1900, the United States and the United Kingdom signed a treaty for the Panama Canal. In 1913, Greek military aviators Michael Moutoussis and Aristeidis Moraitinis, using a Farman MF.7 hydroplane, completed the first naval air mission in history. In 1917, the current Mexican constitution was adopted, establishing a federal republic with powers separated into independent executive, legislative and judicial branches. In 1919, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith launched United Artists. In 1958, a hydrogen bomb known as the Tybee Bomb was lost by the U.S. Air Force off the coast of Savannah, Georgia; it was never recovered.

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• • • MUSIC

Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller bring a taste of Scotland to the proceedings with Shadows Tall. "Here is another excellent exposition of the best in Scottish music and song from a pair of accomplished performers," Nicky Rossiter says.

"This is a beautiful set of songs and tunes expertly performed with feeling and packaged to perfection by Greentrax. You just cannot go wrong."

The John Hartford Stringband shares Memories of John. "When he died of cancer on June 4, 2001, he left many friends behind. Hartford was loved as a man and admired as a musician. Memories of John movingly recalls both," Jerome Clark says.

"If Memories amounts to a well-nigh perfect send-off, it only underscores the dimension of the loss American music suffered when John Hartford left us. If you don't know his music, here's a fine place to start."

Dead Men's Hollow provides the Angels' Share in this new offering. "For many years, a PBS station in Washington, D.C., ran a Sunday morning program called Stained Glass Bluegrass, which consisted solely of bluegrass gospel music. Evidently, the members of Dead Men's Hollow were listening," Michael Scott Cain reports.

"How are the results? In a word, brilliant. The album features their trademark three- and four-part harmony lead vocals and beautiful playing, with Marci Cochran's fiddle almost another lead voice. Although the songs are mostly band-composed originals, they sound like traditional, old-time gospel."

Jenny Davis is getting Inside You with her sound. "Davis has a clear, strong voice, and she uses jazz inflections to liven up these standards," Dave Howell says.

"This light but musically hip CD should appeal to all fans of jazz vocals." Congratulations, Dave, for review No. 200!


Emily Diamand sets sail with a Raiders' Ransom, a young-adult novel set in the future, following a cataclysmic flood. "There are more coincidences than I'd like in this story, but otherwise, it's a pleasure to read. Diamand does a good job developing her two main characters -- Lilly and Zeph alternate as narrator, so readers get both points of view -- and she has begun building a world that is just packed with potential," Tom Knapp says -- despite some niggling complaints.

"A sequel is in the works, and I hope Diamand takes a little more time to explain the specifics of her fascinating (and damp) new world and the societies within. She has the grist for an exceptional series of young-adult novels ... and I'm already hooked."

Julien Longo begins The Goddess Chronicles with Hera. "Longo takes members of the Greek pantheon and turns them into unrelated mortals living in Atlantis," Whitney Mallenby says.

"Hera succeeds in offering a very thorough and provocative alternate universe for these well-known characters. Longo's ideas read clearly without going over-the-top. In fact, learning these concepts through Hera's perspective lends itself to a light and easy reading pace. On the other hand...."

H. Terrell Griffin shares a Bitter Legacy with his readers. "Raymond Chandler once wrote that when things slow down in your novel, bring in a man with a gun. For him, the man with a gun was metaphorical; what he meant was find a way to ramp up the tension," says Michael Scott Cain.

"For H. Terrell Griffin, however, the gun is literal. So many people pop up firing guns at each other in his novel, Bitter Legacy, that it leads you to believe that the whole population of Longboat Key, Florida, where the novel takes place, is armed and dangerous."

David Brin continues The Uplift Saga with Startide Rising. "I just read Startide Rising for the second time, and again I was blown away by how fantastic it really is. This book is full of the ideas that make science fiction what it is: Interesting characters who have actual personalities instead of cookie-cutter mannerisms, a premise whose most intriguing elements are revealed slowly, pulling the reader along (I hate books that read like a bad made-for-TV movie!) and oh, about a hundred other things that make Startide a compulsively readable joy, more than worthy of the awards it has won," Jay Whelan enthuses.

"I have little doubt that in 50 years or so, Startide (as well as the rest of the Uplift Saga) will be mentioned in the same breath as the Foundation series, the Rama series and the Dune saga. It's that good -- no, strike that. It's that great."


Mary Harvey picks up the tab for a night at the Moving Pictures. "Individually and together, Kathryn and Stuart Immonen have created comics for just about everyone, with Stuart's run on DC's League of Superheroes and Kathryn's Hellcat series for Marvel being among the most well-known of their many projects. Moving Pictures, first serialized on their website in 2008, is like nothing they have done before," she says.

"I could see Moving Pictures being staged as a play. The incredible dialogue, the emotional complexity, the fact that most of the action happens in closed rooms and tunnels, all lend itself to the vitality of the stage. It's heavy but not heavy-handed. I predict that this will be one of the most-awarded graphic novels of the year, a no-brainer because it's certainly one of the best in many years. A fine, moving and not-to-be-missed story, excellently told by two of the best in the business."

Tom Knapp, meanwhile, is not impressed with Athena. "The story just never gels. It's sort of like Dynamite's take on Marvel's Thor, only Athena is hotter and wears fewer clothes. Oh, and Thor tries to tell a story, while Athena just walks around with her butt on display while a lame Trojan War remake goes on around her," he says.

"I can't see a reason to recommend this one unless you really like cartoon asses."


Dave Thompson shares The Wit & Wisdom of Ozzie Osborne. "Well, here it is: 174 pages of quotations from Ozzie Osborne, arranged sort of chronologically so that it adds up to an oral history of Osborne's career," says Michael Scott Cain.

"It's easy to laugh at Ozzie Osborne, easy to think of him as a rock casualty and to dismiss him as a brain-dead freak. The fact is, though, he comes across in these pages as a self-aware, intelligent and very funny man who might have put himself through hell, but learned from the experience, changed the way he was living and refuses to either lie about or apologize for his past."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley passes the witching hour with Midnight's Child. "Being a super-huge fan of The Wonder Years, I was eager to watch this film once I learned that Olivia d'Abo (who played Karen Arnold on the show) was the primary player in the drama. Had I known this was a Lifetime-produced movie with Victoria Principal as executive producer, or that d'Abo would be speaking in a questionable fake Swedish accent throughout, I might have had second thoughts, but what I didn't know didn't kill me," he says.

"As much vitriol as some pour out on Midnight's Child, I didn't think it was all that bad of a movie. I'm not saying it's a new favorite of mine because it most certainly isn't, but it is certainly watchable (albeit ultimately disappointing)."

Dan also takes a look at another in the Nature Unleashed series, Earthquake. "High on the list of things you don't want to bring together are Russian nuclear plants and earthquakes -- unless you want to make a disaster film. Just make sure your writer and director understand that you want a disaster film rather than a film disaster," he says.

"OK, maybe film disaster is a little too strong of a phrase, but Nature Unleashed: Earthquake is an average film at best. I don't know about the earthquake itself, but the movie hits at least a 9.0 on the Richter scale of film cliches."

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!)

29 January 2011

On this day in history: Sergius III came out of retirement in 908 to take over the papacy from the deposed antipope Christopher. In 1834, U.S. President Andrew Jackson ordered the first use of federal soldiers to suppress a labor dispute. In 1845, "The Raven" was published in the New York Evening Mirror, the first publication with the name of the author, Edgar Allan Poe. Karl Benz in 1886 patented the first successful gasoline-driven automobile. In 1891, Liliuokalani was proclaimed Queen of Hawaii, its last monarch. In 1900, the American League was organized in Philadelphia, Pa., with eight founding baseball teams. The first inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame were announced in 1936. In 1944, the USS Missouri, the last battleship commissioned by the U.S. Navy, was launched. The first inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame were announced in 1963.

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• • • MUSIC

Robbie O'Connell, Aoife Clancy and Donal Clancy celebrate The Clancy Legacy. "How can anyone better the contribution of Liam, Tom, Bobby and Tommy Clancy? After all, the 11 tracks on offer on The Clancy Legacy, by Robbie O'Connell and Aoife and Donal Clancy, are primarily songs we associate with the Clancy Brothers," Nicky Rossiter says.

"This CD features many songs that you will have loved when performed by what I suppose we might call the original Clancys, but I guarantee that this new generation singing 'The Banks of the Roses,' 'Ho Re Ho Ro,' 'Quare Bungle Rye' and 'Soldier, Soldier' will give you new heart. The songs are here fresh and just familiar enough to stir memories."

Tom Granata pays homage with Left Foot Lightfoot. "There is not a whole lot that's gratingly, off-puttingly wrong with this more recent tribute, but Tom Granata's Left Foot Lightfoot will be best appreciated by those who know less of Lightfoot's music than some of us do," Jerome Clark says.

"If he's not a bad singer, he lacks Lightfoot's distinctive silky tenor (sadly gone these past years owing to the consequences of a life-threatening medical crisis) and, more important, his way of delving into a song's emotional core."

The folks at Putumayo want you to try a little Yoga. "While Putumayo's first yoga music CD is intended to enhance the practice of this discipline, it's also great soothing music for meditation, any stretching exercises and those times when you want a beautiful background to your writing, reading or other restful activity," says Becky Kyle.

"Even if you're not a devotee of yoga, you're going to hear some amazing music here. You've got traditional Indian instruments including the sitar, glass pipes and drums. The groove's relaxing and exotic and possibly the best cure for a stressful lifestyle."

Robin Rogers is Back in the Fire with these Florida blues. "Her voice is strong, clear and sharp, a perfect blues voice that resonates with a sensation of pain and hard living and her harp playing matches her voice. When I hear Rogers play harmonica, I picture Little Walter shooting dice in an alley outside a club, and when I hear Rogers' band, led by her guitarist husband Tony Rogers, play ballads and shuffles, I want to be there; whatever else I'm doing recedes and the music shoots straight into my bloodstream," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Robin Rogers is a major talent."


Shane Stevens brings a heinous killer to life in By Reason of Insanity. "He's a complete psychopath who believes he's on a mission to kill women. And what he does with the bodies ... well, the book leaves a lot of that up to the imagination, but it must be pretty awful," Dave Sturm says.

"The book is written in the dry, clinical prose of standard nonfiction, which makes it even more chilling. No purple prose at all."

P.G. Wodehouse has won our reviewer's heart with The Adventures of Sally. "Wodehouse, best remembered for his comical Wooster & Jeeves stories, was a literary mastermind, with an unparalled command of the English language," Tom Knapp says.

"Not laugh-out-loud funny like some of his books, Sally builds an easy familiarity with its characters and maintains a genuine light-hearted air throughout. Even when circumstances turn grim and unpleasant fellows loom in her path, Sally bulls through life with good will and a great heart."

L.J. Ramsamugh-Knox, meanwhile, makes a dismal showing in Buttercups. "If you plod through its entire 80-page length, you'll find a dull plot, dreadful dialogue and nary a spark of creativity," Tom warns.

"A good editor might have helped -- or possibly run away in terror."

Holly Hardin brings back a little Christmas with Aurora of the Northern Lights. "Aurora of the Northern Lights attracted me as a unique take on a theme that has long fascinated me: the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. I have never seen the Northern Lights live, and so I was charmed by the concept of a story about a girl who was connected to the legend and made the reality more thrilling," Ann Flynt says.

"This book, written by Holly Hardin and illustrated by Donald Vanderbeek, is written in poetic form, with awkward phraseology and inconsistent illustrations. The story is interesting in that it is about a little girl who is the product of a mixed marriage."


Mary Harvey wants you to meet Wilson. "It's not easy to like Wilson, a middle-aged misanthrope who overanalyzes everything to the point of moral condescension. That's what you get with a Daniel Clowes story: droll observations wrapped around icy black humor, coming from the mouths of bored and desperately lonely people. This time around, though, there seems to be something essential missing. There's a decent enough plot with a twist or two, and some pretty good artwork. Unfortunately, that's about as deep as it gets," she says.

"White middle-class angst is specialized territory that Clowes has already covered well, much better than he has here. I wouldn't call Wilson a fail, but I would tell anyone who wanted to read Clowes for the first time to try his earlier titles first."

This Silent Hill volume is Dying Inside. "I've never played the Silent Hill video games. When I first opened Silent Hill: Dying Inside (the first volume in the graphic novel series, later collected by IDW in the Silent Hill Omnibus), I wasn't even aware the video game existed," Tom Knapp says.

"All in all, this book is poorly done. I don't see the appeal."


Ursula Bielski delves into a facet of child psychology in There's Something Under the Bed: Children's Experiences with the Paranormal. "I chose to accept and review this book because I am a child psychologist, and the brief description I was given mentioned helping children deal with fears and imaginary friends. The book was not what I expected," Chris McCallister says.

"If a reader shares the author's worldview, this is a very good book about how the paranormal affects and involves children. ... A scientifically-minded reader or skeptic, however, will likely find this book to be unsatisfying, because of the lack of research cited and strongly delineated logic supporting the claims made and the techniques suggested."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley draws Crazy Eights for your viewing pleasure. "The really bad thing about group-shared repressed memories is the fact that, sooner or later, one member of the group is going to bring those repressed memories back to life and ruin the lives of everyone else in the group. That's pretty much what happens here in Crazy Eights," he says.

"Admittedly, the whole bit about characters foolishly wandering off by themselves and thereby inviting their own destruction is undeniably formulaic, while the premise under which the group finds themselves trapped like this is flimsy at best. Likewise, the film provided me with more questions than answers in terms of the backstory. Despite all this, Crazy Eights still turned out to be an effectively creepy little horror film as far as I'm concerned, one that fits quite well into the After Dark Horror Fest collection."

Want something with a really weird title? How about Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People? "Honestly, I expected to enjoy this film much more than I did. After all, it is from Toho, the guys who gave the world Godzilla, and a number of other reviewers seem to have a special kind of affection for Matango -- but I found the whole thing rather boring and utterly devoid of creepiness," Dan says.

"I didn't think the character development was all that impressive, so much so that I sometimes had trouble telling the different male characters apart. And the constant bickering was just annoying. Whatever moral lessons this movie may have wanted to impart were rather lost on me, I'm afraid."

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!)

22 January 2011

On this day in history: In 565, Eutychius was deposed as patriarch of Constantinople by John Scholasticus. In 1879, at the Battle of Rorke's Drift, 139 British soldiers successfully defended their garrison against an intense assault by 4,000-5,000 Zulu warriors (dramatized in the film Zulu). In 1901, Edward VII was proclaimed king of England after the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. In 1946, the Central Intelligence Group, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, was formed. In 1957, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula. In 1968, Apollo 5 was launched, carrying the first Lunar module into space. In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States delivered its decision in Roe v. Wade, legalizing elective abortion in all 50 states. In 1984, the Apple Macintosh, the first consumer computer to popularize the computer mouse and graphical user interface, was introduced during Super Bowl XVIII with its famous 1984 television commercial. In 1987, Pennsylvania politician R. Budd Dwyer shot and killed himself during a televised press conference. In 2002, Kmart became the largest retailer in U.S. history to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

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• • • MUSIC

Jesse McReynolds & Friends sing Songs of the Grateful Dead. "Although the Grateful Dead were a rock band, Songs of the Grateful Dead is not a rock album. And, although Jesse McReynolds (with his late brother Jim) was a bluegrass musician, this is not a bluegrass album," Jerome Clark explains.

"I suspect that the intended audience is the hard-core, unrepentant Deadhead. As one who is not but who otherwise has nothing against the band, I can only say that Songs is pleasant and listenable without feeling outstanding or essential. Perhaps the problem is that the performances, while not bad (after all, these are all music professionals), are occasionally plodding, the mid-tempo melodies a tad repetitive."

Roy Gaines & his Orchestra offer up some Tuxedo Blues. "Veteran jazz guitarist Roy Gaines has made a name for himself in nearly every musical genre; he's the go-to studio player for jazz, blues, soul and R&B albums, as well as a master bandleader on his own. He's probably best known for being a member of the Crusaders, a first-rate progressive jazz group, but when this CD gets around, he'll be best known for it," says Michael Scott Cain.

"The CD features great musicians playing the music that they love best, and the players give it everything they have. Evidently, Gaines' immersion into the roots of the music he's playing inspired not just him but the whole band. Everybody plays brilliantly."

Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica shares The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel. "This is a wonderful CD," Dave Howell opines.

"This is more than a studio project. The Orchestrotica does live shows, but since the band has 23 pieces, their touring is limited, at least for now (they are fairly new, so they might be able to expand their schedule.) If they ever hit Pennsylvania. I am going to see them faster than a space-age bachelor can make a cocktail."


Back to Celtic Colours, Kaitlin Hahn spends a little time with some Women in Tune. "Whycocomagh Eco Centre has a reputation for having sold-out concerts at Celtic Colours just about every year, and this year was the same. There was a large, appreciative crowd, and there was standing room only -- and barely that," she says.

"This was no surprise, because the show included Loaise Kelly, Mollie O'Brien, Liz Doherty Connection and Andrea Beaton, Naimh Ni Charra, and Natalie MacMaster and Tracey Dares-MacNeil."


Cora Harrison wants us to believe that I was Jane Austen's Best Friend. "I don't want to give away the ending, but this was inspired by Austen's own writing, so I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions. I think the last part of the book was probably the best part and made reading the rest of the novel worthwhile," says Charissa Jelliff.

"This book would probably be great for teenage girls who are just becoming interested in Austen's works, or even as an introduction to Austen. However, this isn't one of those teen novels that crosses age boundaries and can appeal to older readers. This book is definitely intended for a younger audience."

Don Bruns recommends you Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. "If you've read any of author Don Bruns' previous Stuff novels, you know these two always operate in Murphy's Law mode. If you're not familiar with their antics, be prepared for lots of laughs as they blithely stumble toward a solution in this, their first foray into the world of private investigators and dastardly wrongdoers," John Lindermuth says.

"There'll be another murder, a series of near disasters and lots of twists and turns before the caper is resolved to the satisfaction of all but the culprits."

Craig Moodie takes his readers to new depths in Seaborn. "Moodie sets a poignant tale about a boy's physical separation from his mother and sister and his emotional separation from his father aboard a small boat at sea in Seaborn," Tom Knapp says.

"This story could have been told in any setting, but I especially liked Moodie's nautical touch. And not only is Luke's family a sailing bunch, they also have a shared artistic bent that adds even more interest to the proceedings. All in all, Seaborn is a fine coming-of-age novel that can be enjoyed by adults and young-adults alike -- particularly if they have any affinity or longing for the sea."


Vampirella's high points are revisited in Masters Series, Vol. 1, a re-release by Dynamite of the vampire slayer's earlier successes at Harris. "Volume one takes material from the Grant Morrison and Mark Millar years, with a variety of talented artists providing support," Tom Knapp says.

"This ain't great literature, even as comic books go, but I do remember the old Harris series fondly. It's nice to read it again. But remember, this is only a taste; the next book in the Master Series focuses on the work of Warren Ellis."

Next, Tom is off to Albion. "Albion -- plotted by Alan Moore and written by his daughter, Leah Moore, and her husband, John Reppion -- is a new look at old British comic-book characters. After flourishing decades ago in long-defunct titles such as Smash!, Wham!, Valiant and Lion, this odd collection of heroes, villains and in-betweens vanished into the annals of comic-book history -- until Moore decided to unearth them for a last bit of fun," he says.

"It's all well and good, I suppose, and I'm sure this book is a fun-filled blast from the past for anyone -- including 'Introduction' writer Neil Gaiman -- who grew up on these characters and carries a smidge of nostalgia for them. For the likes of me, with no clue who these people are or what they can do, it's a confusing jumble."


Mark Van De Logt takes a sidelong view of history in the Old West with War Party in Blue: Pawnee Scouts in the U.S. Army. "In Western movies we always see the cavalry ride with maybe two Indian scouts, who read the trail and communicate with the handsome young lieutenant through hand signals. As is the case with everything else in Westerns, that image is wildly inaccurate. In War Party in Blue, historian Mark Van De Logt corrects our perceptions," says Michael Scott Cain.

"War Party in Blue is a solid history of an important and misunderstood time in America's history. It should be widely read."


Michele Morgan offers details on Simple Wicca. "Simple Wicca is the perfect introduction for anyone searching to discover if this way of life is right for them. Don't let this slim volume fool you -- there is plenty of information packed into this concise yet comprehensive overview!" Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"Morgan has created an engaging look at Wicca that is both serious and uncomplicated. Her informal writing style turns what could be dry reading into a fun, enjoyable learning experience, and her organized presentation of the material would continue to serve as a great reference for the future."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley gets back to basics with Nature Unleashed: Fire. "These Nature Unleashed films aren't exactly the gold standard of disaster movies, but this Fire entry is a darn good movie. I mean, this movie has a little bit of everything -- cave-ins, deadly falls, motorcycle stunts (and accidents), fistfights, explosions, helicopter rescue missions and, of course, one hell of a big fire," he says.

"All kinds of great action takes place throughout the rest of the movie, as this ultimate bad day from hell just keeps throwing danger and excitement at these guys and girls. One aspect of the drama does get a little ridiculous by the end, but it makes for great drama of the 'what else can go possibly go wrong?' variety."

Dan also has opinions to share on Diecovery. "I don't think there can be any doubt that the greatest horror movies of the past decade have come out of Asia -- but that does not mean that every Asian horror movie is worth watching. This particular film, Diecovery, is as painfully awful a horror movie as you are ever likely to see," he says.

"Part of me hates to come down so hard on this film -- after all, it's more than a little unfair to judge a Thai movie by Western or Japanese/Chinese standards (I think the fact that this film is routinely classified quite wrongly as Japanese says a lot about the state of the Thai film industry). On the other hand, I have to tell it like it is, and it's more than obvious to me that Diecovery is well-nigh abysmal -- so much so that any sort of 'you have to understand Thai culture to appreciate the film' excuse doesn't have a single leg to stand on."

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!)

15 January 2011

On this day in history: Otho seized power in Rome in 69, proclaiming himself Emperor, but ruled for only three months before committing suicide. Christopher Columbus set sail for Spain from Hispaniola in 1493, ending his first voyage to the New World. Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey, London, in 1559. The British Museum opened in 1759. Fort Fisher in North Carolina fell to the Union in 1865, cutting off the last major seaport of the Confederacy. The Coca-Cola Co., then known as the Pemberton Medicine Co., was incorporated in Atlanta in 1889. James Naismith published the rules of basketball in 1892. The first Super Bowl was played in Los Angeles in 1967; the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. Citing progress in the peace process, President Richard Nixon in 1973 announced the suspension of offensive action in North Vietnam. US Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson River shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York City in 2009; all passengers and crew members survived.

There are 350 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

The Priests bring Harmony to the Celtic-classical vein. "For anyone who likes spiritual music with a Celtic tie, Harmony by The Priests is the perfect vehicle for transport into something truly magnificent," Bill Knapp reports.

"Whether you are religious or not, you will find this recording enjoyable. If spiritual, it is uplifting; if more secular is your taste you will find it enjoyable for the sheer beauty of the voices and the harmony."

Primitive guitar is the focus on Imaginational Anthem: Essential Guitar, Vols. 1-3. "The phrase 'American primitive guitar' is either highly evocative or utterly confusing when first encountered. What it ultimately means, though, is a guitar technique based on the kind of finger-picked playing one hears on certain blues, jazz and country records of the 1920s and '30s. The style in its contemporary incarnation features slowly evolving, repeated patterns of rhythm and melody played in counterpoint on the bass and high strings. It requires high-precision finger work and can either be delicately beautiful or heavily dissonant in its evocations of mood," Ed Whitelock explains.

"For most listeners, these three-plus hours of music might serve as peaceful background music for life's other activities, and that's a fine use of this fine collection. But know that this is a collection that rewards closer listening as well, for the level of artistry and the finger-bending complexity of many of these cuts is astonishing."

Strange Rebel Frequency deals a House of Four & Hearts. "The singing on House of Four & Hearts adds a rough edge to the CD that gives it part of its flavour and feeling. And while Strange Rebel Frequency flows between a few different genres of music on the CD, there are parts that tie it all together," says Paul de Bruijn.

"It can be tough to peg the sound precisely over all in one category, but it is very easy to say they are very good at what they do."

Andy Cohen's brand of music is Built Right on the Ground. "It would take a misanthropic member of the human species indeed not to like this charming, low-key solo recording. Built Right on the Ground -- taken from the album's opener, a song by old-time bluesman Teddy Darby -- describes Andy Cohen's musical personality, which is shaped by deeply rooted blues, folk, hillbilly and early jazz, not to mention nimble guitar picking of the sort that Cohen causes to sound deceptively simple," Jerome Clark says.

"Cohen has been around for decades, keeping (or anyway never rising above) a low profile, better known to his fellow musicians than to a larger musical public. Boston born, he lives these days in Memphis, where he gets better at what he's already done well, which is to carry on and refine the venerable guitar styles of Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee and the like, while putting a lot of himself into his music and turning to stride and boogie-woogie piano now and again. I've heard a lot of boring, second-rate acoustic musicians try to do the same. Cohen is neither boring nor second rate, and Built Right is just that: a pleasant, comfortable, sturdy place to be."


A.S. Fleischman gets hard-boiled in Danger in Paradise and Malay Woman. "If A.S. Fleischman is remembered at all today, it's as Sid Fleischman, the author of kids' books: The Whipping Boy, The 14th Floor: a Ghost Story, The Dream Stealer and about 40 other titles. Before he moved into kids' books, though, he was one of the guys who cranked out a few titles for Gold Medal books, a paperback house that specialized in hard-boiled mystery and suspense novels," says Michael Scott Cain.

"If these two titles are typical, he appears to have specialized in the 'one damn thing after another' school of fiction."

Stephen King's Wizard & Glass continues his Dark Tower saga. "Wizard & Glass is not only the best book in the Dark Tower series, it may well be the best Stephen King book I've ever read. It is grand, operatic, vivid, a story worthy of Tolkien, throbbing with atmosphere and aching with the shattered soul and broken heart of the story's principal character," Jay Whelan says.

"Wizard & Glass is a work of boundless heart and imagination, chilling and warm all at once, a wholly-successful melding of the Wild West, the journey of the Ringbearer and Arthurian myth that King hinted at in the previous three novels. There is not a moment when there is not something of interest going on, when you are not amused or unsettled or in love or in fear; King is a writer of immeasurable talent, and this novel proves it."

P.G. Wodehouse captures the attention of Tom Knapp's new Kindle, so he takes a look at My Man Jeeves. "The stories center primarily on shenanigans involving allowances from wealthy relatives and romances gone awry. Elaborate schemes are devised to solve the problems, and those schemes inevitably go wrong in some decisive way," Tom says.

"The humor is sly, rather than gut-busting, and I found myself smiling as I read. Wodehouse was a wordsmith from the days when words mattered as much as -- and possibly more than -- the plot."


Tom Knapp rolls the dice -- metaphorically, of course -- with The Guild. "Felicia Day is a woman of many talents. Add 'comic-book writer' to the list," he says.

"The story may entertain folks who've never sat glued to their monitor as the Guild's adventures unfold; those who've watched and rewatched the series (as I have) will find this book indispensable."

Tom also watches a modern remake of Nosferatu crash and burn. "Nosferatu, the classic black-and-white vampire film, is fertile ground for a modern interpretation. Christopher Wayne had the notion to recast the story in modern times, with the lead characters who are menaced by the horrifying Count Orlock reimagined as a young lesbian couple," he says.

"Unfortunately, Wayne spent so much time building the couple's 'cute' factor that he rushed through the important 'Nosferatu' parts of the story. Also unfortunately, artist Justin Wayne -- and, to an even greater extent, cover artist Tim Seeley -- spoiled Wayne's new perspective by drawing the two girls as cheesecake fantasies for adolescent male readers."


Dan Gordon and Gary Joseph keep an eye out for spooks in Cape Encounters: Contemporary Cape Cod Ghost Stories. "As someone who grew up in a haunted Massachusetts home built in 1788, I can admire the authors' appreciation of the value that the Cape Cod community places on preserving its historical and generational traditions. The authors, Dan Gordon and Gary Joseph, have captured the local flavor of this unique heritage quite well," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"However, while the local lore is enjoyable and I appreciate the authors' lack of embellishment, several of the stories failed to hold my interest for long."


The music of Aonghas Grant is collected in The Glengarry Collection: The Highland Fiddle Music of Aonghas Grant, Vol. 1. "This is about as good as a music collection can get," Tom Knapp says.

"The tunes themselves are written in a clear, easy to sight-read manner, along with guitar chords for easy accompaniment. And what a treasure trove of music it is; anyone interested in performing Scottish tunes will find a wealth of solid material here."

• • • MOVIES

Daniel Jolley cuts loose the Dead Wood. "This low-budget British indie surprised me by turning out to be a decent little horror film. Some will beg to differ (the film has been savaged in some amateur reviewing circles), but what I see in Dead Wood is a truly independent film that tries to avoid the most pervasive of genre cliches even as it pays its own sort of homage to the likes of The Blair Witch Project and Evil Dead," he says.

"While the film definitely has a number of faults and weaknesses, filmmakers David Bryant, Sebastian Smith and Richard Stiles deserve some credit for thinking outside the slasher film box and producing a film that defies conventions, especially given such a low budget to work with."

Dan also takes a look at The Mysterious Mr. Wong. "Following the success of The Mask of Fu Manchu (starring Boris Karloff) in 1932, Monogram Studios sought to exploit MGM's success with their own Yellow Peril-inspired film. And so it was that a down-on-his-luck Bela Lugosi donned the Oriental dress and stereotypical Fu Manchu mustache of Mr. Wong, a megalomaniacal madman bent on seizing full control of the Chinese province of Keelat," Dan informs.

"While Monogram's cache of low-budget B movies is hardly impressive as a whole, The Mysterious Mr. Wong is a very entertaining film (and far better than most of the later films Lugosi would make with this Poverty Row studio). While miscast, Lugosi turns in his usual great performance."

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!)

8 January 2011

On this day in history: Alfred the Great led a West Saxon army to repel an invasion by Danelaw Vikings in 871. Monaco gained its independence in 1297. Bonnie Prince Charlie occupied Stirling during the Second Jacobite Rising in 1746. George Washington delivered the first State of the Union Address in New York City in 1790. Andrew Jackson led American forces in victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The national debt of the United States was $0 for the only time in the country's history in 1835. Crazy Horse and his warriors fought their last battle against the United States Cavalry at Wolf Mountain, Montana Territory, in 1877.

There are 357 days remaining until the end of the year.

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• • • MUSIC

The Birch Creek Band offers Celtic Enchantment. "The song choices are mostly excellent and the band's instrumentation is traditional; guitars, dulcimers, flutes and uilleann pipes abound, and these musicians know their way around their instruments," says Michael Scott Cain.

"They play these songs with love and respect, emphasizing the beauty of the tunes, the haunting, shimmering quality that Celtic music has, so that it reminds you of tiny faery creatures frolicking in trees. It's all very gentle and polite, an almost classical approach to the music."

Larry Stephenson deserves accolades for celebrating his 20th Anniversary in music. "When this CD came out, singer and mandolinist Larry Stephenson was marking two decades as a professional bluegrass performer," Jerome Clark says.

"Among the many hundreds playing it more or less fulltime, few bluegrassers -- I estimate no more than five -- are reasonably famous outside the genre. If Stephenson is not in that select company, those who follow the music unanimously acknowledge his contribution to fine bluegrass, and his CDs are always eminently enjoyable."

Oren Neiman, it must be noted First of All, is offering smooth jazz for your listening pleasure. "If you want music that flows around you, that you can ease into and let it carry you away, this would be something to give a spin," says Paul de Bruijn.

"The music is very good and constantly ties together so very completely."


Brendan Begley and Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh were recently seen performing live in Portland, and Michelle Doyle was there for the music. "Imagine yourself breathless in the dance halls of Cork: a complementary duo of fiddle and button accordion propel the dancers faster, faster, faster, into a polka frenzy. After a moment to catch your breath, the haunting introduction to the 'P&O Polka' leads you to wild misty fields where you dance under a harvest moon," she says.

"Never before has music so evoked the spirit of the land to me. It's terroir in notes, rhythms and melodies respectful of history yet agily shaped to guide us to the future, the now, of Irish music."


Julie Ann Weinstein experiences Flashes from the Otherworld. "In 1,000 words or less, Julie Ann Weinstein goes through dozens of stories involving the paranormal, the surreal and, of course, relationships," says Whitney Mallenby.

"Each story in Flashes from the Otherworld uses strangeness as a tool to explain how complex and truly interesting life should be. It's a quick and easy read that brings vivid focus to the gray areas of life."

Beverly Lewis continues to explore The Heritage of Lancaster County in The Confession. "The Confession is not The Shunning. It's not as interesting, nor is it as well-written, but it's waaaay more preachy. I know this is Christian lit, but that doesn't mean it should lack depth," says Katie Knapp.

"There are two major problems with this book, but neither one is the story, which remains interesting throughout."

The Jada M. Davis novel One for Hell "is a long lost minor classic. It appeared originally in 1952 from Gold Medal books, quickly went out of print and was never reissued -- probably because its author ... did not go on to build a writing career, choosing instead a steady paycheck from the telephone company where he became a senior PR executive, a much more lucrative life than trying to survive writing paperback originals," says Michael Scott Cain.

"Still, you have to wonder what other novels would have come had Davis continued to write. If this book is any indication, he could have become one of the major hardboiled writers, whose name would have been mentioned in the same breath as Jim Thompson, Dan Marlowe and John D. MacDonald."


Gilbert Hernandez points an accusing finger at The Troublemakers. "With its brisk pacing, engaging narrative and rather copious levels of violence, The Troublemakers is lurid crime pulp done to perfection. The second installment in Gil Hernandez's pulp 'movie novels' experiment, The Fritz B-movie Collection, is some pretty high-octane storytelling," Mary Harvey says.

"His black-and-white art is sleek but loaded with meaning. I am in awe of Hernandez's ability to compress such an incredible amount of subtext into one panel."

The Lone Ranger wages a Scorched Earth campaign against evil in Old California. "This new rendition on the Lone Ranger legend continues to impress, both through powerful storytelling and strong visuals," Tom Knapp says.

"Writer Brett Matthews and artist Sergio Cariello are a good team, and they seem to be on this title for the long haul. Good news for fans, good news for Dynamite!"


Mark P. Donnelly and Daniel Diehl evoke the early days of the American coast in Pirates of New Jersey. "The book addresses both pirates and privateers. While the more famous pirates of the Golden Age didn't base their operations off the Jersey shore, you'll find ties -- and maybe even hidden treasures -- connecting New Jersey to the likes of Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach, William Kidd and 'Black Bart' Roberts," Tom Knapp reports.

"Donnelly and Diehl have packaged it all in a very readable, highly detailed and entertaining book that brings the glory days of pirates home to a greatly misunderstood state. The level of research that went into compiling a great deal of historical minutiae is impressive, as is the flowing narrative style in which they present their tales."


Michelle Skye takes a spiritual track in Goddess Alive: Inviting Celtic & Norse Goddesses into Your Life. "Through Skye's painstaking research, you will learn the story of each goddess, but this is much, much more than a history book. You will explore each goddess through wonderful guided meditations, interesting activities, rituals and invocations. You will also explore each goddess' relationship to a holiday or moon phase, and discover what meaning she holds for you," Lee Lukaszewicz says.

"I believe you will love the opportunity to learn made available through this book."

• • • MOVIES

Mary Harvey dives into cyberspace with Jeff Bridges and Tron: Legacy. "This is, absolutely and beyond question, one of those movies that will divide critics forever, as did the first. There will be plenty of room for debate when the next Tron movie comes out, and there will be a third movie, since the second half of Legacy drops clues and subplots all over the place that almost certainly guarantee another installment," she says.

"Fans of the original probably won't be disappointed while those who ignore the incredible world-building in favor of unachievable perfection will have a lot to chew over. I'm putting Tron: Legacy down as one of the best movies in a year that wasn't exactly one of Hollywood's greatest."

Daniel Jolley views a crashing calamity in Nature Unleashed: Avalanche. "Avalanches are some bad business -- and they're bad for business, particularly if you are building a luxurious hotel at the base of a high mountain threatening to slide off its shelf and come crashing down on top of you. It's a subject that lends itself well to cinematic treatment, and I think this particular effort, Nature Unleashed: Avalanche, really isn't that bad of a film, especially given the project's budget," he says.

"Of course, you have to have at least one cliched love story in play, but at least that is complemented by another subplot involving the builder of the hotel and his daughter. One positive aspect of the film is its relative success at maintaining a strong degree of tension up until the very end."

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!)