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Archive for the ‘Jasper Fforde’ Category

zoltar SOUNDTRACK: LOST IN THE TREES-Tiny Desk Concert #82 (September 23, 2010).

itt I thought I knew what Lost in the Trees sounded like, but this Tiny Desk Concert changed everything I thought I knew about them.  Band creator Ari Picker studied film scoring which must explain the cinematic scope of the band.  For this set the band includes, a violin, two cellos, two brass instruments, accordion and percussion as well as Picker’s acoustic guitar.   There’s 7 people in the band altogether.

I love the way “All Alone In An Empty House” builds several times and comes crashing to an abrupt hall before starting again.  I also love the hauntingly beautiful operatic backing vocals from the accordionist.  Lyrically, the song is creepy and compelling (“where’s the baby, I must be crazy”).  I love how the strings take the lead at one point and then the horns take over and back again.  It’s very dramatic and it runs to nearly 6 minutes.

“Song For The Painter” opens with gentle acoustic guitar and pizzicato cello strings.  Then there’s some dramatic violin and delicate xylophone.  This song is also rather dark (“to the painter with no arms… if I ever find my heart darling, I promise to come home again”) but the music is so uplifting.

“Time Taunts Me” has a sing-a long part (he says they want to reenact a Flaming Lips concert that he went to recently, although they don’t have a screen with a rocket ship blasting off.  This song is mostly string based with great dramatic flourishes and runs almost 7 minutes.  It is just wonderful the way it builds.  And the singalong is amazingly catchy.  I definitely need to hear more from them.

[READ: October 27, 2015] The Eye of Zoltar

Book Three was several years in the making, so I’m kind of glad that I only finished book two a few months ago.

Although Book Two seemed to wrap up pretty nicely, there were of course several unresolved threads.  But Book Three is more or less its own entity.

In fact, our heroes leave Kazam and the Kingdom of Snodd for most of the book.

The book opens with Jennifer Strange talking about having to capture a loose Tralfamosaur (love the nod to Vonnegut there).  Seems that Kazam’s magic caused the walls of the containment cell to fall apart meting this most ferocious beast loose in the city.  They capture it with the help of The Magnificent Boo, who always wants to help animals if she can.  She decides to transport the Tralfamosaur to the Cambrian Empire, where “danger vacations” are a big business.  And one of the most lucrative is Tralfamosaur hunting.

In the previous books, some characters were killed (and some are in this one as well), but to start with, a new character is added.  Jennifer is invited to castle Snodd where King Snodd (not a nice guy) and his wife Queen Mimosa (a super nice lady) are waiting.  They have a task for Jennifer–turn their snotty nosed, spoiled rotten princess into a respectable human being.  And the Queen assures that this will be done by doing mind swap on the Princess and having her switch places with the handmade Laura Scrubb.

Soon after, Jennifer is given the titular plot of the book.  The Mighty Shandar comes out of his granite hibernation once in a while for important business and this here is such a business. He tells Jennifer that her work with the dragons (in previous books) has caused him embarrassment and financial hardship.  He has half a mind to kill those last two pesky dragons.  But he says he won’t if she is able to find the mythical Eye of Zoltar–a super powerful gem that can turn the possessor into lead.

Through the work of the remarkable Kevin Zipp, Kazam’s clairvoyant, they deduce that they might get some information about the Eye’s whereabouts if they go to the Cambrian Empre and talk to ex-sorcerer Able Quizzler who is said to have seen it when it was around the neck of Sky Pirate Wolff.  Of course all of the people in question are questionable in their truthfulness (or even in their existence).  But our team decides to set out for the possible fictional Leviathan’s Graveyard to see if Sky Pirate Wolff’s lair is there.

Leviathans by the way are lighter than air beasts who can fly but are the size of whales.  No one is even sure if they exits because they are basically translucent.  Neat.  Oh and since they are heading to the Cambrian Empire, they might want to get the Magnificent Boo out of jail.  Seems that she was arrested for illegal transportation of a Tralfamosaur.

And so Jennifer, Perkins and the Princess set out for the dangerous Cambrian empire.  It is very dangerous but quiet regulated–you will mostly likely be kidnapped or robbed, but your assailants will always explain whey they did it and may even give you a receipt.  Our team will need a guide, and soon enough on turns up in 12-year-old Addie Powell, a powerful tracker with an excellent success rate.

Addie says that they will succeed but there will be a 50% death rate in their party.  Not liking those odds, Addie picks up a few more stragglers–really reprehensible people like Gareth (a guy I thought was just being a jerk because he was really someone in disguise, but no he’s just a jerk).  And his friend Ignatius, a cowardly fool.  And their third friend Ralph.  They were all just looking for adventure and possibly the option to score some hits of magic.  When Ralph starts doing hits of unspecified magic, his life is spared by Perkins, but the only way that can happen is by resetting his DNA–turning him into a caveman,

Since there are always people wandering bout, the party picks up another person–Wilson the ornithologist.  He has a fascinating story to tell about his past which explains why he is here now.

About midway through the book, the real trek begins–they set out for the Empty Quarter, a truthfully named area where there is basically nothing.  But they have had some trouble along the way–Perkins was kidnapped and Addie swore she would get him back.  But they haven’t seen either of them for a few days.

When the newly numbered team arrives in their first destination Llangurig we find a number of strange things afoot–like a war between two railroad companies.  This war has gone on for centuries and has resulted in countless death , all in the hope of winning a lucrative contract with the city.  And the whole town seems to exist only to place bets on who will win.  Oh and the princess (who looks like a handmaiden) was captured, but because her financial acumen is so good (there are hilarious stories of futures and the market) she actually comes out ahead in the deal.

After all is tidied up the screaming members of their party head out for the final leg of the venture–the mountain of Cadir Idris and the possible Leviathans graveyard.

When they finally reach the foot of the mountain they learn a secret about why the top is so hard to see.  They also learn that it is being guarded by drones and that no one has returned alive in years.

Will anyone survive this adventure (the 50% death rate proves to be distressingly accurate) and what about this Eye of Zoltar.  Will they find it?  And more importantly, if they do, hoe will they carry it?

One thing that I love about these books is that Fforde throws in little details throughout the book that seem like they are just funny moments, but they all pay off later on.  The princess’ economic savvy, Ralph’s handbag and the fact that no news is able to travel beyond the borders of the Cambrian Empire.

And then he has little funny details like the Isle of Wight being a drivable island which goes on reconnaissance missions, or that the best way to communicate is through a homing snail.  Or that the dragon is named Colin.

When their quest (it was upgraded to a quest even without telling the Quester’s guild), is finished, there are still surprises waiting for them.  Like remember how the trolls were proven to be not so scary in the last book?  Well, that may have been exaggerated somewhat.  Because the Mighty Shandar has very specific plans ahead.  Plans which means that the princess may have to put her new leadership skills to the test sooner than she could have imagined.

And many other surprises which will be dealt with in Book 4.

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kazam2 SOUNDTRACK: EEF BARZELAY-Tiny Desk Concert #81 (September 20, 2010).

eefEef Barzelay is the singer and songwriter for the band Clem Snide.  I’ve never listened to them–I was turned off by the name. But I’m really curious to hear what they sound like because Barzelay’s voice is really quite nice and his song writing skills–both musical and lyrical are really good.

For this Tiny Desk it is just Eef and his guitar (in addition to records with Clem Snide, he has released some solo albums).

The first song “With Nothing to Show Of It” has great lyrics and a wonderful delivery.  I was instantly hooked to Eef after this song started.

The second song, “something Beautiful” has a fun jaggedy melody.  This song is a bit darker, with wry, amusing lyrics.  I enjoy how the verse, which has been a series of “You make me want to…” ideas ends with “You make me want to break… something beautiful.”

During a pause, Bob asks him about his office experience.  He says he never worked in an office but he watered plants in an office (most of his clients were in the Twin Towers–yipes).

“We Are Flowers” is a Clem Snide song that never made it onto a record—he says it’s a deep cut, and a  very NPR kinda song.  Upon hearing this, Bob is concerned but Eef says he means it in the best way. And the lyrics are “we are flowers blooming in the dark…we can save the world in our beds tonight.”

The final song, “Denver” is dark and surprising.  And yet he plays it on a baritone ukulele, which takes some of the darkness out of the music.

Sometimes you can’t judge a band by its name.

[READ: June 1, 2015] The Song of the Quarkbeast

Book One ended with a satisfying wrap-up but left a rather sad moment lingering.

But this book has moved on from the events of book one by…about a week.  So not much has changed since Jennifer Strange became the Last Dragonslayer and averted a huge disaster.

Well, except that she’s not really the Dragonslayer anymore–there doesn’t appear to be a need for one at the moment.  So she is still working at Kazam, trying to keep the wizards in working order.

The book starts off with a suspiciously generous case–the magicians are asked to find a ring for a wealthy person.  It’s an easy gig.  But when they try to get the ring out of the ground, magical forces fight against them pretty hard.  They do succeed (which almost costs Tiger Prawns his life), but Jennifer refuses to give the ring over just yet–something is unsavory about this deal.

At the same time, Lady Mawgon is trying to hack into the Dibble Storage Coils.  They are a storage facility that houses untold amounts of magic.  If the house can access it, they will never have a shortage of magic again.  The problem is that when Lady Mawgon tries to hack in, as soon as she determines the passthought (think about it), a curse immediately turns her to stone.  Rats. (more…)

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kazam1 SOUNDTRACK: ALISA WEILERSTEIN-Tiny Desk Concert #80 (September 15, 2010).

alisaI have concluded that the cello is my favorite solo classical instrument and Alisa Weilerstein plays a beautiful cello indeed.

She plays three songs: two pieces from Bach and one from Golijov.

I can’t speak to specifics about Weilerstein’s style or skills, but she plays beautifully.

J.S. Bach: “Bourree & Gigue” (from Solo Cello Suite No. 3)
Osvaldo Golijov: “Omaramor”

[READ: May 15, 2015] The Last Dragonslayer

I have loved Jasper Fforde’s books.  His Thursday Next series is brilliant (and I plan to re-read it someday).

This is the first book of his 4 part (not a trilogy!) YA series (called The Chronicles of Kazam) and it was fantastic.

The story is about Jennifer Strange.  Jennifer is a foundling who has been working for the past four years at Kazam Mystical Arts Management.  Foundlings from The Lobster are sent for indentured servitude for six years.  She has been quite successful at Kazam and when the owner Zanarerilli disappeared several months ago (she wont say how) she has basically been in charge of the building.  Not bad for a 16 year old  (well, she’ll be sixteen in a couple of months).

Kazam is in the Kingdom of Hereford in the Ununited Kingdoms.  Kazam is the home to some of the most powerful wizards alive.  Sadly there aren’t that many left.  Magic has slowly been dying and as the magic goes so goes the fancy titles of the wizards.  And now you have to fill out all kinds of paperwork every time a wizard is going to cast a largish spell.   They are stuck doing basic magical deeds for people–lifting illegally parked cars, magically rewriting houses, etc.

Also in the house is the Quarkbeast–the most ferocious creatures every created. Well, at least he looks that way.  He is actually quite sweet. (more…)

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Because I needed one more reason to put off reading the huge stack of books on my nightstand (Jasper Fforde, I’m coming, I promise).  I have decided to join yet another group read of an inordinately large book.

I had never heard of Letters of Insurgents until I got the call from a fellow Infinite Summer gentleman and arbiter of good taste that Insurgent Summer is starting, well, now.

Visit the Insurgent Summer website for all the FAQs.  The book is hard to come by so there’s even PDFs of all of the book available on the site (so you can read the first letter and see right away if it’s your thing).

So, what’s the book about? (more…)

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firstamong.jpgSOUNDTRACK: TORI AMOS-American Girl Posse (2007).

americandoll.jpgI had been pretty down on Tori records since Scarlett’s Walk, which I felt was kind of blah. The Beekeeper followed and it didn’t do that much for me either. So, I was basically not that excited when this latest record came out. I probably would have gotten it eventually, but then my wife bought it for me for my birthday. Thank you!

Because, this is easily her best album since From the Choirgirl Hotel. It has everything that I felt her last two albums were missing: real tempo changes, really powerful singing, and great, great hooks.

(more…)

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misfor.jpgfragile.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE FRATELLIS-Costello Music (2007).

costello.jpgI was watching the Brit Awards recently and The Fratellis won for Breakthrough Act (whatever that means). I didn’t think too much of it, but then I heard some great reviews of their album, so I decided to check it out… it is so much fun! Sarah and I have been enjoying it immensely since we got it. It’s easy to play “spot the influence” or “who does it sound like” and my first thought is that it sounds like early Supergrass. Perhaps not the most obvious sound-a-like (as clearly, there’s some Bowie, Beatles and Clash in there) but the attitude that Supergrass demonstrated on their first two records is here in spades. It’s brash, young, snotty and very very catchy. The sing-a-longs come fast and furious with swooping choruses. (more…)

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fourth.jpgSOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Lost and Gone Forever (1999) & Keep It Together (2003).

These two records are a one-two punch of absolute greatness. If there were musical justice, we’d be sick of both of these records from being overplayed so much. There’s not a bad song, and at least three killer singles, on each one.

lostgone.jpgLost and Gone Forever: Guster’s third album is an unreasonably good one. The songs are all tight and catchy, the production is really warm and inviting, and the choruses just make you want to sing along to every one. Major highlights include: “Barrel of a Gun,” “Fa Fa,” “All the Way Up to Heaven,” and “Two Points for Honesty.” And the rest of the record is just as strong. (more…)

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