Books for November and December 2009

February 16th, 2010 at 9:32 pm by Michael

Still catching up from last year….

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay [2/5]

I’d been looking forward to finally getting around to reading this book, as I really liked both Tigana and The Sarantine Mosaic, but I only made it about 75 pages in before I quit. The stock crossover fantasy tropes made it feel very dated to me, and some of the techniques used (such as head hopping) just weren’t my cup of tea.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon [4.5/5]

This was my first Michael Chabon book, and I very much enjoyed it. A detective story on the surface, this novel was also a lot more, and pretty much everything, from Chabon’s deft use of language to the setting and atmosphere, worked for me. Highly recommended.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Unnamed projects (8 partials, 1 full, 1 short story)

Books for September and October 2009

February 8th, 2010 at 9:38 pm by Michael

Catching up from last year….

Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan [3.5/5]

While I didn’t find this to be as strong an effort as the first Takeshi Kovacs book (Altered Carbon, which was brilliant), I did enjoy it more than Broken Angels. It’s a gritty, future-noir, action-packed thriller, with plenty of Quellism too.

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel [4/5]

An excellent group of stories that attempts to capture some of the ideals of cyberpunk without wallowing in the same old mirror-shade cliches. The standouts for me were the stories by Sterling, Lethem, Bacigalupi and Doctrow, with bonus points for the interesting introduction (“Hacking Cyberpunk) and the Sterling-Kessel correspondence. Recommended.

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia [4.5/5]

This is an extraordinary story about what makes a person a person, and whether a [sort of] steampunk robot can ever aspire to be human. It’s all conveyed with Sedia’s exquisite prose, and the result is a truly wonderful book. Highly recommended!

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (draft)
  • Unnamed projects (7 partials, 1 full, 3 short stories)

A year of Vienna Teng concerts

January 22nd, 2010 at 10:37 pm by Michael

There are only two possible reasons for the lack of concert posts here over the past year.  The first is that I didn’t go see any live music.  The second is that I failed to post about it.

Fortunately, the second explanation is the correct one.

In an attempt to get things rolling again, this is a post about the seven Vienna Teng concerts I attended from December 2008 through December 2009.

Vienna Teng at Iron Horse Music Hall, Mon, December 8, 2008
Vienna Teng at Watercolor Cafe, Tue, December 9, 2008

Two great back-to-back solo shows with Vienna in fine form. She played some songs from the then upcoming new album, Inland Territory, including the brilliant “Antebellum.”

Vienna Teng at A Benefit for Caffe Vivaldi, Sun, February 15, 2009

One of two special shows that Vienna did to benefit Caffe Vivaldi in NYC, during which she, Alex and Ward performed the not-yet-released Inland Territory from start to finish. There were a few kinks, but overall it was an excellent way to hear all of the new material live, and for a good cause too.

Vienna Teng at Infinity Hall, Thu, July 9, 2009

Vienna Teng at Infinity Hall (3 of 4)

This was the first time I had seen Vienna perform since the new album had come out in April, and the touring in support of that seemed to have made her even more confident on stage. She played a great set that included my request for “Augustine.” I hadn’t been following the set lists on the forum, and I assumed she’d been playing the song live during the European and U.S. release tours. I was wrong. Apparently the solo version of “Augustine” that she did was the first time she’d played it live since the benefit shows in February. Fortunately, she did an awesome job, with a solo version of the song that I like even better than the album version.

Vienna Teng at Iron Horse Music Hall, Thu, October 1, 2009

I was joined at this one by Jenn, woj, Meredith, Sarah and Kate, and it was a great show, even if the extra keyboard was blocking much of our line of sight when Vienna was sitting at the piano, which she does a lot. Fortunately, the music made up for it, with Vienna and Alex doing a great job together. The bonus for the evening was opener The Paper Raincoat, Alex’s band, who were just brilliant.

Vienna Teng live album recording at Joe’s Pub, Thu, December 3, 2009

Vienna Teng at Joe's Pub (2 of 3)

Springing for VIP seats for the later of the two live album recording shows ended up being a great idea, as it meant there was plenty of time to get an excellent dinner at Momofuku Ssam Bar before getting in line, without having to worry about not getting good seats. In fact, we ended up getting to share a table with the fabulous Priscellie and her friend Mike. The music was great, and the energy was about what you’d expect with Vienna, Alex and Ward playing in front of an audience that was mostly made up of hardcore fans. Another benefit of the VIP tickets was getting to hang out with Vienna some at the after-show party, even though that meant getting back from the city around 4am.

Vienna Teng and Over the Rhine at The Egg, Sun, December 6, 2009

A few nights after the live recording show, a long trek to Albany was made to see Vienna and Alex perform in a co-bill with Over the Rhine. After the long drive, the fiasco that was parking at The Egg (the website lies!), and the resulting hike to the venue, I was hoping for a great show. What I got was half of a great show, but fortunately it was Vienna’s half. The vibe was definitely different from Joe’s Pub, as I’d say it was mostly an Over the Rhine audience, but Vienna and Alex did a great job of winning them over, and the fact that it was a co-bill meant they got in a nice long set.

As for OtR, I just found them to be….well, sort of boring, which I hadn’t been expecting. They also had their sound guy turn things up way too loud, and though the venue’s acoustics handled it well, it detracted from the music. The last time I’d seen them live, a couple of years ago in Sellersville, PA, the sound had also been too loud, but I thought it was probably the venue’s problem. Apparently it’s actually OtR’s sound guy that’s the problem though, so between that and not being thrilled by the performance, I don’t know how likely I am to see another Over the Rhine show. It’s always a weird feeling to realize that you’re no longer a big fan of a band you’ve been following for more than a decade.

In any case, Vienna’s performance was good enough that I was still glad I went, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing her more in 2010.

Books for July and August 2009

October 9th, 2009 at 9:50 pm by Michael

Oddly enough, all three books I read over the last two months of the summer were ARCs (Advance Reading Copies).

Four Freedoms by John Crowley [4/5]

The story of a handicapped man’s life before and during WWII doesn’t sound like something I’d normally read, but John Crowley is a good enough writer that I ended up quite liking this book. While I might quibble with some of his structural choices, the prose, atmosphere, characters and voice were all great.

Canticle by Ken Scholes [4.5/5]

This sequel to Lamentation is another brilliant outing for Ken, and it has all of the many strengths of its predecessor. My only complaint might be that the very beginning of this one felt a bit slow while it was going over events from the first book, but that’s not enough to stop me from highly recommending it.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest [4.5/5]

Let’s see, this is a steampunk novel with zombies that’s set in the ruins of Civil War era Seattle. Oh, and it’s written by the very talented Ms. Priest. There’s a reason why this book has so much buzz, and that’s because it’s both well-written and a ridiculous amount of fun. Highly recommended.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (final draft)
  • Unnamed projects (7 partials, a long outline and 2 short stories)

Books for May and June 2009

September 5th, 2009 at 2:25 pm by Michael

Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slattery [4.5/5]

A truly amazing book. There’s just something about the rhythm of Slattery’s prose and the images he draws that completely works for me. Highly recommended.

The Bone Key by Sarah Monette [4/5]

A great collection of stories about one Kyle Murchison Booth, with wonderful flavor and hints of both M.R. James and Lovecraft. My favorites from among them included “The Venbretti Necklace,” “Elegy for a Demon Lover” and “Wall of Clouds.”

The River Knows Its Own by Jay Lake [4/5]

Jay’s strong collection of stories about the Northwest. Standouts for me included “Heading West,” “Eye Teeth,” “Eggs for Dinner,” “The River Knows Its Own,” and “Changing the Game.”

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman [4.5/5]

There’s a reason that this book won awards and is still on one of the NYT bestseller lists. It’s charming and it’s dark and it’s very Neil. I wish it had gone deeper and just been more, but it was, after all, intended for younger readers.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova [2/5]

I really didn’t like this book at all. The prose was fine, but it wasn’t wonderful enough to get me through what seemed to mostly be travelogues and document research. I thought the novel was almost completely lacking in tension, and when the dreaded Count finally made an appearance, it felt entirely anticlimactic. For me, this was just 650+ pages of trudging to get to the end.

Under My Roof by Nick Mamatas [4/5]

This book is a clever and fun satire, and the fact that it’s novella length means it’s over before the whole thing can get stale.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Unnamed projects (1 full, 9 partials and a short story or two)