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Archive for the ‘Big Books’ Category

[LISTENED TO: December 2016] Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby

I was really excited to get this third volume of the Nightmares! series.

The previous book ended with the startling revelation that on the first day of the new school year, India Kessog (INK) is sitting in Charlie’s classroom.

INK and her sister ICK were responsible for creating the tonic that nearly destroyed Orville Falls–not to mention the Dream Realm, the Netherworld and the Waking World.

Charlie and his friends knew that INK was on this side of the portal and that her sister ICK was still in the nightmare realm, but they never expected that INK would come to them rather than then having to track her down.

INK is still dressed like she has always been–in old-fashioned clothes with a red bow–exactly the way that she (or ICK, they are twins) terrorized everyone’s dreams in Charlie’s town.  As INK walks through the school–observing everything very carefully–all of the kids keep their distance and stare and whisper.

When she sits down to eat, she is repulsed by the chicken nuggets–who wouldn’t be?  But she loves the tater tots.  That must make her okay right? (c’mon, EVERYONE loves the tater tots).  Charlie is just about to go approach her when his little brother Jack beats him to it.  And he starts talking to India (he calls her Indy) like she was his friend instead of a monster.  They seem to be having a good conversation until a new characters approaches. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic

2I though the first Nightmares! book was great.  I had listened to both of these books before, but what was fun about listening this time is that the end of book one gives a little hint at what book two would be about.

Towards the end of Book One, the story tells us that Charlotte’s business was doing well, although a new store had opened up in the next town and was also doing very well–possibly taking away her customers.

And that’s essentially what book two is about.  (No, not about small town commerce).

But let’s back up.  In book one, Charlie Laird and his three friends Paige, Alfie and Rocco prevented the evil president of the Netherworld from taking over the waking world.

Back up some more.  Nightmares aren’t bad.  They are there to frighten us, yes, but their goal is for us to face our fears and come out stronger.  They don’t want to hurt any of us. But the nightmares have an enemy–the goblins.  The goblins have been forced out of the nightmare realm never to return.  And they are constantly trying to get back into the Netherworld. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2016 & November 2016] Nightmares!

nightmresI loved Jason Segel on How I Met Your Mother.  I loved that Jason Segel was instrumental in bringing The Muppets back to the big screen.  And now I love that Jason Segel has written a series of really enjoyable–funny and frightening–children’s books.

This book is about–wait for it–nightmares.  But not in the way that you might expect.  Segel (and Miller–I have no idea how much she contributed to the book) have created a realm where Nightmares live.  It is a wonderfully realized and very well thought out world.  And I am really impressed with how well the whole story works.

It is the story of Charlie Laird.  Charlie is a pretty normal kid.  He does okay in school, he has friends, his family loves him.  But three years ago his mom died unexpectedly.  It was a harsh blow to him and his family.  Charlie has never really gotten over it.  And what has made it especially tough is that Charlie’s dad recently got remarried.  Apparently he got over it just fine.

If that weren’t bad enough, Charlie’s family moved from his old house–the house he grew up in and loved–into the mansion on the hill.  Not a far move–still in the city of Cypress Creek–but worlds apart from what he was used to.  Or what he wanted.

The mansion has always been there in town. It is huge and…it is purple.  It towers over the whole town–you can’t avoid looking at it–and it has always been rather creepy.  It was built a long time ago by Silas DeChant, and it has been in the DeChant family ever since.  So it makes sense that Charlie’s new stepmother, Charlotte, who is a DeChant, would want to live there.

But Charlie hates it  And he hates Charlotte, and he hates anything that tries to get him to see reason about his horrible stepmonster (I didn’t like the lazy use of this term, but it is rather appropriate). (more…)

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compassSOUNDTRACK: CAROLINE ROSE-Tiny Desk Concert #465 (August 24, 2015).

carolineCaroline Rose is a rocking country gal.  Rose’s music is inspired by rockabilly, fast country and traveling from town to town in a van.  She plays electric guitar and the rest of her band includes a bass drum and slide guitar.  The slide guitar kind of dominates the songs though, so they all sound kind of samey to me.

“Yip Yip Yow” is a fast rockabilly type of song with some silly lyrics.  It’s a fun song.  “I’ve Got Soul” This song is bouncy and rocking although I can’t help thinking of the old adage that if you have to say it you probably don’t have it

“I Will Not Be Afraid” is a more inspirational song with a real honky-tonk feel.  The guys ware wearing T-shirts that say “fuck fear” but they had to cover them up for broadcast (which is why they are wearing jackets).

Of all of the recent rocking country gals I’ve been hearing, I like her best.

[READ: March 15, 2016] The Golden Compass Graphic Novel

I loved The Golden Compass when I read it about a decade ago.  I thought it was really smart, really subversive and really engaging.

What you might notice about this graphic novel is that it was translated.  The Golden Compass was written in English.  This graphic novel was written in French (as Les Royaumes du Nord #1) by Stephanie Melchoir and then translated back in to English by Annie Eaton, which is a weird process.  The art was done by Clément Oubrerie.

The original book was quite large (about 400 pages).  This graphic novel is about 8o pages.  And, as you might guess, quite a large chunk of it is pictures.  So it has been reduced pretty drastically.

One of the great things about the book was the subtlety and evocative descriptions.  You can see where I’m going next–this condensed version is…lacking. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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shadowSOUNDTRACK: ERIC CHENAUX-Skullsplitter [CST112] (2015).

chenAn album named Skullsplitter sounds like it should be really heavy and loud.  But if you know Chenaux, you know that that’s not his thing at all.  So what wins?

The traditional Chenaux wins.  At times light and beautiful and at times wobbly and disorienting, Skullsplitter sounds like many other Chenaux releases.  And you either like him or you don’t. His slow songs, vibratoed guitar and really delicate voice either win you or not.

“Have I Lost My Eyes?” has one of the most wobbly guitars I can thing of (even for him).  The slow electric guitar solo is pretty much perpetually played with wah-wah bar in motion.  After 90 second of this, Chenaux’s delicate tenor voice comes in and sings a melody that is not exactly suited to the music, but which doesn’t sound off, either.  Classic Chenaux.

Alternating with the vocal pieces are instrumentals.  Chenaux plays a lot of ringing and delicate solos and overdubs them.  And the instrumentation is pretty varied: Voice, electric guitar, un-amplified electric guitar, nylon-string guitar, speakers, melodica and electronics.  “The Pouget” is roughly two minutes long.  “My Romance” has a kind of warbling guitar solo over some mellotron.  “The Henri Favourite” is another 2 minute slow piece with a slow guitar solo played over some keyboards.  The last instrumental is quite different.  “La Vieux Favori” changes the tone with a bowed sound (although you can see there’s no violin listed–he must be bowing the guitar).  It doesn’t have the same smoothness as the other songs, although it is certainly interesting, especially near the end when it is just that bowed instrument with no accompaniment.

“Skullsplitter” is, as I said, a mellow song just like the others.  His voice is relaxing and calming and the music is also mellow with waves of keys.  I’ve never really tried to figures out the words to any of his songs before–he sings so slowly it’s kind of hard to follow the thoughts.  But the lyrics to this song are the cover art.  And seeing them printed, I still don’t know what they mean.

“Spring Has Been a Long Time Coming” is the most friendly song of the bunch–music and vocals meld perfectly, and Chenaux’s guitar sounds beautiful.  The 8-minute “Poor Time” has a jazzy feel as it unfurls slowly.  It intersperses his vocals with a delicate but wildly-wah-wahed solo.  The final track, “Summer & Time” ends the disc with some pretty acoustic guitars and Chenuaux’s delicately soaring voice.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Lighter Than My Shadow

I was looking on the shelves in the library for some books and I saw this book on the shelf next to them. I loved the title, Lighter Than My Shadow and when I pulled it off the shelf, I really liked the drawing style that Green employs.

I genuinely had no idea that this book was going to be about woman suffering from body issues and anorexia.  It all seems obvious, but i didn’t look that closely at first.  Such a topic could be really hard to read about, but I was also really surprised and delighted at how good the book was.

She covers her mental state in all capacities.  And she really demonstrates the way her body rebelled against herself.  In fact, this was the most compelling and complete look at anorexia that I have ever seen.

There is something about the way her drawings style–simple figures and even simpler backgrounds work perfectly in this story.  She is able to show herself getting thinner without resorting to shocking illustrations (well, there are one or two mildly shocking ones).  The most effective part of the book is the black scribble that hovers around her representing her interior self. (more…)

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