Just Giblets

Kate Bush’s singles from Worst to Best

14th August 2016
by Michael

Kate Bush’s singles from Worst to Best

Kate BushRecently The Daily Telegraph ranked Kate Bush’s 31 singles from worst to best. I was struck how low some of my personal favorite were, and how well some of the ones I was more indifferent to were ranked. Perhaps it’s a function of being here in the States, where Kate never really broke out, as opposed to England where she did quite well. I thought I would offer up my own ranking, and will include The Daily Telegraph’s ranking and how high the song reached on the British charts as well.

#31 – Deeper Understanding (2011)

from Director’s Cut; ranked #21 by The Daily Telegraph; #87 on the British charts
This track utilized the Trio Bulgarka a Bulgarian vocal ensemble to great effect in its original version lifted from The Sensual World, and it was still a bit cheesy. When Kate re-recorded it for her Director’s Cut album, substituting her son Bertie as the voice of the computer it just didn’t work at all.

#30 – And So Is Love (1994)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #25 by The Daily Telegraph; #26 on the British charts
Kate gets bluesy with a little help from Eric Clapton on this album cut from The Red Shoes. I always used to skip over this song when I listed to the album. Not really my cup of tea.

#29 – The Man I Love (1994)

from The Glory of Gershwin compilation; ranked #14 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #27 on the British charts
This fairly straightforward reading of a Gershwin classic was one Kate Bush song I hadn’t heard until I found this Daily Telegraph list! Kate does a nice job with this song, but alas, it’s not a Kate bush song…

#28 – Wow (1979)

from Lionheart; ranked #8 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #14 on the British charts
This was the first single off the much-anticipated follow-up to Kate’s groundbreaking debut, The Kick Inside. It’s a daring little confection about trying to keep theatrical performances fresh while performing them day-in and day-out, week-in, week-out, with references to bitchy queens and vaseline, but it’s over-dramatic (appropriately so) howling chorus does wear on me after awhlie.

#27 – Lyra (2007)

from The Golden Compass (soundtrack); ranked #13 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #187 on the British charts
Lovely, sweeping vocals play over the closing credits of the sadly disappointing film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantastic teen novel, The Golden Compass. It hit the British charts on the strength of its Digital Downloads alone. A bit of a throwaway, but a nice song. (I wish they’d included Be Kind to My Mistakes, Kate’s offering from the 80’s film Castaway, wasted as a B-side. That would have possibly cracked my top 10!)

#26 – Wild Man (2011)

from 50 Words for Snow; ranked #12 by the Daily Telegraph; reached #73 on the British charts
The lead, and only single from Kate’s last album, Wild Man is reminiscent of her previous single, King of the Mountain — interesting and heralding something new from a notoriously slow to produce artist, but in context, rather straightforward although this one has a rather intriguing chorus with some funky vocals.

#25 – Rocket Man (1991)

from Two Rooms; ranked #28 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #12 on the British charts
Offering her own version of one of Elton John’s beautiful classics, Kate puts her own reggae spin on Rocket Man taken from an early 90’s tribute album. Nice to see Kate having a little fun in the video.

#24 – King of the Mountain (2005)

from Aerial; ranked #22 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #4 on the British charts
Twelve years or so in the making, King of the Mountain heralded a triumphant return as the lead single of a double album masterpiece. It’s one of Kate’s highest charting single, but strangely enough, I never really appreciated it until I saw it performed live with the majesty and menace that lay hidden within.

#23 – Don’t Give Up (1986)

from So; ranked #16 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #9 on the British charts
This duet with Peter Gabriel off his masterpiece album, So, features Kate as the solitary ray of hope trying to reach a defeated man. A review in Rolling Stone magazine said this about Kate: “Don’t give up,” she breathes with the voice of life itself…” That’s Kate. The voice of life itself.

#22 Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) (1985)

from Hounds of Live; ranked #11 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #3 on the British charts (#37 on the U.S. charts!)
Kate’s only Top 40 U.S. single, also cracked the top 5 in Britain, this propulsive, rumination on seeing the world through your partner’s eyes has a lot of mileage for a deceptively simple song… although Kate’s simplest songs are more complicated that most pop singers can even imagine. I was surprised that this didn’t make the Telegraph’s Top 10. One of her best videos though…

#21 – Them Heavy People (Live) (1979)

from Live at the Hammersmith Odeon EP; ranked #26 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #10 on the British charts
American audiences weren’t ready when Kate appeared on Saturday Night Live singing about Gurdjieff and Jesu. This live track taken from her first concert tour captured her musical talent, her dancing daring, and her wackiness perfectly.

#20 – Babooshka (1980)

from Never for Ever; ranked #9 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #5 on the British charts
Bush’s third album saw her reaching toward the gorgeous madness that culminated in what many feel is her masterpiece fourth album, The Dreaming. Yet somehow, even as the edges of her music frayed with brilliance, she retained a strong pop sensibility while howling out, “I’m all yours, Babooshka!” This is a fun song, but not deserving of the Top 10 spot that The Daily Telegraph bestowed upon it.

#19 – This Woman’s Work (1989)

from The Sensual World; ranked #5 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #25 on the British charts
Kate wrote this song for the John Hughes film, She’s Having a Baby, and it’s an interesting take on the power of childbirth from the man’s point of view. It’s a gorgeous ballad, with Kate’s voice at it’s most emotional, starting of tremulously, then building with a grand crescendo that will chill you. Still, I rank it far lower than The Telegraph, which has this song at #5!

#18 – Hammer Horror (1979)

from Lionheart; ranked #20 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #44 on the British charts
Kate mines her love of horror films, particularly the classics produced by this movie studio, to spin a tale of a dead colleague who can’t let go of life. It features her trademark swooping vocals that soar into the stratosphere before plunging deep into the ocean. And a great little video too.

#17 – Breathing (1980)

from Never for Ever; ranked #17 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #16 on the British charts
Here is the moment when Kate began to take control of her musical career, and it’s fitting that it’s where The Daily Telegraph and I agree. Tackling a powerful subject, a song sung from the point of view of an unborn child who doesn’t want to be born into a post-apocalyptic world, Kate starts to move away from the child-like vocals and introduce a darker element to her music. It’s a chilling song, and the video is a mini-masterpiece, complete with cheesy 70’s special effects!

#16 – Experiment IV (1986)

from The Whole Story; ranked #19 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #23 on the British charts
When Kate released her greatest hits collection to introduce her music to America, she included one new track, the haunting, dystopian Experiment IV. Kate likes to imagine a dark future, and in this track, she imagines a world where scientists have created a sound that can kill from a distance. In the dark vision of Ms. Bush, this takes the form of a demonic entity played by the musician herself. The video features appearances by Dawn French, Hugh Laurie and Gary Oldman.  I thought as a follow-up to Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) Kate might have another Top 40 hit in America. Shows you what I know.

#15 – December Will be Magic Again (1980)

stand-alone Christmas single; ranked #10 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #29 on the British charts
Only Kate could release a Christmas single that’s also a love letter to England. With her trademark vocal swoops and dives evident in full force, this is an easy song for non-believers to make fun of, but it’s just beautiful, and it captures the magic of Christmas and England beautifully.

#14 – The Dreaming (1982)

from The Dreaming; ranked #31 by the Daily Telegraph; reached #42 on the British charts
While it lacks the polish of Hounds of Love, The Dreaming may actually be my favorite Kate Bush album. It was a commercial flop, but  it is so audacious; so insane, that it pushes the boundaries of pop music. For the title track, Kate tackles the plight of the aboriginal in Australia, and the mystic place between life and death called the Dreamtime. This was The Daily Telegraph’s lowest ranked single, but for me it’s sheer boldness merits a place in the Top 20 — and it’s multi-layered sound is rather amazing.

#13 – Love & Anger (1989)

from The Sensual World; ranked #29 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #38 on the British charts (and #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rocks chart!)
To kick off The Sensual World, Kate chose a logical follow-up to her triumph of Hounds of Love. Lots of drums, guitar by David Gilmour, and a cool video kept Kate in the American consciousness. Kind of the grown-up version of the fuck-you/adolescent cockiness of Sat In Your Lap. It’s a solid Bush song.

#12 – The Red Shoes (1994)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #30 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #21 on the British charts
Kate’s 1994 album, The Red Shoes was pretty hit and miss with me, but the title track was a explosive, manic dance number driven by Irish melodies, pipes and strings, and Kate’s intense vocal delivery. It was the high point in a bold, yet nearly conventional album that left Bush with an eleven-year gap between albums. Here, and with the previous Love & Anger is where The Daily Telegraph and I really differ.

#11 – The Man with the Child in His Eyes (1978)

from The Kick Inside; ranked #7 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #6 on the British charts
She wrote this song when she was 13. That’s all you really need to know about this exquisite ballad that rivals those written by musicians years her senior. Simple, understated, and beautiful. It just misses my top 10.

#10 – Army Dreamers (1980)

from Never for Ever; ranked #24 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #16 on the British charts
As Bush started to spread her wings lyrically and musically on her third album, she tackles one of her most devastating ditties, about young men going off to war and coming back in coffins. Sung as a lilting waltz, she marries a light musical touch with serious lyrical overtones. I’ve always loved this song, and its accompanying video. It’s a strong anchor for my Top 10.

#9 – Wuthering Heights (1978)

from The Kick Inside; ranked #4 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #1 on the British charts
Here’s the song that started it all. The precocious Kate Bush released a debut single not about falling in love, or getting your heart broken (although really, it’s about both of those things) but about Heathcliff and Cathy, the characters from Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights. More specifically, about Cathy’s ghost haunting Heathcliff forevermore on the moors. It was like nothing heard before on pop radio and it kicked off a career that is unparalleled still today.

#8 – Moments of Pleasure (1993)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #1 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #26 on the British charts
In what is most likely Bush’s most personal song, this beautiful, emotional ballad is clearly inspired by the death of her mother as she fondly remembers loved ones who have been part of her world. Although slightly overblown production-wise, you can’t deny the power of Bush’s delivery and turn of melody. And when she sings, “Hey there, Michael, do you really love me?” The answer is a resounding yet.

#7 – Cloudbusting (1985)

from Hounds of Love; ranked #3 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #20 on the British charts
Despite the mainstream success of Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) it was the other three singles from Hounds of Love that were the triumvirate of pop genius. Cloudbusting, coming it at #7 on my list, and #3 on The Daily Telegraph’s ranking, is epic in scope, complete with a 7-minute movie/video starring Donald Sutherland to accompany it. As the closing encore to her Before the Dawn concert in 2014, it left the audiences gloriously uplifted.

#6 – There Goes a Tenner (1982)

from The Dreaming; ranked #18 by The Daily Telegraph; did not make the British charts
The only Kate Bush single to miss the British charts completely, I attribute that to the backlash against The Dreaming album, which for me is sheer genius, and evident by the #6 ranking of this delightfully quirky, and hilarious ditty about a bank robbery gone wrong. I loved the videos from The Dreaming ear as well, and this, another mini-epic, is delightful. (In fact, my favorite non-single by Bush is arguably from this album, Suspended in Gaffa.)

#5 – Rubberband Girl (1993)

from The Red Shoes; ranked #23 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #12 on the British charts
I’m not sure why I love this song so much. Maybe because it’s such a mainstream, pop ditty from Kate Bush. It’s basically one chord with some funky instrumentation and trademark swooping Bush vocals. Why on earth EMI elected to release the far more mundane and less interesting Eat the Music for the American single is beyond me. This is a far better choice. I’ve included both the UK version (from The Red Shoes film) and the US version of the videos because they’re fun.

#4 – Sat in Your Lap (1982)

from The Dreaming; ranked #6 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #11 on the British charts
This was the single that heralded a new day for Kate. It was the lead single from The Dreaming, and I’m sure some people thought she’d lost her mind. Especially when they say this whack-a-doodle video (one of my favorites). I just love this song about the challenge of staying motivated to improve creatively. Something Bush clearly knew a lot about with this change in musical direction. It never stopped after The Dreaming. Nice to see the high ranking on the Telegraph as well… and that the British public responded pretty well too – almost getting her back into the Top 10. And come on, isn’t this the best video?

#3 – The Sensual World (1989)

from The Sensual World; ranked #2 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #12 on the British charts
There is no song out there that better embodies the sensual, the sumptuousness of lush, sexual beauty, than Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. And to add to that this song is actually the soliloquy Ms. Bush interprets for James Joyce’s Molly Bloom, plucked out of the novel Ulysses and set free to feel and experience that real, sensual world, as opposed to the literary world of words. And surely one of the most gorgeous videos ever made as Kate/Molly dances through the woods as the seasons change, in a gorgeous, form-fitting, velvet dress. The breathy vocals, and that last look into the camera as the song comes to a close. Wow.  Look how close The Daily Telegraph and I are on this one. There’s no denying it. You just need to experience it.

#2 – The Big Sky (1986)

from Hounds of Love; ranked #27 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #37 on the British charts
For the longest time, The Big Sky was my stock answer when asked what my favorite Kate Bush single was. As you can see, that has changed, but it’s still pretty close. I love the joy Kate expresses in this song… it’s so exultant and fun — a celebration of the sky, but at the same time a bit of a diss to the press, and a song about putting things into perspective. Such a gloriously fun video too. The audience is filled with members of the Kate Bush Club, and I remember thinking the first time I saw it, if I had been in the audience when Kate ran down the catwalk blowing kisses into the crowd, I would have swooned. I don’t know what The Daily Telegraph is thinking by ranking this single to low. They’re just wrong in this case.

#1 – Hounds of Love (1985)

from Hounds of Love; ranked #15 by The Daily Telegraph; reached #15 on the British charts
Over the past 10 – 12 years, Hounds of Love has emerged to be my favorite Kate Bush song. It’s a perfect song for me. From the spoken intro, “It’s in the trees, it’s coming” and the tribal pounding of the drums, you know something amazing is about to start. The rhythmic driving of the strings provide the perfect combination of propulsion and menace beneath Kat’s frantic vocal that is both filled with fear, and filled with longing. The song is a perfect allegory, the fear of love and commitment being likened to a fox fleeing the hunt… it’s the hounds of love are hunting… and Kate captures the range of emotions beautifully. The title track off her seminal album, this song just lifts me up to glorious heights until Kate’s final exultant cry, “I need love, love, love, love, love, love, yeah,” puts the transcendent cap on the this perfect pop song.

And there it is, Kate’s 31 British singles ranked from least favorite to most favorite according to me. I definitely skew to mid-career — The Dreaming and Hounds of Love being her pinnacle for me. Although I always thought How to Be Invisible from Aerial should have been a single, and it would have ranked very high on this list. I will leave you with one of my favorite non-singles from Kate that she also happens to have made a video for. Suspended in Gaffa was taken from The Dreaming, and I’m not sure why she made the video since it wasn’t released as a single, but I’m sure glad she did.






posted in Kate Bush, Lists, Music | at 11:35 am | 0 Comments
3rd February 2016
by Michael

Best Books Read in 2015 – #’s 2 & 1

2015 was a good year for speculative fiction, with four out of the top 5 books I read this year coming under the science fiction/fantasy/horror genres. My top 2 books feature a favorite author, and one I’ve been meaning to read for years, and finally did. And they’re both named Nei/al.

#Trigger Warning2 – Trigger Warning: Short Fictions & Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Has Neil Gaiman ever disappointed? I can’t say that he has, and this collection of short stories continues that streak. Using a title that was born from the internet to alert readers/viewers etc. to potentially offensive/disturbing content, Mr. Gaiman ponders the idea that his own work would one day bear the label, “trigger warning.” Good fiction should challenge the reader, often disturbing, scaring, challenging us. This collection certainly succeeds on that level.

Ranging from re-imagined fairy tales, Holmes’ tales, or Dr. Who stories, to several ruminations on death, memory and love, Gaiman’s stories reel you in with fanciful flights of imagination, then grab you somewhere startling and potentially upsetting. The result is delight, and a terrific read that will keep you pondering what your own personal trigger might be.


Seveneves#3 – Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

When the moon explodes scientists soon predict that the resulting debris burning in the earth’s atmosphere will eliminate all life on earth in a couple of years. The majority of Stephenson’s nearly 900 page book follows the urgent, yet tenuous plan for an ark to small habitats to be constructed around an existing space station to save the brightest of humanity to one day repopulate the human race. The latter portion of this epic jumps forward 5000 years too explore what has become of the human race in a way that rivals the space epics of Frank Herbert or Mary Gentle.

Stephenson spins a riveting tale by blending a space thriller with a deft character study, exploring the character traits that may ultimately form the basis of humanity. While 900 pages is a daunting task, the book never drags, and urges you to keep reading to see how the characters will overcome the herculean obstacles that inevitably end up in their path. This is my first Neal Stephenson novel… I guess it’s finally time to read Snow Crash.

posted in 2015, Books, Lists | at 11:18 pm | 1 Comment
28th April 2014
by Michael

Little Seen Film of the Day – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in AnatoliaNuri Bilge Ceylan’s seventh film (following the outstanding trio of DISTANTCLIMATES, and THREE MONKEYS continues the trend proving him to be a filmmaker of note. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA clocks in at 157 minutes, and it starts off at an intentionally grueling pace. Part murder mystery, part police procedural, what Ceylan’s latest film really is an exploration into the human soul. The film is split fairly evenly into the dark of night, and the clinical light of day. For the first hour plus, a posse of police officers, a doctor, a prosecutor and two confessed murderers roam the quiet steppes of Anatolia, searching for the body of a murder victim. Sadly, the self-confessed murderer was drunk the night of the crime, and is having trouble remembering exactly where they buried the body.

As the trio of vehicles wends their way through the darkness of the hilly and windy landscape, the characters provide some banter that is at times humorous, and at times banal. As the group grows weary and decides to stop for the night in a small village, the first plot twist occurs, along with the appearance of the first woman to be seen in the film. ??The body is eventually found, and the film shifts to the small town where the autopsy is to be conducted.

The narrative shifts as well, to the POV of the doctor, a quiet observer, who continues to observe the characters around him, including the wife of the murder victim. Played with somber intensity (and a formidable moustache) by Muhammet Uzuner, the doctor becomes the moral pivot upon which the film hinges. His ongoing discussion with the Prosecutor, played with panache and another formidable moustache by Taner Birsel, reveals a telling line about the ruthlessness of women, which may or may not have something to do with the film’s plot. ??And that’s the beauty of this film. It almost doesn’t really matter the motivation behind the central murder, and it’s never really revealed. It leaves you with a lot of questions to ponder, so if you like your films to be all nicely wrapped up at the end, this film is not for you. But if you’re a fan of Ceylan’s previous films, or if you like amazing cinematography, perplexing and sometimes amusing dialog and mysterious examinations of the human soul, you will want to check out this film.

posted in Lists, Memes, Movies, Nostalgia | at 7:25 am | 0 Comments
13th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #1

My favorite book read in 2012 was published in 2010, and recommended to me by my dear friend Daniel Goldin, owner of Boswell Book Company, an independent bookstore in Milwaukee.  Daniel is one of the best recommenders of books around, and he has a very active blog.  When Daniel mentioned Day for Night, I jotted it down on my list of books to be read, but by the time I was looking for something to read and stumbled over that title, I couldn’t remember anything he said about it.  Still, trusting Daniel’s book recommendations, coupled with the fact that the author lived in the Boston area, I decided to give it a try.  I was blown away.  So superb, and a debut too!  I am eagerly awaiting Frederick Reiken’s next novel.

Day for Night#1 – Day for Night by Frederick Reiken

Near the end of Frederick Reiken’s powerful novel Day for Night, one character says of another, “… if I thought hard enough, I’d come to understand her purpose.” With Reiken’s novel, I feel the opposite. The harder you ponder and try to make all the many story threads come together, the more elusive it all becomes. Yet when you take a step back and don’t try so hard to figure it out, it all flows and comes together like elegant artwork or music. In Day for Night, each of the ten chapters is told from the point-of-view of a different character. They are structured like individual short stories, yet all the stories are linked in some way, and they all build a larger tapestry. With topics as far ranging as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, marine biology, the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews, and environmental sensitivity syndrome, and a cast of characters that span continents and generations, Day for Night has mystery, romance, history, adventure… even a little science fiction when looked at from a certain angle. It’s the kind of tale that sticks with you for hours or days after you’ve read it, and haunts you in the best of all possible ways. I loved it.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Lists, Year-end lists | at 12:22 pm | 0 Comments
12th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #2

A new book by A.M. Homes is always an event in the Colford household.  Homes is one of the few authors that both Scot and I love and read together.  Homes is the author of six novels, two short story collections, a memoir, a travel memoir.  She adapted her own novel for teens, Jack, as a teleplay.    Her celebrated collection of short stories, The Safety of Objects was adapted to the screen by Rose Troche.  Her latest novel is a twisted literary odyssey that is, while being in the runner-up position for best book I read in 2012, is definitely my favorite book published in 2012 that I read.

May We Be Forgiven#2 – May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

A.M. Homes has created something astounding with May We Be Forgiven. This modern tale of redemption followed Harold Silver, a man on the outside looking in, who is forced to stop watching and start participating, when his older brother George comes unwound and becomes responsible for a series of deaths. Harold suddenly finds himself responsible for the care of George’s two children, his home, his pets, and getting his own life back on track. But before he can do any of that, he must descend into the surreal, rhythms of a life that buffets him around from one unsettling experience to the next. I loved this book. It starts off with a series of shocking events, then peels back the facade of the upper middle-class to expose some pretty bizarre, and sometimes ugly behavior. Readers will be left alternately disturbed and chuckling by Homes’ straight-forward writing style married to her startling circumstances. Characters frequently misunderstand each other to comic or tragic effect. But somewhere along the way, with sublime subtlety, Homes starts to turn things around, and allow George to piece his life back together. As the title may suggest, this is a powerful, and beautifully rendered story of forgiveness.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Lists, Year-end lists | at 11:16 am | 0 Comments
10th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 3 & 4

A debut novel and a collection of previously printed short stories — not what I was expecting for my third and fourth favorite books read in 2012!

Tell the Wolves I'm Home#4 – Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Carol Rifka Brunt has crafted a beautifully, sad, coming-of-age tale about fourteen-year-old June Elbus, her older sister Greta, and her Uncle Finn. Set in the early 1980’s, June’s world is rocked when her beloved Uncle dies of complications from AIDS. Recent changes in her relationship with Greta have made June believe that Finn was truly the only person to understand her. Enter the mysterious Toby, much maligned by the rest of her family, June finds in Toby a potential kindred spirit and someone from whom she can at the very least, learn more about Finn’s life.

Brunt masterfully negotiates the twists and turns of adolescence, while adding an additional layer of adult, emotional trauma in a story that is both powerful and incredibly moving. It also demonstrates just how far we’ve come as a society since the early 80’s, with regard to AIDS. Yet at the same time, some of the themes Brunt explores would still be scandalous in today’s world, which is a shame. This is a terrific debut novel, and I highly recommend it.

Wonders of the Invisible World#3 – Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip

I was thrilled when I found out there was a new Patricia McKillip book recently released; then mildly disappointed when I found out it was a collection of previously published short stories. Not that I had read any of the stories yet, but generally, I enjoy McKillip’s novels more than her short stories.

Much to my surprise, the stories in Wonders of the Invisible World were truly wonders, and rose to the heights of some of McKillip’s best writing. This gifted artist paints literary landscapes across my heart and mind whether the setting be Puritan New England, a mysterious village in the woods, or an underwater realm. She snaps characters to life with the turn of a phrase, a phrase that seems familiar in the fantasy context, yet is at once strikingly original.

There is a lot of water imagery in this collection, which delighted me. I can’t recall many of her novels featuring the magic of water, and she writes it beautifully. I would love to see an entire novel devoted to the characters and setting of ‘Knight of the Well,’ or ‘The Kelpie.’

McKillip doesn’t just stick with fantasy in this collection either, but dips her hand into science fiction, as with the time travelling researcher in the title story, ‘Wonders of the Invisible World.’

It was nice to see some of McKillip’s less seen humor creep into several of these stories. While her creation and depiction of fantasy realms is the strongest weapon in her literary arsenal, this collection shows off the prodigious talent in her juxtaposition of fantasy with the modern world. And as is now to be expected, her stellar command of language shines through in this magnificent collection.

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Fantasy, Lists, Year-end lists | at 9:19 pm | 2 Comments
9th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 5 & 6

Here is a pair of books that are getting or have gotten some acclaim already.  Peter Cameron’s Coral Glynn has been a top pick of the year on several authors’ lists, and Jo Walton’s Among Others has won the Nebula Award for Best Novel 2011, and the Hugo Award for Best Novel 2012.  

Coral Glynn#6 – Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron

Peter Cameron has crafted an exquisite book about socially awkward people living in England in the 1950’s. Reminiscent of the social examinations of the Bronte sisters, Coral Glynn reveals the solitary life of a shy, young woman working as a visiting nurse. When she suddenly finds herself married and suspected of a hideous crime, she flees to London and unwittingly finds the path to eventual happiness. Cameron’s exquisite writing captures the tone and style of another era.  Coral is a fascinating character, so anachronistic in some ways, yet perfectly drawn for this book with its timeframe firmly set in a certain era, yet with a feel that is almost timeless.  Although more stylistic, Coral Glynn is a nice match with Margot Livesey’s The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which was my #7 favorite book read in 2011.



Among Others#5 – Among Others by Jo Walton

Beautifully written, realistic fantasy about a teen-aged girl imbued with magic who talks with fairies, struggles against her evil-witch mother, endures the trials of assimilating into a new, private, girls, boarding school, and finds salvation in the world of books. Jo Walton balances the coming-of-age of a young woman with the mystical world of fairies in Wales and England.  Walton, perhaps through the use of the diary format where protagonist Mori reveals all her innermost thoughts and feelings, manages to ground this story so firmly in reality, even as she writes about wild magic running through the land, and Mori talking to fairies.  Perhaps most remarkable is the way she weaves in a wealth of books, especially science fiction in delightfully compelling ways. And her use of libraries and librarians is exemplary! Where else will you find the quote, “Interlibrary Loans are a wonder of the world and a glory of civilization.”?

posted in 2012, Authors, Books, Lists, Year-end lists | at 7:58 am | 0 Comments
8th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 7 & 8

It’s nerve-wracking being friends with published authors.  I always worry I’m not going to like their books!  Fortunately, that rarely happens, and I have found being completely honest usually serves very well.  This pair of books both took me by surprise.  One I didn’t expect to like, and the other I grew to like more and more after I completed it and time passed.

The Night Circus

#8 – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I was a slow convert despite the hype. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is an exquisitely crafted fantasy/romance/historical mash-up that, like the circus it describes, contains ever-increasing wonders as each page turns. Celia and Marco are bound by their father/mentor respectively to spend much of their lives preparing for, then competing in a mystical challenge. This particular challenge has been repeated for centuries with very little variance in

the outcome: one participant wins, the other is no more. The problem is, Celia and Marco meet and fall in love, despite the challenge, which they are bound to and upon which they are unable to turn their backs.

This bizarre challenge/romance takes place against the backdrop of Le Cirque des Rêves a glorious circus that appears in different cities during the cover of darkness and is only open at night. Morgenstern’s debut is intricately layered and filled with a rich and fascinating cast of characters. But best of all, she manages to continuously convey the wonder of the magical circus tents throughout at 400-page book, without repeating herself, or resorting to cliche. It’s a magnificent effort, and a joy to read.

The Paternity Test#7 – The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal

For a novel, that on the one hand, appears as a slightly sudsy melodrama about a gay couple desiring a child, Michael Lowenthal’s The Paternity Test challenged me the way few books do.  Here is my best attempt to convey the complexity of emotions I felt throughout my reading it. At first The Paternity Test seemed like it was going to be a fairly straight-forward story; gay couple, together for a while and facing a turning point, decide to leave the big city, move to Cape Cod and have a child by using a surrogate. There would be the typical dramatic moments exploring issues such as having a child to save a relationship; difficulty with the surrogate, that kind of thing. In fact, I wasn’t all that interested in the subject matter, and wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. But when you get an advanced copy from the author himself, you make a point of reading it. 

The first thing I noticed was how compelling it was. I couldn’t put the book down and read it in record time. That said, it was a very tough read for me, stirring up all sorts of conflicting emotions. For much of the book I wasn’t sure I was enjoying it, and had particular trouble with the lead character, Pat. Often I was worried about the direction the book was headed in. Sometimes I had the distinct feeling that I was reading a novelization of “Days of our Lives.” But by the end of the book, I was excited by the journey it took me on, the very fact that I was all over the place emotionally with the characters, yet ultimately having it be a really satisfying reading experience for me. Like parenthood, like relationships, like family, there is nothing simple about The Paternity Test; there are ups and downs, moments of melodrama, laughter, tears, anger… all the things that make a wonderful novel.



7th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 9 & 10

All of the books on this list are great, but it’s a sure sign of a bumper crop year when a new Alice Munro is down at #9!

#10 – All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani

Christopher Castellani’s third novel is a beautifully evocative examination of a family greatly affected by a past tragedy and their ethnic culture. Antonio and Maddalena Grasso came to America from Santa Cecila, Italy fifty years ago. Together they had three children, but lost one tragically years ago. Now their remaining children and grandchildren have each formed a family construct based on their individual experiences, while Antonio and Maddalena each deal with their personal grief in solitary ways.

The novel examines the complicated ways people love, as stated in the book, from the heart, from the head and from the soul. With Maddalena, who was in love with another boy before Antonio and Maddalena’s father arranged their marriage, love is compartmentalized, coupled with a need to cut herself off completely from her heritage, ignoring letters and calls to her family back in Italy. When her daughter Prima tries to arrange a trip for the entire family to travel back to Santa Cecila, all are taken aback by the ferocity of Maddalena’s refusal. Youngest son Frankie has moved from the family’s Delaware roots to write his thesis at Boston College. He is a lost soul, eschewing maturity for a dysfunctional sexual relationship with his adviser, and a relationship with his mother that can’t move past childhood.

Couple all of these mini family dramas with Maddalena’s health challenges and you’d think All This Talk of Love would echo the soap opera that Frankie and Maddalena discuss every day. But Castellani’s exploration lifts the story above melodramatics and creates flawed and real characters struggling with long ago grief and the complicated love of family.

#9 – Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

Alice Munro, the master of the modern short story, continues to show her prodigious talent in her latest collection entitled Dear Life. Each story illuminates a life at a pivotal moment and who this moment affects its subject. Dear Life also includes a series of four memories from the author life; structured as short stories, they are mini-memoirs, colored by memory and creativity, yet illuminating the way each of her stories are.

Many of the stories in Dear Life are set in the post WWII era of Canada, and the memory of the way and the Depression infuse them. One story in particular, “Leaving Maverley,” highlights the power of Munro’s storytelling, where with a simple sentence; a reflection of what has gone on before, Munro is able to bring the reader to tears.


4th January 2013
by Michael

Favorite Books Read in 2012 – #’s 16 & 15

As I mentioned previously, it was a good year for books.  I read a lot of really good books last year, and I couldn’t quite stop at a top 15… I had to squeeze one more on there.  So here we go, #’s 16 & 15 of my favorite books read in 2012!  And what do they have in common?  They’re both geared toward teen readers.  #16 is a newcomer to this list, and #15 made the list last year at #10.

#16 – Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I read two teen novels with gay characters/themes in them, and while I enjoyed them both, both had flaws as well.  Will Grayson Will Grayson‘s conceit about two characters named Will Grayson, one straight, and one gay, written by two authors handling alternating chapters is both a strength and a weakness.  The two writers have noticeably different writing styles, which I found distracting.  There is also an element of over-simplification that can often mars feel-good novels.  However the book is hilarious, unabashedly moving, and a nice look at the variety of personalities embodying high school life today.



#15 – Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Cory’s latest book tackles a subject he is passionate about: copyright and the internet. In Pirate Cinema, a boy runs away to London after his cinema mash-ups cause his family to lose internet access for a month. While living on the streets, he hooks up with a Dickensian band of pals who show him how to live on his own and educate him about the draconian nature of the laws created by big entertainment industry that struggle to hang on to the establishment, but stifle the artistic creativity of a new generation. (He also finds a pretty amazing girlfriend.)  While the novelty of this book for me was seeing my husband’s name appear throughout in a very pivotal role (Scot won naming rights at an auction) about halfway through  Cory had hooked me with a compelling read, strong characters, and a message that is so relevant to the world we live in today.  Cory’s last novel, the epic For the Win was my #10 favorite book read in 2011.

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