After a few weeks where our music critic Andrew Tobias has pronounced his love for the music of his youth he now turns his focus on another area, part in thanks to the recent release of the band Arkells new single Knocking at the Door.
For some strange reason I have always had a strange adoration for music from Canada. It does not make a whole lot of sense, for the music produced in the great white north is not that dissimilar to that written in the southern part of the Americas. From the first meeting with Bryan Admas, to the anger in Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill, the soft lilting tones of Sarah MacLachlan and the qurkiness of Barenaked Ladies it seems as if Canada has been close to my heart for a long time.
So when I discovered Arkells a year ago when they were closely connected to Frank Turner, well then it was as if fate had intervened. I must say that I am a big fun of their music and lyrics that tread that fine line between sarcasm and seriousness, wrapped in a simplistic package. Their new single Knocking on the Door is a tune that includes all the pieces that have made their previous releases so great; a catchy melody, quick witted lyrics and a sharp message. It is reminiscent of a southern preachers sermon to a congregation, complete with a climatic baptist choir at the end. It gets the listener going and their hearts racing.
So get off the couch and answer the knock at the door, because it’s the Arkells waiting for you to open and discover them.
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Kokoro is the sequel to Keith Yatsuhashi’s book Kojiki and continues where it ended with its masterful blend of Japanese folklore and science fiction. In many ways it is a manga or anime in purely written form and those familiar with that form of storytelling and the tropes that guide that very genre will enjoy it immensely. The difference between the sequel and its predecessor is that Kojiki more felt like an adventure novel, related to tales like Spirited Away, while Kokoro is more reminiscent of Robotech or Knights of Sidonia.
In this fashion Kokoro becomes a high octane story that moves quite fast, sometimes even a bit too fast for its own good. There is a lot going on and at times it can be difficult for the reader to keep up wit everything. The main story line takes place on a planet called Higo where a civil war is raging while Baiyren Tallaenaq, the prince of the planet is exiled away. He gets his hands on one of two giant mechs, here called mah-zin and travels to a different world. THere is naturally other parallel narratives, some involving the female cast, but they all move around the war and political intrigue at court.
As previously mentioned, this story has a lot going on. The reader is quickly thrown into the conflict, with the occasional flashback, and the exposition is quickly executed. As the story progresses it moves to a more leisurely pace, but the damage is already done. This does not mean that Kokoro isn’t an interesting story with the appropriate amount of twists and turns or inferior storytelling, the issue is that it for most readers may become too much, too confusing and too twisty and turny. This book is more geared to those who have a greater understanding of the world of manga or anime and all that comes with it.
At heart there is really just the basic story of a land ravaged by conflict and a family torn apart due to conflicts hidden in more modern tropes that some might just be too unfamiliar with. The language is still good and well adapted to the narrative and the world and relationship development is interesting as well as well executed.
In the end it is the amount of new things that is what would cause a reader to shy away, while those who are familiar with mechs, Asian mysticism and Japanese storytelling might gravitate towards it. There might even be the adventurous type who picks up this book and is introduced to a world well beyond the populist and westernized form of Pokémon, Digimon and Yo-kai Watch and then again the children who are intimately acquainted to those shows would most likely graduate to Kokoro. Whatever the case might be, there is enough proof among the pages to hint that the status of Yatsuhashi’s will grow in esteem as culture and taste catches up to it.
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
It is a widely held belief that no one is interested in reading reviews of older books. That for some reason readers are only interested in what is coming on the horizon and not that which has been. Not so here at the Guild. We do get our fair share of new books to review, but we also come in contact with less recent releases through services like Riffle, Bookperks and Bookbud. There is a bigger need for authors to have their work reviewed at Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble, to get their names out there. Therefore we at The Guild have instituted Rear View, a forum where we review older titles. Out first is the first installment of the Malediction series: Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen.
In an alternative France Cécile de Troyes leaves her family to further her singing career when she finds herself kidnapped and sold off to the trolls that live deep under ground. She is forced to marry the heir to the troll throne Tristan in hopes that it will break the curse that keeps them trapped under the rocks. Once bound she finds that there is a juxtaposition between the human hating conservative trolls, represented by the King and the more liberal views of the opposition, represented by her new husband. He, being afraid of what his people might due once freed, is not as eager to break the spell cast by the witch Anushka.
At first her relationship with her young husband is one of hate and dissatisfaction from both sides, but as time goes by and Cécile comes to terms with her new living arrangements and she understands Tristan’s true motives, among them protecting the half human, half troll breeds she begins to investigate what really happened with Anushka and the magic that lives within herself.
Stolen Songbird might appear, at first glance, to be just another young adult romance story and initially it might be true, but there is more to it. Of course the frame of it is deeply steeped in the romance with all of its tropes, such as the dark brooding handsome man who turns out to be a decent guy, the innocent young heroine who finds her inner strength so that she can change her destiny. It is a tale that is as old as genre fiction itself and in order for it to not fall into the trap harlequin swamp such a tale needs to be different. Jensen’s story is as different as it needs to be in order to be quite enjoyable and even though it may seem to be aimed at a certain type of reader it can in reality be enjoyed by all.
The story is driven through a shared narrative where the readers get to follow both Cécile and Tristan’s thoughts as they have their own separate chapters, but it is mostly the former’s voice that is heard. It is through her that the reader is privy to the world of the trolls and little by little their history and backstory is unraveled. Cécile herself has a story that is simultaneously reveled in steps and in many ways it is as the history of the protagonist is a tragic as the world she finds herself in. Romantic entanglement in all its various forms intermingle with political intrigue as well as class warfare and racism making Stolen Songbird a clear reflection of its time and the turmoil and nationalistic tensions that have plagued the early 2000s.
It is easy to brush off the first Malediction book as romantic fiction for young adults, but there is more of Diana Galbadon here than Jackie Collins. It might start out as such, but as opposed to Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton the story matures and shies away from this oft, unfairly, tainted genre to take a place along side Outlander as an attempt to revamp it, instead of falling into its trap.
In this week’s fresh tracks segment Andrew Tobias, music reviewer at large, highlights American pop trio Jukebox the Ghost’s new single and ponders how age makes us gravitate towards certain artists.
The pursuit of new music has always been very important to me although it has changed over the year. Like a sex addict I found, in my younger years, that I was increasingly looking for stranger and more disjointed music to explore. As if a lone singer songwriter with a guitar just didn’t cut it anymore. Now on the other hand when I am closing in on my forties I find that I look for songs that have a familiar air instead. Jukebox the Ghost, a power pop trio from Washington D.C., is such a band. They play a style of music that is a wonderful blend of tunes hinting on songs you have heard before and a lyrical ingenuity about everyday issues. It wakes a comfort and familiarity in ones bosom in a way that is reminiscent of Fountains of Wayne, OKGO and Scouting for Girls. It is easily digestible, fun and the songs stick in ones head.
They have returned, after a few years of absence, with the song Stay the Night. It continues where there last album ended with a similar poppy feel and quirky lyrics. The difference her is that they are channeling Queen by using the choir vocals and the distinct use of piano. It is also an anthem to platonic love, or the want to spend the night with that special someone, but apparently not being able to.
In short Jukebox the Ghost’s new single is well worth a listen for anyone interested in something dance-able and quirky.
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Neuvel’s first installment of the Themis Files, Walking Gods, made quite stir with its intricate plot, case file structure and mysterious protagonist. Now he has returned with the second book about the giant robot and those who are affected by it.
Many years after the discovery of several giant robotic body parts strewn across and the subsequent construction of these into the giant robot Themis another one shows up in London. Larger and with more functions it at first appears to be non threatening, but when Themis confronts it a battle ensues. With the latter victorious a new phase in the situation with the robots is entered. Especially when there are human like aliens found inside. At the same time the mysterious return of the dead Rose Franklin yields even more information, illegal egg harvesting and secret offspring. That ends upp being the least of humanity’s problem when thirteen new robots appear out of the blue and Themis vanishes in the process. The robots kill the population of several major cities and it looks as if man might just become a footnote in the history books.
Neuval continues with the case file form he began in Sleeping Giants and it is a structure that works well. He takes a story that to many may have some familiarity; the alien threat coupled with political and scientific secrecy and relates it in a very innovative style. The narrative consists of a variety of interviews conducted by the mysterious friend, news reports and other various recordings. Very much like the previous books it keeps the reader interested and it keeps a very nice and quick pace to a story that might otherwise be quite heavy on words and difficult to get through. Neuval is brilliant in that he has the ability to capture ones interest with quite meager means. We are not informed of the appearances of any of the characters or their outer goals other than what they might reveal in discussions with each other and this is fine. It creates a tension and interest in the story itself and the events that may come to pass, as well as what the consequences humanity might have to deal with once we come in contact with alien worlds. The question poised at the center of the Themis Files is still where the robots come from and whether they have left more than hardware behind. The plot truly thickens throughout this book and the story becomes more tragic than before.
It is easy to become enamored by Neuvel’s writing and his story of humanity playing with new toys that they do not quite understand, but this second book might answer some of the questions from the first one and leaves you with so many more that it is almost impossible to wait for the next installment.
After a brief hiatus Andrew Tobias returns with Fresh Tracks, this time with a declaration of love fueled by the release of his new album Whole New World.
To me Francis Dunnery has always been one of the music industries best kept secrets. No matter how much I have enjoyed his songs it has never bothered me that I was the only one among my friends. It has always been like a brotherhood with a secret handshake, a knowing wink or nod to people behind the record store counter pr someone wearing an It Bites T-shirt one happens to see on the street.
I was first introduced to Dunnery as a teenager, when I heard American Life in the Summertime, and the album Fearless became the soundtrack to the summer of ’96 for me. Since then he wandered in and out of my life and I was even introduced to his band It Bites. At times it can be trying to be a Dunnery fan. He likes to experiment and some of his production has been a highly dubious adventure in various soundscapes, but I guess that is part of his charm. This does lead to the fact that whenever a new album is released one enters into it with a sense of trepidation.
Whole New World Remix does evoke a variety of feelings and questions. Is it a remix album where songs from Dunnery’s catalog is enhanced with ambient sounds, very much in the style of his Made in Space or a re-imagining of the same like his work with The New Progressives. To my joy it was more of the latter than the former. The remix in this case are Dunnery’s interpretations of It Bites tunes as well as some of the more classic progressive songs of the seventies and eighties. Songs like The Faces’ Glad and Sorry or Genesis’ Back in New York City.
This is definitely Dunnery at his best. Most of the songs are flavored with a goodly dose of Steely Dan and other fusion jazz acts. It is a more mature sound, maybe aimed at a more mature audience with a taste for quality and excitement in composition. IT may not be an introduction to his musical history, but it is an introduction to his world, his amazing voice and wonderful ability. This is Francis Dunnery at his absolute best.
On this week’s episode we talk about the Grand Championship being on the line, as well as the Tag Titles. The MVP of the week and the match of the week. All Impact Wrestling even though Wrestlemania just happened.