Archive for August, 2014

birdkingSOUNDTRACK: TRICKY-“Sun Down” (2014).

trickI really liked Tricky’s first few albums.  He came back with a good album last year and now he has a new one called Adrian Thaws.  It is currently streaming on NPR.

I listened to the whole album and I like it quite a lot.  There’s a decent variety of stuff, most of which is really fantastic.  There’s a few tracks I’m not so sure about.  But one of the key things is that Tricky’s claustrophobic and slighty off-kilter style is at the forefront here.  Especially in this song.

It begins with a kind of tribal sounding beat and then some distorted bass notes.  There’s a clock ticking in the background as Tricky’s voice (sometimes doubled) speaks/raps his slow style.  It feels close up and dark.  When guest vocalist Tirzah sings the female parts, she continues that slightly echoed, slightly muffled style that doesn’t really shed any brightness on the song.

Sure, there’s a chorus, but it’s not the reach out and grab you kind.  Rather, it just pushes the song along to its inevitable conclusion.  The keyboards noises that end the song create an uneasy feeling as the beat continues until the song ends with a ticking clock.

It’s great to have Tricky back in form.

[READ: July 1, 2014] The Bird King and other sketches

I’ve been marveling over Shaun Tan’s work this summer, so I was delighted to see this book as well.  The Bird King is, as the subtitle says, a collection of Tan’s sketches. He gives a brief introduction about how he was unsure whether or not to publish them as they are clearly unfinished, but so many of them are so beautiful in their “what might be” stage, that it’s hard to deny their value.

I mean, the very first picture, called “Bee-eater” is magnificent (it’s at the bottom of the page here).  It is part of the first section called Untold Stories.  This includes several of the pages from the comic Flinch that I read back in June.  I said I didn’t love the pieces then (I didn’t realize he did the cover of that book as well).  But I see now that I like the drawings better out of the context of that book, which was more about spooky and unsettling things.  I don’t think of Tan’s work as spooky or unsettling, rather it’s more magical, so seeing this series of titled pencil drawings together was really cool.

The second section is called Book Theatre and Film (I didn’t know that he was a creative consultant for Wall-E), and it includes samples from his books (like Eric and The Red Tree) as well as stills from movies that were made of his books like The Lost Thing as well as earlier books which I don’t know like John Marsen’s The Rabbits and covers of other books (like Tender Morsels). (more…)


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red treeSOUNDTRACK: ELVIS COSTELLO-“Monster Went and Ate My Red 2″

elvisOf all of the songs that I might think would get turned into a children’s song for Sesame Street, I must say that “The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” was pretty low on the likelihood list.  It’s one of my favorite songs, but what might you do with it for the Street (and why would you pick a sorta popular song from 40 some years ago?).

I can’t answer the last part, but you can tell by the title what you’d do with it:  turn the angel into a monster and the shoes into the number 2.  And now Elvis can’t count to ten because the monster ate his red two.  Lyrically it stretched credibility somewhat, but when accompanied by the video in which Cookie Monster does in fact eat a number 2 that is red, it all makes a kind of weird sense.

True, Elvis never sings the “She said drop dead and left with another guy” line.  In fact, Elmo sings that verse in which he goes and gets another red two.  But, just when you think it’s all good, there’s a surprising twist.

And, best of all, Elvis looks like he’s having fun.

[READ: July 1, 2014] The Red Tree

It was surprising seeing this children’s book come across my desk, but since I love Shaun Tan’s work, I was excited to read this one (his other children’s books are gorgeous).

This story is quite dark–perhaps a little too ark for my six-year-old, although I feel like she could relate to it on some days (perhaps the wording was a little much even if the feelings were spot on).  And she has red hair too.

The story opens with a girl sitting in bed with the caption that “Sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to and thing go from bad to worse.”  Sure everyone has experienced days like that.  And the drawings are wonderful–in this case, the girl’s bed is swamped by leaves. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2014] The Unluckiest Boy in the World

unlkcyMy kids enjoy just about any audio book, but I try to find ones that seem funny (and age appropriate for both of them).  For reasons I’m unclear about, it seems like most of the audio books that are age appropriate are British or Australian–either they release more audio books, or that’s just what my library orders.  So we wind up listening to a lot of British readers (I think my kids can tell a British accent now).

I didn’t know anything about this book (or its author) but the title sounded great and the age was appropriate.  We listened to it on our trip to Michigan, and it was a perfect length to fit near the end of our arrival.  Boy did we like this book.  There are so many funny unexpected moments.  And the story has a great sense of companionship and closeness among outcasts.  And of course, really bad things happen in inappropriate places, which is quite funny.

I’m really glad I got this book, and I’d be interested to see what else Norriss has written.

So just who is the unluckiest boy in the world?  Nicholas Frith is an average boy eleven year old English boy–not really lucky but not really unlucky either.  Indeed, nothing interesting ever happens to him.  Although he does have an interesting parental setup (which is complicated and best left for the story to reveal, but suffice it to say that his dad is in the United States, but not because he was trying to get away from Nicholas or his mum.

As the book opens, Nicholas and his mum are on a vacation in Spain.  They don’t speak Spanish and while the taxi driver/tour guide is nice, neither he nor his mom is really sure what’s going on.  At some point he leaves the taxi to go pee.  As it turns out though, he winds up peeing on the ancient grave of a very bad man, Toribio de Cobrales.  Of course, there is a curse on this grave (it really should have been better protected, no?)–anyone who defiles it in any way will have nothing but bad luck thrown at him for the rest of his life.  Nicholas is really sorry, he didn’t realize any of that, but it doesn’t matter.  As soon as he defiles the grave the curse comes at them, with thunderclaps and earthquakes and all manner of trouble falling on them in the next few minutes. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2014] Horton Halfpott

hortonLast summer we listened to Angleberger’s book Fake Mustache, which was one of my favorite audio books ever (until the League of Princes series).  In fact we just re-listened to fake Mustache and enjoyed it even more the second time! I was pretty excited to listen to Horton Halfpott as well because it has two subtitles.  Since we had a long drive ahead of us, it seemed the ideal time to bust out Horton.

And while I did enjoy the book by the end (quite a lot in fact), I found it a little slow going in the beginning.  This book was narrated by Ron Keith, who is British.  There is nothing weird about that because the book is set in Britain.  It is just such a stark change from Fake Mustache (which was so very American) that I think it took a while for us to adjust to the rather stiff and formal (but funny) reading that this book had (compared to the wild and crazy reading of Mustache).  Since the book is a kind of spoof on Dickensian class stories, the narration makes perfect sense.

This entire adventure begins on the day that M’Lady Luggertuck loosens her corset (the narrator apologizes for even talking about an old lady’s underwear, but it is crucial to the story):

There are so many exciting things in this book — a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle éclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates — that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear.

M’Lady Luggertuck usually wears her corset very very tight, and she acts like she has on a very very tight corset–there is no happiness to be found in Smugwick manor. But on the day that she asks her maid to loosen the corset a little bit, a kind of shock wave floods through the castle, which seems to encourage everyone to loosen up just a bit.

Everyone, that is except for Horton’s superior, Miss Neversly.  Miss Neversly is a mean mean woman, always ready to hit someone (especially Horton) over the head with a wooden spoon (ouch), always ready to doubt someone, always looking for and never receiving praise from M’Lady Luggertuck.

Horton, by the way is a kitchen boy.  He is not a bad boy at all, just an unlucky boy in a bad situation (see, the set up is very Dickensian, and Angleberger thanks Dickens in his acknowledgments).  Horton’s best friend is a stable boy named Bump. They are also friends with the other stable boys Blight and Blemish.  And the story is certainly sympathetic to these poor lower class individuals. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2014] The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

stormThis audio book was ten hours long.  We listened to it on a long car trip (from Michigan to New Jersey) and when it looked like we might not finish the book, I considered slowing down on the interstate so we’d get to the end before we got home.  THAT is how good this book was.

This book picks up a few months after the exciting conclusion of the first book.  The Princes are back home (well, most of them are), reveling in the glory of their accomplishments.  Except that those blasted bards have written new songs about the League of Princes, like the incredibly popular “The Embarrassment of the League of Princes” which is causing the Princes even more grief than they had before they saved the world from blowing up.

Prince Liam is living with Prince Frederic (in Frederic’s castle).  He is trying to train Frederic to be a better fighter (with very poor results).  Princess Ella is living there too (in separate rooms, of course).  Ella and Frederic have been engaged since their first adventure, but not much has been spoken about it since that first day.  Indeed, Ella is a much better fighter than Frederic and she has been training harder with Liam. Liam is clearly smitten with Ella, but he doesn’t want to hurt Frederic.  When Frederic’s father gets fed up with Liam trying to teach Frederic how to fight, he makes it clear that Liam is unwanted.  So Liam leaves.

Gustav is not fairing any better.  It is his brother’s birthday and the humongous cake has been set out for them (while Gustav has been sent to the kiddie table).  When he disrupts the ceremony once the bard sings “The Embarrassment of the League of Princes,” he is unceremoniously sent off to teach the trolls how to farm (so they stop stealing from the villager’s gardens).  Of course, Gustav knows next to nothing about farming, so he teaches them how to brawl, which the trolls love even more.

Duncan has been writing a book since the first book. It was originally to be called The Heroes’ Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (hey!), but has since been changes to The Heroes’ Guide to Being a Hero.

The Prologue of our book tells us about Duncan’s book and then says:

No you may be asking yourself, Who is this Prince Duncan and what makes him such an expert on heroes? To which I will respond by saying that perhaps you may have skipped a book on your way to this one.  You should probably check on that.

So yes, the series will continue to be hilarious. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: June 2014] The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

heros1Holy cow, did I love this audio book!

I was looking for an audio book that the kids would enjoy on a long car ride.  The title sounded terrific and when I saw that it was read by Bronson Pinchot, I didn’t wait another second to download it.  And yes, Pinchot’s reading was stellar and amazing, but in addition, the story was hilarious and fantastic.

And I’ll get out of the way that the book is completely kid-friendly.  There’s nothing objectionable (the harshest word is crud).  Some of the violence is cartoony (and Pinchot makes it pretty visceral) but it doesn’t last long.  My nine-year old and six-year-old were just as hooked as the adults.

This book aims to set the record straight about Prince Charming.  Prince Charming is of course in every fairy tale, but you did know that they are not the same Prince Charming, right?   Those lousy bards who created the songs about the female leads certainly got the Princesses names correct, but they never bothered to get the Princes’ names into the songs.  (Charming is an adjective, not a name).  So, meet Prince Liam, Prince Frederic, Prince Duncan and Prince Gustav. They’re the Prince Charmings (actually it is Princes Charming–the book is very much a stickler for proper grammar), who saved–Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively.  And they are out to make names for themselves or at least make their names known.

Each one of them starts as an outcast for a different reason.  The only thing I found confusing about this story was trying to keep the kingdom names straight.   So I’m trying to outline them here. (more…)

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reySOUNDTRACK: ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN-“The Cutter” (1983).

echoI’ve never been a huge Echo & The Bunnymen fan, but I do like their greatest hits.  This is one of them, and it’s a song I’ve liked from pretty much the minute I heard it.  Ian McCullough has a Jim Morrison vibe in his vocals, and there are interesting Eastern melodies and pieces thrown into the song (like in the intro).  These give it an unconventional feel, even though the main melody is pretty straightforward.

I have no idea what the song is about–I sing along without really thinking about it.  And the “spare us the cutter” chorus, complete with screechy guitar chord is pretty dynamic.  As is the loud drum change during the “drop in the ocean” part.

By the end of the song the drums seem to sound bigger, and the fills really propel the song to the end.  It’s a fine song by a band that I’m not sure I need to hear more of.

[READ: August 25, 2014] Pale Summer Week 7 (§46-§47)

After the pile of small chapters that last week gave us, this week offers just two.  One is a very lengthy discussion between two characters.  The other is another piece of the Toni Ware puzzle.  I enjoy the way the first of these sections balances the medical, the emotional and the supernatural.  And it makes me laugh that Drinion’s supernatural bit is never addressed directly in any way–it just is–as assuredly as Rand’s psychological problems just are.  But I do find it interesting that more people have talked about Rand’s problems than Drinion’s (even though his is as fascinating as he himself is dull).

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