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Archive for the ‘Fire’ Category

[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Trouble with Twins

I grabbed this book because it seemed kind of interesting.  I see also that this book was released in the UK as Missing Arabella, which I think is a slightly better title).  I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d like it.  I mean, we don’t have twins and this is about twins and I wasn’t sure that our 12-year-old boy would like a book about twin girls.

But holy cow was this book outstanding!  It was utterly hilarious and the way it was read aloud was genius.

The book begins with this wonderful setup:

And so it begins in front of the fire, the story of two twin sisters.  One remains with her family in their lovely country house, where yellow roses perfume the air.  The other waits for her in another house, where she stands alone at huge arched windows.  She is restless, pacing wooden floors that creak in the night when a cat jumps down from the bed to chase at shadows.

And then in different typeface:

“What are their names?” the girls asks.  “The sisters.”
“Arabella and Henrietta.”
“Are they lonely,” asks the girl.
“They belong together,” says the mother.  “And it makes them sad to be apart.”
“Can’t you tell a happy story?” the girl asks.
“With puppies and a garden?”
“Yes!” says the girl.
“I’m only telling it the way my mother told it to me,” the mother says.
“And will there be puppies?” the girls persists.  “Or only gloomy girls at windows?”

(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] Half Magic

I grabbed this book at the library not realizing that Tabby had just started reading it on her own.

The selling point for me on this was that it was described as being “set in Ohio in the 1920s, yet fresh and funny now as the day it was written.”  And that was totally true.  This book was very very funny and the location and time was pretty much irrelevant.

This is the story of four (very precocious) children: Jane, Mark, Katharine and Martha. The beginning of the book has a great time creating and addressing their characters:

Jane was the oldest and Mark was the only boy, and between them they ran everything.

Katharine was the middle girl, of docile disposition and a comfort to her mother. She knew she was a comfort, and docile, because she’d heard her mother say so. And the others knew she was, too, by now, because ever since that day Katharine would keep boasting about what a comfort she was, and how docile, until Jane declared she would utter a piercing shriek and fall over dead if she heard another word about it. This will give you some idea of what Jane and Katharine were like.

Martha was the youngest, and very difficult.

The children’s’ father was dead and their mother worked full-time.  They were looked after by Miss Bick:

Miss Bick came in every day to care for the children, but she couldn’t seem to care for them very much, nor they for her.

(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] The Diamond of Darkhold

The end of the previous book (the prequel) left me in very good spirits about this final book.  This one had not come out while I was working at the public library so I didn’t know about it and the title and cover puzzled me.

But whatever, it was time to see how this series ended (I assume its over).

But, oh no!  Another new audio book reader!  This time Katherine Kellgren.  Kellgren has the unenviable task of following up Wendy Dillon’s establishment as a reader.  It was a little disconcerting hearing Doon and some other characters who had very distinctive voices portrayed differently.  In fact, I wasn’t all that impressed by her reading at first because the characters kind of sounded the same.  But as soon as new characters entered the picture I was really thrilled with her reading.  The diverse voices she brought to the story were outstanding.

So what happens in it?

The story picks up about nine months after the Emberites left Ember.  Winter is coming upon them and things are very hard.  People are also getting sick (some people have died).  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALBIN LEE MELDAU-Tiny Desk Concert #637 (July 20, 2017).

I’d never heard of Albin Lee Meldau.  His style reminds me of a number of gruff powerful-voiced singers.

So who is he?

Meldau grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden the son of musical parents. His mother is a music teacher and jazz singer, while Meldau says his father is a “punk rocker.” (Both write and record their own songs.) As a kid, Meldau originally played trumpet but mostly dreamed of being a professional soccer player.

The blurb notes:

When I [Robin] first saw him perform, at a church in Austin … it felt like the entire audience was on the edge of its seat, hanging on every twisted word. His voice is breathtaking, soulful, thunderous and impossible to ignore.

Watching Meldau in this Tiny Desk set, the first thing you’ll notice, apart from that voice, is how possessed he is by the music. The words and melodies seem to take hold of him while at the same time offering a release, if only for a moment, from the knot of emotions he’s carrying inside. It’s in no small part because Meldau’s music is so personal, centered on desperate souls in deeply troubled times.

He sings for songs and his voice is powerful, loud, aggressive and emotive.  He is hard to ignore, for sure.  His band consists of Simon Andermo (bass) and Simon Söfelde (guitar).  For the first two songs Kalle Stenbäcken plays piano, but on the third song he switches to drums.

“Lou Lou,” the track he opens with and his most popular song, is a story of drug addiction and mental illness, inspired by a girl he knew while growing up in Sweden. It’s short and powerful, you can feel the anguish in his voice–he seems really transformed by it.

His other two songs, “Mayfly” and “Persistence,” are more about hanging on when it seems there’s nothing left to live for.

He says the “Mayfly,” she only lives for one day.  Like the first song, it’s barely 2 minutes long.

Before “Persistence” he says “give it up for My Beautiful Sweets (the backing band).  They don’t come cheap, do they?”  He’s going to play one more song with them and then he seems to jokingly say (but who can tell) “I wouldn’t dance with no other, baby.”  It starts slow, but the addition of he drums is a great kick in the pants.  The guitar and melody are pure Dire Straits, and the chorus is outstanding.

Before the final song he jokes, “It’s a deep honor to be here,” Meldau told the NPR audience. “I’ve been to the BBC and now I’ve been here, so now I can die.”   But he’s so deadpan it’s hard to know how much he’s joking.

He calls “Bloodshot,” the track he closes with, “dark and horrible,” about the wreckage of a tortured relationship and the crazed paranoia of jealousy.  He says “Let’s see if I can remember the chords.”  He does and he sounds great.  When his voice grows powerful and strained it’s really emotional.

If he can capture the same wave of love that people gave Hozier (with whom he has stylistic traits in common) I could see him going far.

[READ: July 20, 2017] “Because You Have To”

This is a rambling story inside a woman’s head.  There are many thoughts, but none are especially compelling. Things like:

If you stop answering the phone, eventually it stops ringing.

Essentially she misses someone.  When she hears her dog barking, she almost called out “your name.”  But it was actually Wayne who had found a loose dog and wondered if it was hers.  Which it obviously wasn’t, since her dog was right there.

I love the line that her grandmother was “the most beloved fascist in the family.”  She used to say “You have to count your blessings, and when the narrator dared to ask why, “she gave me a great smack to the ear: “Because you have to.” (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: July 2017] The People of Sparks

After finishing up The City of Ember this summer, with that promising cliffhanger-ish ending, I was pretty excited to listen to book two.

Holy cow did I hate this book (until the end).  I blame the combination of DuPrau’s writing and Wendy Dillon’s excellent vocal work.  Because as soon as the book started, the sorta main character Torren quickly became the single most irritating character in fiction.  He is bratty.  He is incredibly whiny.  He is a really mean.  And he is unchecked by adults.  Perhaps we are supposed to feel sorry for him, but he is so incredibly unlikable and does such horrible things that I don’t see how one could.

I imagined that this book would pick up where Ember left off–Mrs Murdo finding the note and rallying the city together to come and meet Lina and Doon in the new place.  I imagined a lengthy first part where the characters try to convince the mayor and gather their stuff and eventually work their way out.

But no.  The book begins in the city of Sparks.  Horrible brat child Torren is sitting on a windmill (not sure why they have these windmills if they don’t harness the energy) and sees people marching across the empty land.

Soon enough Lina and Doon are introducing the 400+ Emberites to the 300+ people of Sparks.  The leaders of Sparks: Mary, Ben and Wilmer meet to decide what to do with this huge influx of people. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: THE CRANBERRIES-Tiny Desk Concert #197 (February 23, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

cranbI really liked The Cranberries’ first album, but was turned off by them when they got overplayed on their second album (If I never heard “Zombie” again…”).

I didn’t realize that they launched a comeback of sorts back in 2012.  And this Tiny Desk Concert was a stop on their tour.  They play five songs–far more than most bands.  They may have been one of the biggest st bands to play up until now.

For this set, they strip down to acoustic guitar, tambourine, electric bass and Dolores O’Riordan’s vocals.

One of the things I liked about their first album was her delicate voice.  She found her more aggressive voice on later songs (where her accent really leaks through).  And that brash style is present here.  Which makes “Linger” sound a little odd and a little less pretty.

They play two then new songs which I rather like: “Tomorrow” and “Raining in My Heart.”  Since I’ve no expectations about them, I find her voice works very well with them.  They also seem much simpler than some of their earlier songs and she not doing anything unusual with her voice..

“Ode to My Family” (the doo-doodoo-doo song) sounds pretty good in this setting.  Although I always laughed about the “does anyone care” refrain because well, sometimes I didn’t.

They take a request to play “Zombie” and I have to say I really like it in this acoustic format.  She straps on an acoustic guitar and plays most of the “leads.”  She definitely does some unusual things to her voice, but overall its sounds good.  Somehow the electric bass really adds to all of the songs–I never noticed how much it added before,

Overall, the “lads” sound good and her voice has maintained its power.  Although I can help but think she looks a lot like Billie Joe Armstrong with that haircut.

[READ: December 24, 2016] “Being Mary”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This is theoretically the final book in the Short Story Advent Calendar (wow that went fast).  But there is a bonus story for tomorrow (how cool!).  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This short story is about a girl, Laura, who is supposed to be Mary in the school Christmas pageant.  She has always wanted to be Mary (she is six now) and feels she was destined to play her.  Last year she was an angel, which was disappointing.  But at least she wasn’t Jezebel or Judas or “poor old Leah, the unwanted older sister.”

But tragedy has struck.  Literally. (more…)

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storiesSOUNDTRACKPOLYPHONIC SPREE-Tiny Desk Concert #259 (December 21, 2012).

The Polyphonic Spree performs a Tiny Desk Concert.I really enjoyed Polyphonic Spree’s first album (and their strange robes and cult-like following (apparently even within the band).

They put out a Christmas album some time ago, and since we have a big pile of Christmas albums, I grabbed that one.  I didn’t love it, but it was a fun addition to our collection.

This Tiny Desk Concert is notable for just how many members of the band are behind (and on the side of) the Tiny Desk (perhaps 18?).

And the band is suitably musical–trombone, trumpet, keys, drums, bass, cello, violin and a ten (or so) piece choir.

Interestingly, I find that the weak link in this whole thing is leader Chris DeLaughter.  It’s just that his voice is really not that interesting. It’s especially notable on “The Christmas Song” where he sings some high notes unaccompanied.  When the choir comes in (and they change the melody) it sounds really cool.  I especially love the way they make “reindeer really know how to fly” into a high note.

The first song is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” which I feel is the Christmas song they might be best known for.  It’s pretty traditional to the original, with the choir filling in for the kids.  The addition of horns really adds a lot to it.

“Silver Bells” gets a pretty rocking treatment–the buildup at the beginning is pretty cool.  They change the main melody to an almost circus-like waltz. I love the way it sounds when everyone joins in–and when the choir is singing along to the rocking end (with a very different melody) it sounds great.  But once again DeLaughter’s voice doesn’t seem up to the task of leading this larger group.

But it’s festive and fun, especially with everyone in red robes (and DeLaughters green one).

[READ: December 2016] Christmas Stories (1854-1864)

Last year, I started reading some Charles Dickens Christmas Stories in December.  I imagined that I’d finish the whole book this season (all 750 pages of it), but I didn’t come close.  I enjoy these stories but they are not quick reads by any standard.

The fascinating thing with a lot of these stories is that they appeared in All the Year Round, a Victorian periodical founded and owned by Dickens and published between 1859 and 1895 throughout the United Kingdom.  But just because these stories came out for the Christmas issue doesn’t mean they have anything to do with Christmas directly.

I thought I’d be reading a whole chunk of the book in a row, but I wound up skipping around a bit.  Maybe next year I’ll finish the remaining stories. (more…)

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