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Archive for the ‘YA Books’ Category

last3 SOUNDTRACK: NIGHT BEDS-Tiny Desk Concert #266 (February 18, 2013).

nightTypically we don’t see what happens before the Tiny Desk Concert begins, but for this show, there’s a very funny introduction.  Robin clacks the clacker and as the Winston Yellen starts singing you hear Robin interrupt him and say something.  He sings “When the sorrow goooozz….” and laughs as Robin says “much more important than your singing is my introduction.”  Someone in the band jokes, “gather round, take a knee.”

Night Beds are certainly anchored around Yellen’s voice.  The first song is a brief a capella track called “Faithful Heights.”  It segues perfectly into “Ramona,” where you get a better sense for what the band sounds like.  The band kicks in with some lovely guitar work on the electric guitar while Yellen plays acoustic.  Near the end of the song he launches unexpectedly into some really powerful falsetto.  It’s a very pretty song.

“22” features a more pronounced slide guitar which offers some cool spare, echoing sounds.  The final song is “Hide from It,” and older song tha they haven’t played much. It’s a bit faster with nice backing vocals.  There’s a very pretty guitar riff (I love the gentle echo) and keyboards instead of slide guitar.

I found Might Beds to be quite winning.

[READ: January 17, 2017] LastMan 3

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  For the first book I said that it might be okay for a slightly younger audience, but this book changes things–prostitutes, porn mags, threats of violence–nothing explicit but still, way too much for young kids.

This book is also very different from the first two in that it is set in an entirely in a new location.

Adrian and his mom, Marianne, have ridden out to the Rift on her motorcycle.  His mom says that she is going to walk into the mist for a few minutes and she wants him to stay where he is.  And I love this bit:

-Listen Adrian, they say a lot of things in school and at church but in the end what should you always listen to?
-Uh, yes,  I know. Your heart?
-No Silly, what your mother says.

She comes back with a map and realizes that the rift is passable.  They arrive on the outskirts of a town and are caught by some thugs.  It’s very Mad Max looking with the men being really grotesque and planning to proceed with the rape of the delinquent.  Yikes.

As they get close, Adrian’s mother does a summoning and knocks everyone around her down–many of them flee.  Adrian is in awe of his mom.

They ride into Nillipolis and she is convinced that Richard is there.  But Nillipolis proves to be a scummy town.  We meet a guy who works at a brothel, Francis.  He’s the only nice person in the whole town (as are the prostitutes, particularly Flora, the prettiest woman in the book).  They suggest looking in the pawn shop for evidence of Richard.  And indeed in the shop they see the cup that he and Adrian won–it’s even got their names on it.

There’s a lot of excitement in this book with Adrian and his mom fleeing from the thugs who are with the police and the fireman and then  dealing with two attorneys: Raven and Delacruz.  She is being placed under arrest for charges of false prostitution.  But it’s really because they have tied her to Richard–who is in fact in the same prison.

The last quarter of the book is taken up with the trail.  And this trial is unlike any you’ve seen.  There are cheerleaders.  And, it quickly becomes obvious that you win your case through violence and strength and little else.  If your attorney is killed, then you get the death sentence.

We also learn that there’s a grizzled old creepy dude in a wheelchair who wants the map that she has–he believes that the Valley of Kings–where Adrian and his mom are from–has the secret to eternal life.

The book ends on board a ship to Paxtown–a questionable city.  Richard is heading there as well, and it looks like Cristo, the person in the mask who Richard defeated in the battle is there too.

But we’ll have to wait until book 4 to find out just what’s going on.

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lastman2 SOUNDTRACK: THE xx-Tiny Desk Concert#265 (February 11, 2013).

xxI have really come to like The xx quite a lot.  And this Tiny Desk Concert is easily one of the best instances of them.  It is just the two of them, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim She [No beats from member Jamie Smith, who opted to hang back at the hotel].  She sings and plays a very echoing guitar and he plays a very spare bass (also echoed).  Her voice on “Angels” is whispered but not quiet—she sounds amazing. Everything about the performance is clear and beautiful

The only bad thing about the Concert is that they only play 2 songs (and for less that 7 minutes total!)

The blurb says that one of the things that makes this show especially great is that “the setting and band configuration robs them of cover.  [There is] no shroud of darkness or bright lights pointed outward to blunt the crowd’s stares. Throughout their characteristically compact seven-minute performance, Croft and Sim avoid eye contact, as they visibly try to ignore the huge throng and cameras positioned maybe 10 feet away from them.”

When Oliver sings the middle verse on “Sunset” it is a wonderful, stark (and sexy) moment.   When she starts playing the guitar again after the brief bass interlude, it sounds magical.  And their duet at the end is amazingly powerful (especially for something so quiet).

[READ: December 17, 2016] LastMan 2

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (Unlike the first book, this one is slightly more explicit–nothing actually shown, but Richard runs through the town naked and he and a woman are in bed together).

This book picks up where the previous one left off.  Adrian takes on Gregorio.  And Adrian is able to knock him out of the ring.  Adrian wins!  This means he must now fight Elorna, his friend.  Gregorio is humiliated at losing and he is rather mean to Elorna.  And during the match, Elorna bursts into tears and flees the ring, forfeiting and letting Adrian and Richard go to the semifinals.

They are up against Alyssa and Haldes (Haldes is preposterously large and Alyssa is covered by a scarf on her face).  Things get weird in this one when Alyssa recognizes Richard (I won’t say from where).  I’m not exactly sure what happens to her, but she is eventually dragged out of the ring by Haldes–more or less forfeiting as well.

So our heroes are going to the final. (more…)

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lastman1 SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PRARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #262 (January 14, 2013).

blakcpBlack Prarie is 3/5 of the Decemberists (that seems like a hint directed at Colin Meloy, ha ha).  No actually they are a kind of folk-country band “started by Chris Funk and Nate Query, who wanted an outlet for some of their rootsy, mostly instrumental string-band wanderings.”  Jenny Conlee from the band has also joined on accordion.  That leaves Annalisa Tornfelt’s who sings “sweetly countrified vocals and [plays] violin.” I feel a little bad for the other guys in the band who are not mentioned, but I don’t know their names either.

They play three songs.  “Dirty River Stomp” is a fun instrumental with prominent accordion in the beginning and then a banjo solo and then a violin solo.  It is indeed a big stomping song.   I love the way the song sounds like it has built to an ends but there is a small accordion coda tacked on.

For “Nowhere Massachusetts” there’s a switch from banjo to guitar.  The opening section of the song sounds so much like Guster’s “Careful” that I was sure that’s what song this was.  But indeed, it is not and it goes in a very different direction after that intro.  Coincidentally, Guster also has a song that about Massachusetts (“Homecoming King”).  But this sounds really nothing like Guster once the song starts—there’s accordion and slide guitar and fiddle and of course the vocal melody is very different.

Jenny introduces “Richard Manuel” with “We’re gonna rock this out.  We’re gonna bring it.”  It turns out to be a fairly slow, quiet song.  But with some intense lyrics.  And again there is some great accordion work on this track.

As the show fades out there is much excitement about tote bags, although I’m not sure who is getting what.

[READ: December 15, 2016] LastMan 1

This is the final series of older First Second books that I hadn’t read yet.  I brought home this book 1, some time ago, but when I saw that there were six volumes and that they’d all be released relatively quickly, I figured I’d just wait until they were all out and read them closer together.

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (The book is safe for younger teens, with just a cleavage and an underwear shot, although the whole book is about fighting).

So the story is a little confusing (at least in Book 1).  The main plot is not at all confusing, but the context is never given, so we must try to piece it all together,

Set in an unamed village, the 184th annual Tournament of the Realm is coming up.  We first meet young Adrian who is practicing for his first competition tomorrow.  His teacher is Mr Janesen (with a full head of blond hair and a goatee) and while he is hard on them, he seems fair.  He tries to get Adrian to really harness his powers for the battle. (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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rek2SOUNDTRACK: OF MONTREAL-Tiny Desk Concert #263 (January 28, 2013).

of-montrealWhen I saw that Of Montreal was doing a Tiny Desk Concert I really had no idea what to expect.  I mean, it could have been anything.  The blurb even jokes that Of Montreal concerts have been described as “wildly theatrical,” “flamboyant,” “synchronized dancing” and having “strange, wandering creatures that look like amoebas.”

So I was absolutely not expecting to see two guys with acoustic guitars and a woman singing a gentle folk song.  I actually double checked to make sure I was watching the right show.

Evidently around this time, Kevin Barnes (the man behind Of Montreal) had been working on quieter, more personal work. And so we get these three songs which are, more or less, Barnes solo.

The first song, “Feminine Effects” has the assistance of singer Rebecca Cash and guitarist Bryan Poole.  Cash sings the entire song, and it’s quite lovely, if not a little dark.

The next two songs “Imbecile Rages” and “Amphibian Days” are Barnes by himself, strumming guitar and singing.  The music is fairly straightforward, although he does throw in some unexpected chords which makes the songs stand out. And, of course, his lyrics and delivery are quirky. His enunciation is peculiar and even more pronounced in this setting.

This is a real surprise for Of Montreal fans, and frankly almost a red herring for anyone new to the band.

[READ: December 31, 2016] The Impossible Fortress

Sarah received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from her friend Mary Lynn and thought I would like it.  And boy did I ever.  I read this book in half a day.  It’s a quick read and while not profound of life-changing, it was really fun and funny–with a fairly dark twist.

There are two major plots in this book and they intertwine very nicely.

The first–the “action” plot–involves the Vanna White Playboy issue.  The second–the main character plot–involves coding a video game on a Commodore 64.  For this book is set in 1987 in the suburban New Jersey town of Wetbridge.  Our protagonists are 14-year-old boys who never really fit into other cliques.

The story is about Billy Marvin.  He never knew his father and his mother has started working the overnight shift at the Food Mart to make an extra dollar an hour.  Billy’s mom has really high hopes for Billy.  But his school life is pretty dismal.  His mom believes that Billy is really smart and she tries to get Billy into honors classes.  But his grades indicate remedial classes.  If he can succeed in these classes he can get moved up.  But he does not succeed. At all. (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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castle SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-The Waiting Room (2016).

tinderstIt had been four years since the previous Tindersticks album.  And this one was not released on Constellation Records, but rather on Lucky Dog.  Whether or not that had anything to do with the sound of this record I don’t know, but I really like this album a lot.

“Follow Me” is a slow broody melancholy instrumental with a high accordion playing a lovely melody.  It’s completely evocative.  “Second Chance Man” has a kind of unsettling vibrato on Staples’ voice.  But the melody (sparsely played initially on keyboards) is really catchy.  The rest of the band fleshes out the sound after a verse and chorus.  I love that it builds in the middle and then again at the end with horns lifting the gloom off the song.  “Were We Once Lovers” has a thumping bass line and an uptempo feel as Staples’ sings in a kind of falsetto.  I love the way all of the parts form together in the chorus that’s introduced by a simple but effective guitar: “How can I care if it’s the caring that’s killing me.”

“Help Yourself” opens with some soulful horn blasts and Staples’ whispered vocals.  The bass keeps the song going as occasional horn blasts accent this strangely catchy song.  Staples also sings in an uncharacteristically angsty style in this song, which is strangely unsettling as well.  I love the way the song keeps circling round and then almost surprising the chorus when it comes back.

Whenever Tindersticks use a female guest vocalist, they really seem to step up their game.  “Hey Lucinda” is an incredibly catchy song, starting with simple bells and an accordion playing a great melody.   When Staples’ deep voice is balanced by the exotic voice of Lhasa, it makes for a great pairing.  It’s unusual for a catchy song to be so spare, but the simple accordion accents really hold the song together before it takes off near the end.

“This fear of Emptiness” is another gentle instrumental with bass and acoustic guitar accompanied by accordion sections (sometimes dissonant near the end).  “How He Entered” is another spare song with mostly bass and keys and an occasionally scratching sound as an ascent.  But it’s still a very catchy melody.

“The Waiting Room” has that same echo on his voice as he slowly sings over a keyboard melody.  His anguished singing of “don’t let me suffer” totally makes the song.  “Planting Holes” is a short delicate instrumental with a sweet but melancholy keyboard riff running through it.

Perhaps the most dynamic song on the disc is “We Are Dreamers!”  It’s the angriest song I can think of from Tindersticks, with rumbling keyboards and tribal beats as Staples sings bursts of vocals.  But it’s when Savages’ singer Jehnny Beth adds her voice that the song turns really aggressive.  They sing the chorus “This is not us/ We are dreamers!”  And as Beth takes over the chorus, shifting pitch and intensity, Staples is commenting including lines like “You can rob us/ You can trick us/ Peer over our shoulders and steal our ideas”

The final song is “Like Only Lovers Can.”  The delicate and pretty keyboards belie the sadness in the lyrics: “We can only hurt each other the way lovers can.”  The quiet keyboards end the disc.

[READ: March 15, 2016] Castle Waiting Volume 2

I loved Castle Waiting.   And I couldn’t wait to read Volume II.

And I loved it even more.  Linda Medley is such an engaging storyteller.  Her characters feel utterly real and funny and charming.  I could read more and more and more from her.  Which is why I am so bummed that the series ends here (with rumors that she is doing more).

This volume is a bit more playful.  The characters are well-established and settling into their lives at the castle.

As in the previous volume, there are a lot of flashbacks to Jain’s childhood.

But there’s also a lot of wonderfully meandering stories in the present. The man who looks like a horse (literally) has injured his hoof, so he is hobbling around and is not as useful as he might be (and is cranky about it).

But the main story centers around the arrival of two dwarves, I mean hammerlings–only racists would say dwarves.  They are the relatives of Henry, the quiet blacksmith (who is actually human, but was adopted by the dwarves).  Henry is super excited to see them (as excited as his monosyllabic grunts allow him to be).  Actually, we finally learn why he is so standoffish and quiet most of the time.

They are here for a very specific an(and embarrassing) purpose.  They need women’s clothes for the human who works with them back home.

Their presence enlivens everyone in the Castle. They are fun and interesting–enjoying hard work and being very playful. It is with their help that the Castle dwellers do some remodeling, find a booby trap and even learn how to play nine pin bowling.  The older women who still live in the castle take some bets about who will win–with much merriment.  I love that there a whole chapter about them bowling.

There’s a subplot about Jain’s son Pindar being a leshie–a species we learn a bit about, although we also learn that they are extinct.  This plot line is never concluded properly, though.

We also finally learn about Doctor and his crazy mask (it was a sort of gas mask for the plague).  They are all worried about his sanity, especially when he starts walking around wishing everyone a happy Yule (the Christmas stocking subplot is outstanding).

Speaking of Jain, she has decided to move into the Castle (where there is indeed a ghost).  But her kindness appeases the ghost somewhat.  Especially when she teaches Simon to read (I love the scene where he learns to read and then sits at the table reading instead of eating–just like in my house).

There’s a hilarious thread about a very stubborn goat (whom Simon can outsmart).  And a multi-chapter thread about Sister trying to get a cross for Jain’s room.  We finally get to the bottom of the house sprites (they are adorable when we finally find out what they want).  Finishhtory!  Finit!  Reetoomee.

I am so attached to these characters, that I need to hear more about them.

As in the previous book,Medley’s art is simply gorgeous.  She does realism like no one I know and her characters have an awesome blend of realism and hyper-realism that makes them so enjoyable to look at (and unbelievably detailed as well).

There have been a number of graphic novels that I have gotten completely attached to, but none like this.  It was so bittersweet to finish this, knowing there’d be no more–but holding out hope for a surprise some day.

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