Conal O’Grada in Fairfield, CT

June 1st, 2009 at 8:06 pm by Michael

I’ve been a big fan of flute player Conal O’Grada since I first got his debut solo recording, the brilliant Top of Coom. I never thought I’d see him perform live though, and a few weeks ago, when I ended up missing another concert because of a previous commitment, I’d even joked that it wasn’t like I was missing out on seeing Conal O’Grada.

I was therefore more than a little excited when I got an email from The Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society saying that they’d put together a house concert in Fairfield featuring O’Grada, fiddle player Diarmuid O’Brien, accordion player Paudie O’Connor and piano player Ciaran Coughlan, all of whom had just arrived in the U.S. on their way to the Mid Atlantic Region Fleadh Cheoil.

Last Thursday, Jenn and I made our way down to the same lovely house in Fairfield where we’d previously seen the Kane Sisters perform, and were treated to another great music event. There’s something about traditional Irish music that makes it work especially well in an intimate setting, and our hosts had a room that was perfectly suited to hosting a few performers and twenty-five or so appreciative listeners.

It was some great craic, with Conal, Diarmuid and Paudie each taking a solo turn on their respective instruments, accompanied on several tunes by Ciaran on his piano, and then, after an intermission, they all blew through a bunch of sets together. I was, of course, especially impressed by Conal’s performance, and it was great to get to watch him play from only a few feet away, but Diarmuid and Paudie were excellent too.

Oh, and I finally picked up a copy of Conal O’Grada’s most recent album, Cnoc Bui, which is possibly even better than Top of Coom.

All in all, it was a grand way to spend a warm spring evening.

Books for March and April 2009

May 26th, 2009 at 8:15 pm by Michael

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow [4.5/5]

A novel by Cory Doctorow about a teen in S.F. who uses technology to stand up for his rights, and the rights of those around him, against the abusive practices of Homeland Security. In other words, even though Little Brother was aimed at young adults, it included a lot of my favorite things, so it worked out well that I ended up loving this book as much as I hoped I would. It’s not a perfect novel, but it has a lot of great things to say about society, technology and rights. If you’re not already familiar with things like cypherpunks, onion routers, and culture jamming, you’ll learn a lot, and have fun doing it. Highly recommended for both adults and (especially) teen readers.

Fathom by Cherie Priest [4/5]

Cherie Priest’s gift for prose is on full display in this tale of old gods and their no-longer-human pawns. I found the structure of the novel to be a bit odd, but it works well as a framework for Cherie’s imagination. Recommended.

Escape From Hell! by Hal Duncan [3.5/5]

The cover copy describes this as “Escape from New York meets Jacob’s Ladder,” which seems like a fairly accurate summary of what the novella’s about. It’s all done at high speed with Hal Duncan’s wonderfully mad prose, though at times some of his stylistic choices didn’t entirely work for me, which may have contributed to me not liking it as much as I liked VELLUM or INK.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Pinion by Jay Lake
  • A few other projects

Books for January and February 2009

May 18th, 2009 at 9:14 pm by Michael

Murder of Angels by Caitlin R. Kiernan [3.5/5]

This book rejoins some of the characters from Kiernan’s first novel, Silk, ten years later, and while the prose is extraordinary, I didn’t end up enjoying it as much as the previous novel, in part because I didn’t find the plot to be as focused as I’d have liked.

Princeps’ Fury (Codex Alera, Book 5) by Jim Butcher [4/5]

This is the fifth installment in the Codex Alera books, and it’s another great effort, with a plot that moves along quickly and lots of my favorite race, the Canim. There’s a major shakeup of Alera here, paving the way for what promised to be a really big finale to the series.

Pretties (Uglies Trilogy, Book 2) by Scott Westerfeld [ 3.5/5]

I didn’t find myself enjoying this second book in the Uglies trilogy as much as I enjoyed the first one, maybe because it didn’t feel like it broke much new ground or maybe because I didn’t like the main character, Tally, as much this time around. It’s still a well-written YA novel, but overall I’d say I was a bit disappointed, though I do plan to read the third book in the series.

Tales of Pain and Wonder by Caitlin R. Kiernan [4.5/5]

I won this collection of Kiernan’s stories in a raffle that benefited the KGB Fantastic Fiction reading series, and I’m very glad I did. There’s a lot of brilliant stuff in here, and even the stories I didn’t like quite as much (and I think it’d be weird to have somehow liked all of the stories equally) were still very much worth a read. The interior illustrations by Richard Kirk are great too, and fit well with the mood and style of the rest of the book. My only minor complaint would actually be that I wish the alternative table of contents, which shows all of the stories in narrative order rather than order of publication, had been at the front of the book rather than in the back. I guess I’ll have to try reading them in that order when I re-read the collection.

As-yet-unpublished manuscripts read:

  • Gideon by Alex Gordon (later draft)
  • A few other projects

February 2009 movies

May 13th, 2009 at 8:35 pm by Michael

One of these days I’ll actually get caught up again. Maybe.

RocknRolla [3/5] [Amazon]

I didn’t think this was as good as the two other Guy Ritchie films I’d seen, Snatch and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, but if you liked those two films you’ll probably like at least parts of this one.

Repo! The Genetic Opera [1/5] [Amazon]

I was surprised that I disliked this rock opera much as I did. Despite the presence of Anthony Head, I thought it was a complete mess, and the songs didn’t work for me at all. I didn’t even make it through the entire film before I gave up.

Changeling [4/5] [Amazon]

I think I would have liked this movie more if it was a bit shorter, but a fine performance from Angelina Jolie, a good screenplay by J. Michael Straczynski, and Jeffrey “Burn Notice” Donovan as one of the bad guys, were still enough to make me like this period piece a lot.

January 2009 Movies

April 29th, 2009 at 10:39 pm by Michael

The Fall [3.5/5] [Amazon]

This story within a story had absolutely astonishing cinematography, but I wasn’t at all fond of the actress chosen to play the little girl, and I thought the whole thing fell apart during the last quarter of the film. It’s still worth seeing though, just for the images that director Tarsem Singh puts on the screen.

The Duchess [3.5/5] [Amazon]

Both Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley give good performances in this story the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, but for me the whole thing didn’t do much to rise above what felt like a too familiar style of costume drama.

Appaloosa [4.5/5] [Amazon]

Based on a novel by Robert Parker, this old-school Western has great dialogue, fine performances (especially from Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen) and lots of atmosphere. Highly recommended.

WALL-E [5/5] [Amazon]

Wow. This brilliant film from Pixar completely lived up to all of the hype, and is definitely more than just another animated feature. The script hits just the right note almost every time, the overall story is great, and the CG animation is astoundingly good. Very highly recommended.