Archive for the ‘Trilogy’ Category

[LISTENED TO: July 2016, July 2017] The City of Ember

I enjoyed this book when we listened to it the first time and I enjoyed the graphic novel as well.

But I couldn’t remember enough about the audio book to post about it so I listened to it again.  And what was so interesting this time was how much it sounded like an attack on our current political situation:

A greedy pig in charge of a country; sycophants as his cronies; keeping as much as possible for themselves and allowing the richer to get richer while the country falls apart; shutting down truth; imprisoning dissenters and just to top it off, the mayor is a large man with very small hands (seriously).  The only real difference is that the mayor speaks eloquently and has a big vocabulary.

I absolutely loved the reading by Wendy Dillon.  She has quite distinctive voices for the main characters and some of the secondary characters have wonderful details about them that keeps them individual–the mayor wheezes, another character smacks his lips together, Clary speaks slowly and deliberately almost with a stutter.  It’s wonderful.  And the sound effects, while not necessary, are a nice addition.  Although they are fairly infrequent and can be surprising if you forget about them.

So what’s the story about? (more…)

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after-room SOUNDTRACK: NICOLA BENEDETTI-Tiny Desk Concert #274 (May 6, 2013).

nicolaNicola Benedetti is a Scottish violinist who has had a storied career already.

Benedetti was mentored by Yehudi Menuhin starting at age 10, and won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award a decade ago.  She plays a 1717 Gariel Strad. (It’s worth some $10 million.)

The first piece she plays was instantly recognizable–where had I heard it before?  Ah yes, the mournful and harrowing music from Schindler’s List.  [Williams: Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’].  She plays it perfectly, of course.  It’s evocative and instantly brings back scenes from the film.  And then apologizes for it being a bit of  sombre start.

 Then she plays a piece by Bach–he wrote six sonata and partitas trying to emulate many instruments at once.  This one is Bach: “Chaconne from the Partita for Solo Violin in D Minor.”  She says she’s not playing the whole thing because it’s 16 minutes long.  But she plays the first third which is also recognizable.  Once again, it sounds beautiful.  The blurb speaks of “the way she makes room for silence in Bach’s Chaconne before tearing deep into its dense warp and weft.”  And it is indeed enchanting.

[READ: May 30, 2016] The After-Room

This is the final book in a trilogy (what is it about trilogies that are so popular?) that began with The Apothecary.

This book is set in 1955.  (Sarah and I were commenting on how this era of history is an unusual one for stories to be set and how that’s a nice change).  Janie and Benjamin are safely back in Michigan after the deadly exploits of the previous book.

Benjamin’s father was killed at the end of the previous book and Janie’s parents have agreed to take care of him–so he is living with them.  Janie’s father is quite suspicious of a romance between the two of them and he has every right to be.  Janie is certainly in love and Benjamin probably is too, but he has other things on his mind right now.

I had planned to read this book when it came out, but I was involved with a very big book when it came out.  But I was at the library with nothing to do so I grabbed this and started reading it and I was hooked immediately.  In fact, I found this book so good, so fast paced and exciting that I put down my other reading and just flew through this. (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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imperiumSOUNDTRACK: PAT BENATAR & NEIL GIRALDO-Tiny Desk Concert #407 (November 24, 2014).

benatarI never liked Pat Benatar.  Back in the day she was all over MTV (and even in Fast Time at Ridgemont High) and I just didn’t like her.  I’m not sure why, although I was particularly bitter about “Hell is for Children” (being a child myself).  Of course, I still know all of her singles really well.

But I haven’t thought about her in probably a decade.  And then  around 2014 that she was playing with Neil Giraldo in some kind of acoustic tour.  I recognized his name but didn’t know they were married or anything like that.

And so here they are doing a Tiny Desk Concert–all acoustic–with him playing guitar and contributing backing vocals.  Over the decades, Benatar’s voice has changed a bit–she sounds gruffer and it really suits her. (more…)

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nameless SOUNDTRACK: TWEEDY-Tiny Desk Concert #391 (September 22, 2014).

tweedyI’ve recently become a major fan of Wilco and Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting.  This band is Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer (on drums).  They usually perform with a full band, but here it’s just father and son.

The songs sound very much like Wilco (Tweedy’s voice is unmistakable), but there is a different, almost patient feel to these songs that makes them seem not-Wilco.  Spencer’s drumming is not flashy (that wouldn’t work here anyway), but it is right on the beat with occasional flourishes.

“Wait for Love” is a sweet ballad.  “New Moon” is a bit more upbeat.  There are 20 songs on the record.  After the second song, Jeff says he doesn’t know how many songs they’re supposed.  Bob says they’re supposed to play til 6″ (it appears to be early afternoon).

Jeff says they can stay till six, There’s nothing happening in the world, right? Bob states, “There is no news today.”  Jeff smiles and says that later “Spencer and I are going to reveal our strategy for ISIS, so it’s a good thing you’re here.”

“Low Key” is more rocking with some cool chord change progressions in the middle (ans a little drums-only section).

Before the final song, he says he wrote it for Mavis Staples (She didn’t sing it when I saw her…bummer).  He says that “Spencer didn’t play on that record… but we know how to play it together.”  He pauses and says, “We know how to play all of our songs together.”  Pause  “I’m such a good front man” (to much applause from everyone).

Jeff laughs and says that Spencer is gonna get a microphone and “you’ll have to talk to people.”

“You’re Not Alone” is a bit more complex and powerful than the others and that repeated refrain of “open up this is a raid” is really great.

The Wilco Tiny Desk Concerts have been raucous and fun.  This one is much more low-key and shows off a different side of Tweedy.

There’s a sweet moment at the end of the set where Spencer give his dad a hug.

[READ: April 20, 2016] The Nameless City

Faith Erin Hicks has been consistently excellent with her graphic novels.  I was pretty excited to see that she had a new book coming out.  And I was even more excited to go to the library and see that Sarah had requested it already.

I dove right in to this story.

It begins with some unnamed people riding down the River of Lives and going into a city.  They ask several different people what the name of the city is and they get several different titles.  They determine that this is the nameless city.

It turns out that every civilization that has conquered the city (which happens every thirty years or so) renames the city.  And, depending on which invaders you like best, that would be the name you would choose to call the place.  We later learn that most of the conquerors only conquer the main walled city proper and that the houses and markets on the other side of the wall pretty much just go with the flow.  The people who live outside hate everyone who is in charge and just try to keep their heads down to survive. (more…)

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resist3SOUNDTRACK: CHARLIE SIEM-Tiny Desk Concert #134 (June 15, 2011).

siemWhen he was 3 years old, Charlie Siem heard violinist Yehudi Menuhin play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. That was all it took to inspire him to pursue the violin. Siem studied at Eton and the Royal College of Music, and now he plays one of Menuhin’s old violins—a stunning 1735 Guarneri del Gesu.  Upon describing this centuries old instrument he says “it helps me a lot when I’m doing my… little thing.”  He is also greatly amused when NPR’s Stephen Thompson asks if he can borrow it.

Siem recently discovered that he’s related to the 19th-century Norwegian violin virtuoso and composer Ole Bull. So he started off his Tiny Desk show with Bull’s bucolic Cantabile.  His introduction is great.  He says that Bull was a precursor to Paganini, who emigrated to the States and set up a colony on Pennsylvania.  He calls him a “really crazy guy.”  It’s a beautiful piece with occasional really high notes.  This violin seems to have an unreal sound to it, bringing it what sounds like harmonic notes or something.

Paganini’s Introduction and Variations on Paisiello’s “Nel Cor Piu”  (an aria from a now-forgotten Paisiello opera), contains a grab bag full of violin special effects.  This is just incredible.  His fingers move faster than can be believed.  There are trills all up and down the neck, there’s pizzicato plucking with his left hand (how?).  In a section of “harmonics” he even whistles the final note.  It’s amazing to watch.

Leopold Godowsky: Alt Wien (“Old Vienna”) (arr. Heifetz)  This is a lovely piece with lots of high keening notes in an arrangement by the incomparable Jascha Heifetz.

It’s amazing that Siem can be so good and yet somehow I’d never heard of him.  His kind of virtuosity is amazing.  And, as it turns out he’s a total hunk with a deep resonating actor’s voice as the pages of Italian Men’s Vogue magazine.  He’s also the 2011 spokesman for Dunhill, the men’s fashion house.  The write up says that for his Tiny Desk Concert appearance, you could say Siem dressed “casual, but with an understated elegance,” right down to his left-hand pinky, with its pink-painted fingernail.

I definitely need to hear more from him.

[READ: December 8, 2015] Victory

This final book in the trilogy sees the culmination of French Resistance against the Nazis.

We learn in the introduction that it has been four years since the occupation began and although victory seems within sight, things have been getting worse.  There’s hardly any food or resources and the Nazis are growing even more angry and vicious.  On June 6, 1944 the Allies landed in Normandy.  But they had a lot of fighting to do before they could liberate Vichy.

As this book opens we see Paul called into the prison because of his drawings.  He looks older now (a great detail on the drawing) and he finds it much easier to lie to the guards.  After an interrogation, Lucie’s father–the policeman we saw in the previous book who seemed to turn a blind eye to Paul’s activity–accuses him of sneaking around to see Lucie.  Paul catches on quickly that the man is helping him and when they are free together, Paul learns that there are people on his side who he never suspected. (more…)

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resist2SOUNDTRACK: SIERRA LEONE’S REFUGEE ALL STARS-Tiny Desk Concert #118 (April 6, 2011).

sierraSierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are famous for their story.  Its members met in refugee camps during Sierra Leone’s civil war and formed a band to spread joy during an otherwise difficult time.  But the band’s music is what has stood the test of time.  Ten years, two albums and an award-winning documentary later, these eight men are still riding that upbeat reggae groove.

The band consists of three drummers (all with hand-held drums) and one percussionist.  There’s 2 guitars (one electric and one acoustic) a bass and everybody sings.  Their music has a reggae feel, although it’s not exactly reggae, I don’t think.

“Jah Come Down” opens the show. The acoustic guitar keeps the melody while the electric guitar plays a riff throughout.  Occasionally the bass comes in with a cool line or two adding a nice low end.

“Living Stone” has a different singer (the percussionist).  His vocals are a bit more mellow, as this song is.  It’s amazing to see the age range of the players.

“Tamagbondorsu (The Rich Mock The Poor)” is the final song.  It opens with a guitar lick that reminded me of Paul Simon’s Graceland until i re-thought and realized that Graceland sounded like this.

The songs are fun and lively, perfect for dancing (as the singer does during the long instrumental outro).  Most reggae sounds the same to me, and these three songs do tend to blend together quite a lot.  But the music is fun and the players’ skill is undeniable.

Here;s to ten more years.

[READ: December 4, 2015] Defiance

This book is set three years into the Nazi occupation of France.  Things are sort of the same but worse for the residents of Vichy.  Neighbors inform on neighbors, and some residents collaborate with the Germans (and are more successful because of it).  And then in 1943, a new French-based Nazi police force called the Milice begin keeping watch over their own people

This aggressiveness causes more resistance, of course. And Paul has been drawing detailed and insulting pictures and posting them all over town (which is making the Milice quite upset).

Of course the kids are taking more aggressive stances now, too.  Some say that the posters are causing more harm because it makes the police mad.  But other kids’ parents have joined the police–some of whom are nice to the kids.  Even Paul’s sister, Marie, believes what her teachers say about Marshall Philippe Pétain (there’s a lesson about Pétain at the end of the book) and his governance.  And no one is going to say anything about the Resistance.   (more…)

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