Friday, January 15, 2021

Fiction Friday (124)


After reading a few heavier titles, I wanted to take a quick swing through some Middle Grade. Having finished my last book on a Friday, and knew I'd be in the library on Monday, I went through my To-Read shelf and pulled out a book that's been there 17 years. I figured it sort of fit with my Alice readings from last year. I was glad I picked it up.

Alice in Blunderland by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003)

Alice is 9 years old, and one thing she knows for sure is that being in fourth grade is very, very hard. Having an older teenage brother that tells you lies because you are gullible and trusting is also very hard. Having lost your mother when you were too young to remember isn't hard, it's just unfair.  If all of that wasn't difficult enough, being prone to making embarrassing mistakes makes being 9 years old practically impossible.

Best known for Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has been a fixture in Middle Grade fiction for decades. This book is one of several prequels to her beloved Alice series. I wanted to read it as part of my Alice in Wonderland exploration, though I knew this was related by title only. But like "Alice", Naylor's Alice is an intelligent, curious, and wonderful character. 

For younger readers, this book is an affirmation that the difficult and embarrassing things that happen to you, happen to everyone. For adult readers, especially parents, it's a reminder of how trying it is to grow up and what a struggle it can be to come to terms with life. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Weekend Music Roundup


The first week of 2021 has ended, and many of us have tried the 7-day trial and would like to exchange it for a different version. In the grimness of this week, take comfort in music. As Mad Richard once said, "Music Saves." This week I have a bunch of 2020 albums that I wanted to share before the albums from this year start to be released. Two of these were actually on my best of list, but never got proper they have. Hopefully there's something on here that you'll want to check out. Enjoy.

Liar, Flower - Geiger Counter: The new album from KatieJane Garside and Chris Whittingham is their first release under this name, though the duo has released many albums under the Ruby Throat moniker. I'm never quite sure what to say when I review her work because there's always this instant connection that is made between her music and myself, and has been ever since I heard "Love Your Money" back in '91. A lot has changed since Daisy Chainsaw, but I feel that I've changed in similar ways. KatieJane is one of those artists who has helped shaped my creative life and continues to. This was on my Best of 2020, even though I only got it on Christmas. 


Kadavar - The Isolation Tapes: The seventh studio album from the Berlin psych rock band came out in the Fall. I've enjoyed every single one of their previous albums, some slightly more than others. On this new record, there's a Floyd space rock vibe that sounds real nice. They've always had a bit of that in their sound, but this album really brings it out. I'm not sure if this is a great album, or just an album that feels really right for me at this particular time. I honestly believe that our connection to an album is strongly decided by the time and place we encountered it. The vibes have to mingle with yours. Any space rock fan is pretty sure to dig this album.

Patricia Lalor - Covers EP: The new EP from the 14 year Irish artist is an indie dream pop gem. Though she has a few EPs out, this is my first introduction to her and her voice is mature beyond her years. This has a Ruby Throat vibe, an acoustic-y eeriness that is just stellar. "Present Tense" (Radiohead) and "My Kind of Woman" (Mac Demarco) are both unbelievably good. I'm really looking forward to checking out some of her other work, very impressive.  


Three Queens in Mourning / Bonnie Prince Billy - Hello Sorrow-Hello Joy: Released in July, this is the debut project of three iconic Glasgow indie folk artists. Alasdair Roberts, who I've followed since Appendix Out's debut in '97. Jill O'Sullivan, from Sparrow and the Workshop whose 2008 debut was fantastic. Alex Neilson who was in Trembling Bells, which was another band the Prince teamed up with in the past. Together these guys cover the hell out of Will Oldman songs. There was this movement back in the late 90s and early 00s of Scottish and English folk artists who made albums in the same vein as I See a Darkness, and there were albums from right before that clearly influenced that classic record. These guys were all part of that movement and this feels pretty epic. 


Mad Hatter - Pieces of Reality: This is the second album from the Swedish metal band. Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a sucker for anything Alice related, so when I saw this pop up, I had to give it a shot. This is pretty by-the-numbers power metal with blistering guitar and screeching falsetto. The real draw-back for me was the drums which sound completely mechanical. There are moments on this record that caught me, but they were few and far between. At it's best, it reminds me of Avenged Sevenfold


Dead Quiet - Truth and Ruin: The third album from the Vancouver stoner metal band is a collection of fast tempo riffs and growly vocals that are melodic, not screaming. I enjoyed their first album about five years back and I enjoy this one too. It's nothing earth shattering, just good heavy rock. "Of Sound and Fury," and "Forever Unsung" were personal favorites.


Friday, January 8, 2021

Fiction Friday (123)


The first book finished in a New Year is typically a good one for me. It's usually a book that I've wanted to read all year, and I'm counting on those holiday days (especially the 2020 kind) to let me read. Though this wasn't my first choice, this was the book I needed to read for my book club. It was cool though, because I've read some of Erdrich's work and really respect her writing. Love Medicine was a book I had to read in AP English in High School back in '93. It was unlike any book I had read before. I read The Antelope Wife when it came out and loved it. It seemed a more than fitting time to catch up.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

(Harper, 2020)


In 1953, a Reservation and its people were facing termination in the US Senate. It was given names that made it sound like a good thing, calling it emancipation and elevation, trying to cover up what it really was by wrapping it up in shiny paper. This is a document of how they saved their lands from extinction and protected what was rightfully and lawfully theirs.

Through a host of varied characters, the reader is brought into their lives like an observing spirit. You spend time with them, sometimes doing only ordinary things, but things that feel important. The reader feels connected, feels the pain inside each character, and knows they are strong enough to survive. That's what great books do. Great books create shared experiences between the reader and the fiction. This is a great book.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Weekend Music Roundup (Best of 2020)


There's no denying that it's been a long strange year, but if there was thing that was normal about 2020 it was that there was a ton of good music. As I get older, it seems that many of my favorite albums are from artists that I've been familiar with for some time, but there are always some new ones the pop in and impress me.


Three Queens in Mourning / Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Hello Sorrow / Hello Joy

Honorable Mentions

Black Ends - Stay Evil

Little Kid - Transfiguration Highway 

Green Seagull - Cloud Cover

James Dean Bradfield - Even in Exile

Bright Eyes - Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was

 Hum - Inlet

Fantastic Negrito - Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?

 Le Butcherettes - Don't Bleed

Jyoti - Mama, You Can Bet!

Muzz - Muzz

My Morning Jacket - Waterfall II

Alexander Savior - The Archer

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year


It is few and far between the number of people who will be sad to say goodbye to 2020...but it wasn't all bad. And the good thing about a year like this's going to be difficult for next year not to be a better one.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

It's the weekend, the first real weekend of winter around these parts, with a fresh 16 inches of snow. Snow days are some of my favorite listening music days. I have a few albums here that I listened for the first time this week, a few others are some other 2020 albums that I want get up here before the new year starts. Lots of different stuff on here, so enjoy.

Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full: Over the past several years, Emma Ruth Rundle (Marriages, Nocturnes, Red Sparrows) had become one of my favorite artists. On this new record, she teams up with the sludge band Thou to create a really great atmospheric sludge metal album. Her voice adds another level to the screeching that occurs in the background, coming together to create pleasant chaos. 

Blue Rose Code - With Healings of the Deepest Kind: The fifth album from the Edinburgh artist. He's the sort sing songwriter that's difficult to categorize. It's part chamber pop, part baroque, part Sting, part easy listening and part Nick Cave. It's very moody, grey and beautiful, a kind of uplifting sort of folk with lots of strings.  "The Wild Atlantic Way," and "Starlit" were standouts for me.  


Black Ends - Sellout: After loving this Seattle band's newest EP, I delved into their back catalog of EPs on their Bandcamp site. This one is from last year and is a little more experimental than the new one. It's little groovier, perhaps less dangerous, less tinged with darkness, though it's there under the surface. "Peak," "Tongues Turned" and "Maybe When" are brilliant. The underground is definitely going to come round to these guys. Super stuff that I haven't heard the likes of since Sweet 75s and Pagoda and Enormous. 

Henry Gross - Release: The fourth solo album from the one time Sha Na Na guitarist was released in '76 and is a groovy '70s pop rock record that blends soul and folk. "Overton Square" reminds me of Donovan's "Sunny Goodge Street", one of my favorite songs. This is a decent album that is wholly of its time. A good choice when looking for some 70s FM pop rock. "Moonshine Alley," "Shannon," and "Something In Between" are standouts.

The Warlocks - The Chain: The 9th album from the L.A. psychedelic rock band was released this spring. This band has always done fuzzy psych as good as anyone and this record is another great addition to their body of work. This album feels more like their earliest stuff, rougher and eerier and more suited for stoned travels through the Interzone. "Mr. Boogeyman," and "Double Life" are fantastic tracks.


The Alligator Wine - Demons of the Mind: The debut album from heavy rock band from Germany came out this past spring. It opens with the hard hitting "Shotgun" before mellowing out a bit, creating that heavy psych balance. The vocals are little gruff, but they work with the music. A pretty solid blues inspired rock that certainly isn't groundbreaking, but decent enough to check out. "The Flying Carousel" is another standout track.


Friday, December 18, 2020

Fiction Friday (122)



One of the few things I will always remember about this long cold winter of homesteading is that I've been able to read more. Coupled with the fact that the library has is literally overrun with new titles, and my newfound interest in contemporary literature, it's was a good post Thanksgiving reading week. Enjoy.

August by Callan Wink

(Random House, 2020)

August. A character title is just about perfect for a novel that attempts to, and pretty masterfully succeeds in, capturing the complete essence of a character's life.

We meet August before he's even born. We meet him the moment his mother decides his name will be August. One's essence doesn't start at birth, it starts when you have a name. Names are powerful in shaping one's character. Now that empty container has a label and something to live up to. This is August's search to discover what being August means.

The novel is written in what almost feels like linear slice of life pieces strung together with scene breaks. They are brought to life with carefully crafted moments that allow the reader to spend time with August. It's a fly on the wall perspective, a camera lens kind of straight forward storytelling in a style that reminds me of many of the late 20th century greats.

It's the kind of book that's not really about anything, because it's really about everything. It's about parents and first relationships, and not understanding what any of it means to a teenager becoming an adult. It's a book that will stay, always wondering how August is doing these day.