May Books

June 1st, 2008 at 2:50 pm by Jennifer

Two already-published books this month, which is up from zero last month. Actually, with everything else that I was reading for work, it just took me quite a while to get through this one:

Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, edited by Ekaterina Sedia: I had an advance copy and have been “sneaking” a short story here and there between manuscripts. I really enjoyed this anthology, particularly revisiting Jay Lake’s City Imperishable in “Promises” and Hal Duncan’s “The Tower of Maddening Bones.” Having now seen Hal read at various conventions, I can actually hear his accent in the prose and imagine his flamboyant delivery in the periphery of my mind’s eye. I also found the imagery in “The One that Got Away” by Mark Teppo evocative and the character study presented in Jen Reese’s “Taser” was also intriguing. My thanks to Kathy for introducing me to these two writers, whom I don’t believe I’ve read before. Michael also reviewed this book in April when it was released.

The other book I read this month was Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins. This is part of my ongoing project to read current YA fiction for a conference panel I’m on this summer, and it was a gift from the editor. It’s essentially about a demon from hell that possesses a 17-year-old boy, and the demon’s intention to experience being human. I’d definitely call it a “boy book” and there were some narrative choices that didn’t quite work for me, such as the narrator’s first person voice that constantly referred to the boy’s family, friends, things, etc. as things outside himself, which left me feeling a bit distant and uninvolved. It did win an award from the ALA, though, so it’s definitely worth the read, and it was a nice change from all the “girl books” I read earlier this year.

April movies

May 14th, 2008 at 10:41 pm by Michael

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford [5/5] [Amazon]

This is a slow movie, but if you know that going in then you can take the time to appreciate what a fine piece of filmmaking it is. From the atmospheric cinematography, to the excellent performances by both Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt, to the perfect score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, I thought this was a brilliant film. Maybe some of the bits in the middle could have been edited to help the pacing there, but overall it was just great. I may even have to pick this up for myself on DVD.

The Red Violin [3/5] [Amazon]

I liked the basic premise of the movie, but I didn’t at all appreciate the structure used to tell the story. Still, there are some fine performances and some excellent violin playing.

Juno [5/5] [Amazon]

Diablo Cody’s sharp writing is what makes this movie, and the great acting, especially by Ellen Page, works to make that writing come alive. This one is a definite winner.

There Will Be Blood [4/5] [Amazon]

As was the case with Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland, I thought the performance by the lead actor in this movie was absolutely brilliant, but I was less in love with the film itself. I found it to be uneven, and thought it fell apart to some extent toward the end. Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting still makes it worth seeing though.

Books for March and April

May 11th, 2008 at 11:02 pm by Michael

Almost all of these books were read in March, as April found me mainly reading things that didn’t have covers.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield [4.5/5]

This was my first Scott Westerfield book, and I thought it definitely lived up to the hype. The writing was smooth, the characters engaging, and it never gave the sense of somehow talking down to it’s audience simply because it’s nominally a YA book. Highly recommended.

The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson [3.5/5]

There are some great ideas here, but I thought the novel started a lot more strongly than it finished, and I didn’t find the resolution of the plot to be at all satisfying.

Snake Agent: A Detective Inspector Chen Novel by Liz Williams [4/5]

I liked the combination of police procedural and Chinese mythology, and I found the characters to be engaging. There were times though that I thought things weren’t quite as well paced as they might have been, but it was still a fun read.

Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy edited by Ekaterina Sedia [5/5]

I already reviewed this one here.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • The House of Discarded Dreams by Ekaterina Sedia
  • 1 non-client ms. for Jenn

Liz Carroll and John Doyle at the Iron Horse

May 11th, 2008 at 9:00 pm by Michael

On May 1st, Jenn and I travelled to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA, to see Liz Carroll and John Doyle perform. Since I apparently didn’t ever get around to blogging about the last concert of theirs we went to, I don’t want to let this one get missed too just because it took place during a week that was bookended by Veda Hille and Vienna Teng shows.

I’d seen Liz and John perform twice before, once at the University of Hartford and once at the Meeting House in Newtown, CT, so I was expecting another evening of excellent tunes and songs. We got to the venue before doors opened, so we could grab the small table up against the stage, which was the perfect vantage point for watching Liz on fiddle and John on guitar demonstrate their mastery of their respective instruments. They tore through two long sets of reel, jigs and other tunes, interspersed with a few songs sung by John. There was also an easy exchange of banter between the two of them, in case the way they played together wasn’t already evidence enough of how comfortable they were with each other on stage.

The only downside to the evening was the people at the table directly in front of Liz and John. They obviously all knew one or both of the performers to some extent, and they decided that this meant they should try to make requests and crack jokes whenever the opportunity arose. It was almost as though they thought the concert was for them alone, and not the rest of us in the audience. Given their reaction, I don’t think either Liz or John was entirely comfortable with all of this.

Despite that annoyance, it was still a great evening of music, and if you at all like the Irish traditional stuff, I highly recommend going to see Liz and John if they play in your area.

Veda Hille at Joe’s Pub

May 8th, 2008 at 9:41 pm by Michael

Way back on April 27th, Jenn and I hitched a ride with our friend woj down into NYC to see Veda Hille at Joe’s Pub. It had been almost seven years since I’d last seen her play, when she performed her album Field Study (and showed the accompanying film) in woj and Meredith’s living room. The July heat that day did it’s best to melt my brain, but I still remember the packed room being completely enraptured by her. Since then Veda hadn’t crossed the border into the States very often (thanks, stupid U.S. visa hassle!), and hadn’t made it out New York at all, so I was really looking forward to the chance to see her again.

Joe’s Pub has a reputation of being somewhat of a hassle to see shows in, and I hadn’t been there for years, but on the quiet Sunday night when we saw Veda it was almost entirely free of annoyances. We got there a few minutes early and joined a group of ectophiles who had staked out good seats, and the waitress was laid back about us buying drinks. All of that meant that I was free to concentrate on the show without distractions.

Veda was awesome. She was accompanied only by Ske Brooks on drums (and some vocals), but that was all she needed. On piano, keyboard and tenor guitar, she performed a great set of songs, mainly taken from her most recent album, This Riot Life. I had been lame about getting her last few CDs, so between that failing of mine and her playing things that weren’t on any of her albums, almost the entire set consisted of material I hadn’t heard before. That just meant that I got to be amazed by each song as I heard it for the first time. Wow.

As an extra bonus feature, I got to get Vienna Teng hooked on Veda too, by encouraging her to go to the show. I felt inordinately proud of myself for that one. Jenn helped too, by sharing her cash so Vienna could buy two of Veda’s CD instead of just one, as Joe’s Pub had decided to make Ms. Teng pay twice to get in, claiming that they didn’t have the ticket she’d bought in advance. Susan McKeown probably would have been at the show also, if I’d given her more notice about the concert, but it didn’t end up working out. Sorry about that, Susan. In other musician sightings, Erin McKeown had made the long drive down to the city, so I guess she’s a definite Veda fan too.

After the show there was much hanging out and chatting with Veda and various ectophiles (including Vienna, an ectophile herself from back in the day). In the end, the trip back wasn’t over until 3am, so I was a zombie the next day. Was it worth it? Absolutely.