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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALICE RUSSELL-Tiny Desk Concert #288 (July 15, 2013).

I read the name Alice Russell and pictured some kind of folk artist.  Boy, was I surprised to see a woman with  bleached blonde hair, a leather jacket and a funny t-shirt.  And then her band started playing low groovy soulful music.

Turns out:

Russell is a classic soul-infused singer — close your eyes and it’s easy to hear a Southern drawl, but truth be told, she’s a Brit. American-style R&B from Britain has a long history dating back to the 1960s with Dusty Springfield and on up through 21st-century artists like Adele. As for Alice Russell, she’s been making great soul music for 10 years, and her arrangements on To Dust often include a dose of electronics.

I didn’t love her voice when the first song “To Dust” started.  But as soon as the chorus kicked in I was hooked–wow, what a great voice she has and with the full band playing behind her it sounded amazing (the sampled backing singers was a bit flat, but otherwise OK).  And by the second chorus, man she is belting out the song—it’s great.  The Adele comparisons are spot on.

Then she hit Bob’s gong at the end of the song and told us that it was an ode to the taxman.

“For a While” is a great big soul song.  The drummer gets some great sounds out of that one drum he has.  And they keys sound great too.  I love the middle part where there’s some seriously long pauses in between beats–they are all wonderfully in sync.  At the end of the song she yells “I didn’t gong!” and then makes a peculiar hand gesture about a turtle.

“Heartbreaker” has such a classic-sounding riff it’s hard to believe it’s a new song.  I like it a lot (although I don’t care for the chanted “when it falls, when it breaks” by the guys).

I have to agree with this blurb about her:

To Dust is Russell’s fifth album, but the hiatus that followed 2008’s Pot of Gold may be the reason too many people don’t yet know what she’s doing. This stuff is as powerful as the work of any American singer making soul music in the 21st century. If you haven’t heard of her yet, think of this as a well-overdue introduction.

[READ: May 15, 2016] I Kill the Mockingbird

I bought this book from the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA.  I don’t buy too many books these days but I saw this one in the PA authors section (and it was 20% off) and the title sounded intriguing.  So I grabbed it.

And I’m I glad I did. This book was outstanding.  I loved it from the first chapter and was thrilled that the ending was also very satisfying–not easy given the way the story was heading for a conclusion that could have gone in many different directions.

So what’s this about?  Well, there are three kids, Lucy Elena and Michael.  They are at the heart of the story.  I loved loved loved that these three were great friends who’d known each other forever.  And they were all big big big readers. Such an awesome start to a story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAKHABRAKHA-“Kolyskova” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 21, 2017).

I loved DakhaBrakha’s Tiny Desk Concert.  It was mesmerizing and beautiful.  And so the performers came to SXSW and did a lullaby.  And as the blurb says, they brought their “cello, keyboard, accordion – and tall, wool hats! — to the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel.”

This lullaby of “Kolyskova” quiets things down a bit.  The song opens with simple keyboard notes.  One of the women sings, and when they reach the end of the verse, the male accordionist sings a falsetto that matches the women’s tone.  The woman on drums makes a strange sound–like a baby crying or animal yelping.

Then he winds up singing lead on the second verse in that falsetto with the women singing backing vocals.  Then the cello and drums kick in to build the sound.   The third verse is sung by the cellist as the keys play a pretty melody.

The song is upbeat with lots of bouncy vocals, even though the lyrics seem rather dark.  ‘The band only ever calls it “Lullaby.” It’s a quiet, contemplative song that the band says is a “connecting of several lullabies” with “philosophical lyrics that [say] we have time for everything — time to laugh and cry, time to live and die.’

I love at the very end as the song slows down to just the keyboardist singing because the drummer adds a very cool breathing as a kind of percussion accompaniment.  And then as the camera pulls back the two attack the keyboard making a cacophony of fun notes.  I bet they’re a lot of fun live.

[READ: June 2 2016] Explorer: The Hidden Doors

This is the third (and I assume final) in a series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

I really enjoyed the first one a lot and was pretty excited to read the rest. As with the other two I was delighted by the authors involved and the quality of these stories.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This book revolves around the theme of “hidden doors.”  I like the way each author takes a concept that seems like it would be pretty standard and turns their stories into things that are very different indeed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  NINA DIAZ & Y LA BAMBA’s LUZ ELENA MENDOZA-“January 9th” & “Living Room” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2017).

I was intrigued by this pairing because Luz Elena Mendoza has a shirt buttoned up to her neck and, from the angle of the first song, it appears that she has her long sleeves down, while Nina Diaz (originally from Girlfriend in a Coma) is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with tattoos showing up and down her arms.  They seem somewhat mismatched.  Until they sing.  (And also during the second song when it becomes obvious that Luz Elena’s arms are covered in tattoos as well).

The two have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we’re beginning to wonder why not. They’ve both played the Tiny Desk (Diaz twice, once with Girl In A Coma) and both navigate complex emotions and notions of identity in their music. Also, they just sing beautifully together, Mendoza’s yodel swirling in Diaz’s gritty croon.

Luz Elena’s song “Living Room” is first.  She plays guitar and sings. It’s a short song with Nina’s nice high harmonies over Luz Elena’s deeper voice.  The blurb also notes: Mendoza shares a brand-new song here, “Living Room.” When the two harmonize its confession — “I feel like I’ve been undressing all my thoughts in front of you” — it is, in tandem, starkly intimate and separate.

Nina Diaz’ song “January 9th” is a bit more fun (partially because I know it from her Tiny Desk Concert, but also because it’s a bit more upbeat).  I like Diaz’ singing quite a bit.  Mendoza’s backing vocals add nicely to the “bad one/sad one” part of the chorus.  The blurb adds: “It’s a bluesy ballad with a through line of ’60s pop, a tribute to her late grandmother, cooed and howled into a warm Austin evening.”

Future collaborations should be called for.

[READ: June 27, 2016] Explorer: The Lost Islands

This is the second in series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “lost islands.”  What was neat about this book was that since the premise of an island is so broad, the stories were all very different. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: L.A. SALAMI-“Day To Day (For 6 Days A Week)” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2017).

L.A. Salami’s full name is Lookman Adekunle Salami.  I really enjoyed Salami’s song “Going Mad As The Street Bins.”  His delivery is great and there were some rather unexpected chords.

For this performance of “Day to Day,” he is standing on the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel overlooking the downtown skyline.

I usually try to pair kid-friendly songs with books, but there’s some curses in this song).

The music is basically the same for 7 minutes (although it does build by the end), which means you must focus on the lyrics. And they are pretty dark.  It talks about boredom on public transportation as well as gruesome deaths on the news.  There’s talk of mental health, like this section:

Went to work for the NHS –
Mental health, people depressed.
Met Joanne – Scared of living,
Afraid of dying, terrified of being.
Then met Paul, a schizophrenic,
Shaking limbs, paranoid fanatic –
Unwashed 10 days in a row –
So afraid almost paralytic.
I tell them that I do the same –
In certain moods, on certain days…
But despite the sane ways I can think
I could not do much to convince them…

But mostly I enjoy his delivery which has his slightly accented voice and charming mannerisms.  The first time I heard this I wasn’t as drawn to it as I was his other song, but each listen unveils something more to like about it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

This is the first in a series of short graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi the creator of Amulet.

Sarah brought these home for the kids to read and they were sitting around our house for a while so I picked one up.  When I flipped through it and saw all the great authors in it I knew I had to read them.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “mystery boxes.” (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: BILL FRISELL-Tiny Desk Concert #191 (February 3, 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.

billI’ve been aware of Bill Frisell for decades.  He has played with just about everyone that I like, and I’m sure I have his guitar on about a dozen albums.  And yet I don’t really know all that much about him.  I certainly didn’t know what he looked like and, honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Tiny Desk Concert.  I feel like most of the places I know him from are noisy avant-garde music.  So I was pretty surprised to hear that this would be a concert of delicate reworkings of John Lennon songs.

From the blurb:

On this day, Frisell came to perform the music of John Lennon. Now 60, Frisell witnessed the birth of The Beatles and all that it meant to moving the world from cute, catchy songs to sonic adventures — a world of music we don’t think twice about anymore. After all these years of hearing The Beatles’ music, he’s still discovering it, finding small phrases in the songs we know so well — “Nowhere Man,” “In My Life” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Frisell introduces a lot of songs by saying that the Beatles have been a huge part of his life.  And yet, he’s never really played them by himself in this exposed way.

Bob describes some of the gear that Frisell uses, like the

Electro-Harmonix 16-second delay, a pedal I used to use in live performance in the 1980s. I know how fragile and sometimes unpredictable it can be, but it’s the backbone of Frisell’s bag of many tricks. With that equipment enhancing Frisell’s nimble, deft fingerwork and uncanny sense of melody, it all adds up to a brilliant and disarmingly humble performer.

I didn’t recognize “Nowhere Man” for much of the song—he’s exploring areas and pockets of the song–but every once in a while the vocal line peeks through.

When he starts “In My Life,” he plays what sounds like the opening notes to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I was sure he was going to play it so it’s quite a shock when he doesn’t and then he takes a really long intro solo before getting to the familiar melody of “In My Life.”

For such a legendary figure he is amazingly soft-spoken and humble.  He’s even embarrassed that he’s reading the music rather than having it a part of him.

There’s a pretty lengthy intro before he gets into that very familiar melody of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”    This one is my favorite of the bunch because of all the effects that he plays on it—echoes and reverses and all kinds of cool sounds that emanate from his guitar.  And “Strawberry Fields” is always present in it.

This is 20 minutes of very pretty, sometimes familiar music

[READ: December 25, 2016] “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”

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.

I have read this story before (and I’m pretty sure one of the Sherlock shows did an episode of this story).  It’s probably one of my favorite Holmes stories.

But first thing’s first: For this story, carbuncle is not the first definition: an abscess; but the second: a bright red gem (except this one is blue). (more…)

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princessSOUNDTRACK: DAWN OF MIDI-Dysnomia (2013).

domI heard about this disc while listening to The Organist podcast. (Episode 6)  I didn’t know anything about Dawn of Midi, but I understand they were/are a kind of improvisational jazz band (piano, contrabass and drums).  But don’t stop reading yet.  Dysnomia (between this and Method of the W.O.R.M.’s Cicatrix, I am certainly learning a lot of new words) is certainly jazzy.  But it doesn’t feel like jazz exactly.  In fact, I would never have guessed that they were playing real instruments.

The album is 47 minutes with 9 songs.  They are all instrumental and more or less flow into each other.  And as I say, I never would have imagined that it was just three instruments playing the music.  Not because it sounds weird–there’s nothing particularly unusual sounding about the record.  But because it is so precise.

And indeed, the piano doesn’t really sound like a piano (it’s a little muted), but the other two instruments are quite clearly drum and bass.  And yet it’s the rhythms and textures of the songs that are so unusual.  The songs are minimal, true, but they are complex in that minimalism.  So while there’s repeated piano notes, there’s complex drum patterns.  And the songs morph and change over the course of the record.  And not just from track to track but within a song as well.

Without going into great musical detail, there’s not a lot to say about the individual tracks.  As I say, it’s a lot of repetition, but there’s enough morphing that it never gets boring.  Maybe the piano is the emphasis for these few minutes, then a snare drum takes over.  Or the beat shifts or speeds up.  It’s really cool.  And it’s really hard to believe that these three guys are playing this live and not with machines.

I really can’t say enough about this record.  I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do, but I find that I can’t stop listening to it.

Check it out at their bandcamp site.

[READ: July 17, 2015] I am Princess X

Sarah brought this home from the library and said that I would like it and, as usual, she was right.

The story is about May and Libby, two young girls (fifth grade?) who are thrown together (they don’t know each other but are both skipping gym class) and form a cool bond.  Libby is a great artist, and while they are sitting in the Kindergarten playground, the little kids come over and ask her to draw things.  Soon enough, Libby draws a princess (I like that it was suggested by a boy).  She’s wearing red high tops, a crown and cape and has a cool katana sword (I must say this has to be the smoothest playground ever if she could get that much detail out of playground chalk).

The girls name her Princess X and since May can’t draw, she comes up with stories about her.  And soon enough, Libby and May have binders full of the Princess’ adventures.

As with a lot of YA books, there’s a horrific tragedy that follows.  Libby and her mom are in a car and her mom drives them off a bridge where she and Libby die.  (I know!).  May always thought there was something suspicious about the whole thing–Libby had a closed casket–but since May was a little girl no one paid her any mind.  Libby’s dad fled Seattle and that was the end of contact for May.

Meanwhile, May’s parents divorced and may moved back to the South (people in Seattle tease her about her accent).  But she does get to come up to Seattle to visit her dad from time to time.

And this time, when she’s walking around old haunts, she sees a sticker on a window.  It is Princess X and it even says “I am Princess X”  What the heck?  Well, when Libby’s dad sold the house, all of their Princess X stuff was given to goodwill.  So it must be someone who found it and stole their ideas.  But what if it’s something else? (more…)

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atwq3SOUNDTRACK: YES-Tales from Topographic Oceans (1974).

Tales_from_Topographic_Oceans_(Yes_album)After the huge success of Fragile and Close to the Edge (with its 18 minute suite), what could Yes do next?  Well first they would release a triple live album, which I’ll get to later.  And then?  Why they would release a double album with only 4 songs on it!  That’s right 4 songs each around 20 minutes long!  And it would be ponderous and pretentious and it would be reviled by everyone!

The album shipped gold (because their previous records were so popular) and then sales plummeted.  The album is much maligned and, frankly, deservedly so.  Now, I love me a good prog rock epic.  So, four 20 minutes songs is pretty heavenly for me.  But man, these songs just don’t really have any oomph.

My CD’s recording quality is a little poor, but I don’t know if the original is too.  The whole album feels warm and soft and a little muffled.  You can barely hear Anderson’s vocals (which I believe is a good thing as the lyrics are a bunch of mystical jiggery pokery).  But despite the hatred for the album, it’s not really bad.  It’s just kind of dull.

Overall, there is a Yes vibe…and Yes were good songwriters–it’s not like they suddenly weren’t anymore.  There are plenty of really interesting sections in the various songs.  It just sounds like they have soft gauze between them.  Or more accurately, it sounds like you get to hear some interesting song sections and then the song is overtaken by another song that is mostly just mellow ambient music.

Without suggesting in any way that this album influenced anyone, contemporary artists are no longer afraid to make songs that are super long (see jam bands) or songs that are just swells of keyboards (see ambient musicians).  Yes just happened to put them all in the same song–way before anyone else did.

The album is very warm and soft—rather unlike the last couple of Yes albums which were sharp and harsh.  There are washes of keyboards and guitars and Anderson’s echoing voice. But what you’ll notice is that I haven’t really mentioned Chris Squire.  He’s barely on the album at all, and when he is, it’s usually to provide very simple bass notes–bass notes that anyone could play–it’s such a waste!  And while Alan White is no Bill Bruford (who was off rocking with King Crimson then), he’s also barely there.  In fact, Rick Wakeman himself is barely there–the king of elaborate classical riffs is mostly playing single notes at a time.  According to Wikipedia,

Wakeman took a dislike to the album’s concept and structure from the beginning. He made only minimal musical contributions to the recording, and often spent time drinking at the studio bar and playing darts. [During the recording session] he played the piano and synthesiser on the Black Sabbath track “Sabbra Cadabra”.

Evidently Anderson wanted a pastoral feeling in the studio

According to Squire, Brian Lane, the band’s manager, proceeded to decorate the studio like a farmyard to make Anderson “happy”.  Wakeman described the studio, “There were white picket fences … All the keyboards and amplifiers were placed on stacks of hay.” At the time of recording, heavy metal group Black Sabbath were producing Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in the studio next door.  Ozzy Osbourne recalled that placed in the Yes studio was a model cow with electronic udders and a small barn to give the room an “earthy” feel. Anderson recalled that he expressed a wish to record the album in a forest at night, “When I suggested that, they all said, ‘Jon, get a life!'”

So we have an earthy pastoral album.  But what about the four sides?  Steve Howe describes it:

“Side one was the commercial or easy-listening side of Topographic Oceans, side two was a much lighter, folky side of Yes, side three was electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity, and side four was us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie.”

Despite Wakeman’s complaints, he did have some nice thing to say about it.  he said that there are

“very nice musical moments in Topographic Oceans, but because of the […] format of how records used to be we had too much for a single album but not enough for a double […] so we padded it out and the padding is awful […] but there are some beautiful solos like “Nous sommes du soleil” […] one of the most beautiful melodies […] and deserved to be developed even more perhaps.”

And if Rick Wakeman says an album is padded, you can just imagine what the rest of the world thought!

The lyrics (and mood) are based on Jon Anderson’s vision of four classes of Hindu scripture, collectively named the shastras, based on a footnote in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.  So if I read this correctly–he wrote 80 minutes of music based ona  footnote!

The four songs are

“The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)” [which Howe says is the commercial or easy-listening side] builds slowly and eventually adds vocals.  And then come the drums and a decent keyboard riff.  There’s some noodling on the keyboards.  The riff is catchy but not immediate (which might be the subtitle for the album).  At nearly 4 minutes a faster section kicks in and there’s a catchy vocal part, which seems like where Anderson might normally soar but he holds back.  The “must have waited all our lives for this moment moment moment” is catchy, but again I can’t help but feel it would have been much more dramatic sounding on an earlier record.  At 7 minutes there’s a nice jump to something more dramatic—good drums, but the bass is mixed very low (poor Squire).  There’s some good soloing and such but it is short lived and things mellow out again.  It resolves into a new riff at 9 minutes, but resumes that feeling of washes and noodling guitars.  At 11 minutes there’s an elaborate piano section and the song picks up some tempo and drama. Especially when the bass kicks in around 12 minutes.  The most exciting part happens around 17 minutes when the whole band comes to life and adds a full sound, including a good solo from Wakeman.  And while this doesn’t last, it recycles some previous sections which are nice to hear.

Track 2 “The Remembering (High the Memory)” [which Howe described as the much lighter, folky side of Yes] has a slow, pretty guitar opening with more harmony vocals.  The whole first opening section is like this—layers of voices and keys. Then come some keyboard swells and more vocals.  Some bass is added around 6 minutes. And then around 8 minutes the tone shifts and there is a lengthy slow keyboard solo that reminds me of the solo in Rush’ “Jacob’s Ladder” (released 6 years later).  At around 9 minutes there’s a more breezy upbeat section with a cool riff.  At 10:40 a new section comes in with some great bass lines and guitars and an interesting vocal part. It could easily have been the structure for a great Yes song (vocals are singing “relayer” which of course is their next album’s title). But this is all too brief (it thankfully returns again) and then it’s back to the gentle keyboards.  At 12 minutes there’s a new medieval type section with some great guitar work.  When the “relayer” part returns around 13 minutes there’s a whole section that is great fun.  And even though it doesn’t keep up, the song feels rejuvenated. By around 17 minutes there some interesting soloing going on and then the band resumes to bring it to the end (with a reprise of an early section). And the final section is quite lovely.

Track 3 “The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)” [Howe: electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity] is probably the most interesting.  It opens with some clashing cymbals and then a fairly complex percussion section and mildly dissonant guitar riff.  There’s even some staccato bass line. The vocals come in around 4:30 and the song shifts to a less aggressive sound, but the big bass continues throughout the beginning of the song until a fast riff emerges around 6 minutes. But more unusual Yes-type riffage resume briefly before segueing into the next part with lots of percussion.  While the staccato bass and drums continues, Howe solos away.  Then around 12 :30 the whole things shifts to a pretty, slow acoustic section with a classical guitar and vocals.  This entire end section sounds like it could easily have been its own song and it is quite lovely.  Howe’s acoustic work is great and there’s even a lengthy solo.

Track 4 “Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)” [Howe: us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie] is also quite good.  It’s probably the most fully Yes track of the four, with many sections of “full band” material.  There’s a noodly guitar intro switching to an interesting dramatic minor key movement.  There’s a pretty, if simple, riff (done by guitar and voice) that is quite lovely.  Around 4:30 the guitar solo brings in a riff from a previous Yes song. By 7 minutes, the song settles into a fairly conventional sounding Yes song (with actual bass and drums and…sitar!).   Around 11 there’s a bit of Wakeman soloing (he did show up for some of the album after all) and then some wild guitar and bass work.   The crazy percussion resumes and there’s a wild keyboard solo on top of it. The end of the guitar solo even has a bit of “Born Free” in it.

I hadn’t listened to this record in probably 25 years.  And so I listened to it 4 times in the last few days.  And I have to say that I thought it was bloated and awful at first, but it slowly grew on me.  I found some really interesting sections and some very cool riffs.  If these pieces could have been truncated into individual songs they would be quite good.  The biggest problem for me is that so much of it is so slow and mellow–like it’s building up to a big climax which never arrives.  On previous albums, Yes had made quite a show of being insane musicians, and that just isn’t here.

So even though I have come around on these songs, they certainly aren’t my favorites.  But if you’re at all interested in Yes, there’s some gems hidden away in these monstrosities (just don’t think too much about what Anderson is talking about).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.  The band stayed together after Close to the Edge, but this was too much for Wakeman who left after the recording:

Chris Squire-bass
John Anderson-vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: June 20, 2015] Shouldn’t You Be in School?

I am finding this series to be ever more and more confounding.  And I know that is its intent, but it is still a challenge.  Whenever anyone asks a question someone else replies that it is the wrong question.  But they never say what the right question should be (deliberately confusing!).  There are also so many threads and confusing characters, that if Snicket didn’t make the story funny and strangely compelling, it would be incredibly frustrating.

In this story, Hangfire, having been thwarted in his previous endeavor to capture children (for what end we do not know) is back with a new plan to capture children.  Also, the mysterious (and presumably wicked, but who can be sure) Ellington Feint has returned as well to help or hinder as she sees fit.

The other characters are back too, of course: Moxie is back taking notes, Jake Hix is cooking delicious foods at Hungry’s (in fact there are even some recipes that sound pretty yummy–Snicket himself makes a passable tandoori chicken).  S. Theodora is still his mentor (and the pictures by Seth of her are hilarious).  Late in the book Pip and Squeak show up.  And naturally the policemen and their bratty son Stewie are there too.  And we are still wondering what in the heck is going on with the bombinating beast.

There’s also some new characters, like Kellar Haines, a young boy who when we first meet him is typing up something in the offices of the Department of Education (with posters all over the walls that say Learn! Learning is Fun, etc).  And his mother is also becoming quite chummy with S. Theodora.

The danger in this book is fire.  Building after building is being burnt down.  The Stain’d Secondary School is engulfed.  Even the library is at risk!  And that’s when S. Theodora solves the crime!  She gets the library Dashiell Qwerty arrested for setting the fires.  And even though it is quickly determined that he did not do it (a building was burnt down while he was in custody), that doesn’t stop S. Theodora and her new friend Sharon Haines (in matching yellow nails) from partying.  It also doesn’t stop Qwerty from being taken to prison.

This story is a bit darker than the other ones (which were admittedly pretty dark).  Every kid is being drugged with laudanum which makes you sleepy.  We’re unclear exactly what they are being drugged for, but Snicket has a plan to stop it.  Snicket himself winds up getting beaten up–pretty badly–from Stew and others.

And for the first time, S. Theodora is kind to Snicket (more or less) and apologizes for her behavior (sort of).

By the end of the book a plan is hatched, a bunch of people join the V.F.D. (as seen in A Series of Unfortunate Events) and someone is taken to jail. There’s even a mysterious beast who is living in the fire pond.

As in previous books there is ample definition building–either from people saying they don’t know what a word means so that it can be defined or from Snicket himself simply defining a word.  As in “my brother and I played an inane game” “inane is a word which here means that my brother and I would pretend we couldn’t hear each other very well while we were talking.”  This game actually sounds fun:

What do you think of the weather this morning?
Feather? I’m not wearing a feather this morning.  This is just a hat.
Just a cat? Why would you wear a cat on your head?
A Bat in your bed etc etc.

The artwork by Seth is once again fantastic and noirish.

And the end of the book has a fragmentary plot “a great number of people working together, but they plotted together in such a way that nobody knew exactly what the other people were doing”  And finally we learn what the right question is, but it’s the unsatisfying: “Can we save this town?”  We’ll have to find out in the concluding book 4.

You can also check out the website for some fun.

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