Author Archives: george

BLACKTHORN WINTER By Liz Williams

Blackthorn Winter is the sequel to Liz Williams’ delightful Comet Weather (you can read my review here). Both novels feature the Fallow sisters who grew up in Somerset and possess abilities which involved them in ghosts, demons, alternate dimensions, time travel, and star-sprites among other strange aspects.

Serena, a well-known fashion designer in London, finds her latest collection of clothes shredded by a demon. Stella, a DJ, meets an angel who gives her hints on where she might find her missing ex-boyfriend, Ben. Luna, pregnant with her first child, experiences visions of when England was part of the Roman Empire. Bee, the stable sister who lives in the family home of Mooncote, saves the life of a young, green-skinned girl from freezing. The girl, Aln, presents several mysteries that Bee and her Elizabethan ghost boyfriend to solve.

And then there’s the Fallow sisters’ mother, Alys, who disappears for years at a time and knows more than she’s willing to tell about those scary alternate dimensions. If you’re looking for an unconventional fantasy novel that will keep you guessing until the end, I highly recommend Blackthorn Winter. And I love the cover by Ian Whates, too! GRADE: A

The latest issue of LOCUS reports Liz Williams has sold the third and forth books in the Comet Weather series to NewCon Press. Embertide and Salt on the Midnight Fire should be published in the next year or so.

MISS SCARLET AND THE DUKE [PBS]

The Pandemic creates a time when Diane and I are watching TV programs that normally we wouldn’t bother with. Miss Scarlet and The Duke is one of those programs. Yes, I like Kate Phillips, who plays Miss Scarlett–she did well in Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall–who is constrained by society to a very limited role. Her reliance on The Duke, William Wellington (played by Stuart Martin), a Scotland Yard detective, is a limiting factor.

The setting for this series is Victorian London in 1882. Eliza Scarlet is left almost penniless when her father, Henry Scarlet, unexpectedly dies. In a time when marriage is the only option for a woman’s financial security, Eliza resolves to continue her father’s detective agency alone. But to operate in such a sexist world of crime-solving Eliza needs help to generate cases and to build her reputation despite being a woman.

Eliza frequently calls on her old friend William Wellington (aka, The Duke), a gruff womanising Detective Inspector of Scotland Yard, to help her acquire cases. William was mentored by Eliza’s late father through the police academy, and knew Eliza as teenagers where they once shared a chaste kiss. Henry saved William from the London streets as a child. William admired Henry and believes he owes Henry a debt of honor to protect Eliza. Though William is irritated by Eliza’s detective aspirations, he cares for her and gradually begins to show respect for her investigatory skills.

Set the bar low and you’ll enjoy Miss Scarlett and The Duke. Tonight is the Season One Finale. The earlier episodes are available ON DEMAND. GRADE: B- (for the entire series)

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #628: ROGUE IN SPACE By Fredric Brown

Fredric Brown is one of those unique writers who can write equally well in multiple genres. I grew up reading many of Fredric Brown’s mystery short stories. And, later, read many of Brown’s Science Fiction stories. With Rogue in Space (1957) you get the best of both worlds.

Rogue in Space is a fix-up novel. Brown expanded two earlier novelettes, “Gateway to Darkness”–published in Super Science Stories in 1949 and “Gateway to Glory” published in Amazing Stories in 1950–to form the novel.

A smuggler named Crag is arrested and awaits trial. A Judge offers Crag his freedom and a million dollars if he will agree to steal a McGuffin from a protected facility on Mars. So first there’s a prison escape, next a flight to Mars, then the heist, then the double-cross, and then the First Contact. Yes, Fredric Brown packs a lot into such a slim book! If you’re looking for that old fashioned Sense of Wonder, check out Rogue in Space. Are you a Fredric Brown fan? GRADE: B

GREENFIELDS: THE GIBB BROTHERS’ SONGBOOK, VOLUME ONE

Bee Gees fans will love Greenfields. Many causal listeners will find some of these renditions hard to listen to. Take “Words” with Barry Gibb and Dolly Parton for example. Both singers struggle as their aging voices strain to hit the higher notes.

All the songs have been slowed down and “country-fied.” Barry Gibb admits he’s loved country music all his life and apparently that affected the production strategy for this album.

Barry Gibb has plenty of help on these songs. He’s going to need even more help if there’s a Volume Two in the works. Are you a Bee Gees fan? GRADE: C

TRACKLIST:


1
I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You [feat. Keith Urban3:14
2Words Of A Fool [feat. Jason Isbell]3:48
3Run To Me [feat. Brandi Carlile]3:22
4Too Much Heaven [feat. Alison Krauss]3:39
5Lonely Days [feat. Little Big Town]3:44
6Words [feat. Dolly Parton]3:11
7Jive Talkin’ [feat. Jay Buchanan & Miranda Lambert]3:57
8How Deep Is Your Love [feat. Little Big Town & Tommy Emmanuel]4:26
9How Can You Mend A Broken Heart [feat. Sheryl Crow]3:26
10To Love Somebody [feat. Jay Buchanan]3:35
11Rest Your Love On Me [feat. Olivia Newton-John]4:01
12Butterfly [feat. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings]

OUR SECOND COVID-19 SHOT

Despite a snow storm dumping a foot of the White Stuff on us, Diane and I drove to our local Rite Aid–just 5 minutes away–and received our second Moderna Covid-19 shot. So far, the only side-effects we’re experiencing are sore arms and fatigue. Sadly, several other vaccination sites shut down because of the snow. We lucked out!

Meanwhile, the coronavirus rates declined in Western NY. We have 3.7% positive testing. How are things where you live?

THE 40-FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION [Netflix]

Radha Blank plays herself in (and directs) this autobiographical film. Blank is a playwright who was a hot commodity when she was 30 but now she’s approaching 40 and stuck teaching high school kids. Blank decides she needs to change things up and decides to become a rap singer. She finds a music producer named D (Oswin Benjamin), in an apartment in the Brooklyn, and starts rapping.

Meanwhile, Blank’s agent, Archie Choi (Peter Kim), manages to entice a wealthy white investor to produce Blank’s play about gentrification, HARLEM AVE. But problems occur when the promised Black director never eventuates and instead a white director (played by Welker White) changes Radha Blank’s play into “poverty porn.”

Blank shows how contemporary playwrights battle problems of having their creative vision “modified” by financial backers, actors, and social forces which the illustrates the dilemma of Black artists whose careers rely on white decision-makers. 

Yes, there’s humor in The 40-Year-Old-Version. But I was confused by the mix of messages. Does Radha Blank really hate teaching? Does she want to abandon her playwriting dreams to become a rapper? Why does Blank avoid her brother? Plenty of questions, not enough answers. GRADE: C+

OPEN: THE STORY OF HUMAN PROGRESS By Johan Norberg

At a certain point in my college career, I considered pursuing a degree in Intellectual History. Plain old History is one damn thing after another and Intellectual History–according to my professors–makes sense of all those damn things that happened. Johan Norberg’s Open: The Story of Human Progress argues that societies that foster openness do better than societies that are closed.

Norberg presents plenty of evidence that countries that allowed freedom and encouraged innovation had higher standard of livings and more prosperity than the closed countries. But, freedom and innovation threaten powerful elites and they can diminish freedom and reject innovation. Burning libraries and banning books are just tools for the regimes that want to control their populations.

Knowledge is power and dictators fear it. Societies that reject educating women, countries that suppress news on TV and in the press, regimes that poison opponents all face declining economies and civil unrest. Johan Norberg convinced me with his evidence and logic that openness is the way to go. Are you a History buff? GRADE: A

Table of Contents

Introduction: Traders and tribalists 1

Part I Open

1 Open exchange 19

2 Open doors 68

3 Open minds 124

4 Open societies 167

Part II Closed

5 Us and them 213

6 Zero-sum 248

7 Anticipatory anxiety 286

8 Fight or flight 334

Open or closed? 362

Acknowledgements 383

Notes 385

Index 418

XI’AN FAMOUS FOODS: THE CUISINE OF WESTERN CHINA, FROM New York’s FAVORITE NOODLE SHOP By Jason Wang with Jessica K. Chou

I love Chinese food so this new cookbook attracted me. But Xi’An Famous Foods isn’t just a cookbook. It tells the story of how Jason Wang and his family left China and made it in America.

I’m going to give some of the recipes in this book a try:  Spicy & Sour Spinach Dumplings in Soup,  Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad, and  Stewed Pork Hand-Ripped Noodles in Soup. There are dozens of mouth-watering food photos to fire up your appetite! Great food and a great story of business success! Do you like Chinese food? GRADE: A