Ljova, Vjola: World on Four Strings (Kapustnik Records, 2006)

Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), a Moscow native currently living in New York City, plays his viola in a variety of styles. He first came to my attention through his involvement in the raucous gypsy party band Romashka, but he also does arrangements for acts like the Kronos Quartet and Yo-Yo Ma. On his solo disc Vjola: World on Four Strings he takes a step back from the frenzied sound of Romashka, instead composing Eastern European-style dances, some laid back blues, and a handful of impressionistic pieces. Ljova is essentially a one-man string quartet on this disc, playing all the melody and harmony lines himself and even plucking out the low notes on his viola like it was an upright bass.

Vjola succeeds not simply because of Ljova's technical mastery of his instrument, but also because he can compose and arrange in styles from very different parts of the globe and make the tunes sound like they belong together. His segue way from the sprightly tango "Ori's Fearful Symmetry" to the deliciously bluesy "Coffee +Rum" is especially effective. Other highlights include the cleverly titled "Bagel on the Malecon" and the waltz "Garmoshka," which features guest accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman.

I must confess, though, that my exposure to impressionism is far too limited to adequately evaluate the more challenging pieces on this CD. I was enchanted by the high, dissonant harmonics that accompany "O'er" and the radically re-interpreted cover of Björk's "Army of Me," but I'd expect that some people who are listening for the tangos and waltzes will not know what to make of these tunes. Likewise, the extended pieces "Collage" and "Spring Valley Sunset" require careful attention to small details over long stretches of time, and I'm still trying to digest these.

On Vjola: World on For Strings, Ljova demonstrates a superior command of his instrument in a multitude of styles. Fans of Romashka shouldn't expect this to sound very similar to their CD, but anybody in the mood for mellow tangos, waltzes, or front-porch blues played on viola will find a few tunes to their liking. Some of the tunes most definitely do not fall under the category of easy listening, though, but at the very least they help paint a fuller picture of Ljova's musical personality.

Overall Grade: B+


The Da Vinci Code (Sony Pictures, 2006)

Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code caught the literary world by surprise with its enormous commercial success. The convoluted but wildly entertaining story revolved around renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon's attempts to unravel a murder mystery that took him from the Louvre to Westminster Abbey and several other very old churches, and alluded to historical figures from Da Vinci and Isaac Newton to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Seemingly at every turn, Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu are forced to solve some sort of puzzle to bring them closer to the mythical Holy Grail while trying to keep one step ahead of French inspector Bezu Fache, who believes that Langdon is behind the series of murders. The book's popularity also made it somewhat controversial, as it poses some questions about the life of Jesus that some people consider an attack on their beliefs.

Naturally, when a book achieves that level of success, a movie soon follows. Ron Howard's adaptation of The Da Vinci Code received a large boost of free publicity from people concerned about the theological content of the film. One church near me has even been running a series of lectures titled "The DaVinci Code: Fact or Fiction?" (Answer: It is FICTION. Nobody associated with the book or the film has ever, to my knowledge, suggested otherwise. It's certainly fun, and at times thought-provoking, but fiction nonetheless. Besides, I've always been under the impression that it was a good thing when a book or a film provoked thought.) The hype also probably contributed to an unfortunate critical backlash, complete with reviewers questioning the intelligence of the book-reading community and resorting to really bad puns, like using the name Bezu Fache as an interjection, to disparage people who had the unmitigated gall to like something they obviously didn't get themselves.

Once you tune out all the distractions, though, what's left is a film that almost matches the enjoyability of the book. The movie mostly follows the story line of the book, except unfortunately for the denouement that is made overly complicated and allowed to run too long. Tom Hanks gives his typical performance as Langdon, bringing appropriate amounts of thoughtfulness and passion to the character. Audrey Tautou also does well as Neveu, who gradually comes to understand who her grandfather really was and the secret he died to protect, along with her own importance to the mystery. The standout performance, though, comes from Ian McKellan as the eccentric, grail-obsessed Sir Leigh Teabing. He gives his role enough of a Bond villain feel to keep the movie from getting too serious. The action is fast paced, as almost all of the story takes place over one night and the following morning, but well presented and not very difficult to follow.

Ultimately, a lot of your opinion of the film The Da Vinci Code will depend on how you felt about the book. People who liked the book shouldn't need my recommendation to go see the movie, and people who didn't like it will probably not be swayed by seeing the story on screen. If you're not familiar with the story but are curious, I'd recommend reading the book first (along with Dan Brown's prior Robert Langdon adventure, Angels and Demons), but I still found the film version of The Da Vinci Code an enjoyable, entertaining experience.

Overall Grade: A-


Black Wind

Today we're turning our attantion to the novel Black Wind. This is the 18th novel in the insanely popular Dirk Pitt series of Clive Cussler stories. Ol' Clive is getting up there in years, and while he's worked with coauthors before, none other than his son, Dirk Cussler, helped to write this one. My guess is that they're planning a transition as the senior Cussler plans to "hang it up" at some point, and his son will take the reins of the main series of novels.

In Black Wind, we have all the favorite characters interacting. The action is centered around Dirk Pitt, Jr. who has taken over his father's previous role. His sister, Summer, figures prominently as well. They are assisted by Dirk Pitt, Sr., who can't seem to stay in the office, and his faithful sidekick, Al Giordano. Even Admiral Sandecker makes a cameo appearance.

The plot focuses on a lost WW II Japanese sub that was on a secret mission for an unconventional attack on the West coast of the US. It becomes a race as the sub's whereabouts, and cargo, get rediscovered by Pitt, and the evil doers. There is the standard assortment of minisubs, aerial vehicles, and surface ships that is a hallmark of a Cussler novel. With the intro of Cussler's son comes a newer classic car: a '58 Chyrsler 300D convertible which of course figures into the requisite car chase.

Black Wind is also notable in other ways. The first is that the Navy SEAL's play far more of a prominent role than in any of Cussler's previous novels. Another is that the NUMA ship is sunk, I believe another first. Also, this is the only background story to involve a submarine.

Speaking of the background story, I think this is where Black Wind is lacking. The usual formula is that the opening chapter describes some historic naval lore. This then ties into the plot towards the very end of the novel. It is very well done in such a way to keep the reader guessing as to how it can all possibly come together, but it does. Cussler's Sahara is one of the better examples of this, with two background stories. Unfortunately, Black Wind lacks this signature Cussler technique.

The other ingredient missing is the required visit to Julien Perlmutter, the eccentric maritime historian. This would have enhanced the novel as well, and left me a little lacking.

As the 18th Dirk Pitt novel in a series spanning over three decades, in my view, this is only middle of the pack compared to Cussler's other works. If you haven't read Cussler before, this is not the one to start with. With that said, while not as deep or rich as Trojan Odyssey, Atlantis Found, or Sahara, Black Wind is still quite an enjoyable read. The prose is excellent, and the dialogue quintessential Cussler. I can't wait for the next Dirk Pitt novel despite my quibbles with Black Wind!

Overall Grade: A-


X-Men: The Last Stand

Reviewed by James Lynch

The X-Men, comic books’ most powerful oppressed minority, return to the big screen in X-Men: The Last Stand. This movie, likely the last of an unofficial trilogy of films, shares many of the strengths and weaknesses of the previous films.

The team/school of X-Men has the same members as last time, plus several new characters, but the focus remains Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the tough loner with a heart of gold and growing sense of responsibility. The best addition is the Beast, a.k.a. Hank McCoy (wonderfully played by Kelsey Grammar), whose furry blue muscular body belies his intelligence and role as ambassador between humans and mutants. Original X-Man Angel (Ben Foster) finally appears, providing the most uplifting visual image for mutants.

The Last Stand has three threats facing our heroes. The first is societal: a chemical injection that removes all traces of mutation from a person. (“They’re calling it a cure,” the Beast observes gravely.) This inspires mixed reactions from the mutant community: Some, like Storm (Halle Berry), feel there’s nothing wrong with being a mutant and so nothing to cure. Others, like Rogue (Anna Paquin), see it as a chance to be normal, to finally fit in and interact with others. Far too soon, though, the cure is used as against mutants; the film has the wonderful oxymoron “cure weapon.”

The second threat is Magneto (Ian McKellen), who sees the cure as a doorway to extermination and uses it to recruit a mutant army. Magneto remains the violent military leader to the peaceful coexistence put forth by Charles Xanier (Patrick Stewart), though during the movie Magneto proves fanatical, willing to destroy or discard anyone – human or mutant – who gets in his way.

The final, possibly deadliest threat, is from the X-Men’s lost teammate. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) appeared to die in the last movie, but she’s back – with a vengeance. Phoenix, Jean Grey’s alternate personality, is now in charge. This personality has almost incalculable power; it also knows to restraint, exercising desires and wrath without hesitation.

As with the previous movies, the plight of mutants symbolizes the plight of minorities, be they racial (during questioning, the mutant Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) says “I don't answer to my slave name”) or of homosexuality (whether a cure for a genetic condition is moral). X-Men: The Last Stand also matches its philosophy with action, as the mutants fight and battle through their obstacles. Comic book fans also get to see many of their favorite imagines face-offs done in live action: Iceman vs. Pyro! Storm vs. Callisto! Kitty Pryde vs. Juggernaut! Okay, so maybe no one imagined that last one… New director Brett Ratner fills the film with action aplenty. And there are some incredible surprises: Anyone who expects this story to follow the comics is in for several unexpected events!

Alas, there are plenty of flaws to go around. Most characters are little more than their powers, resulting in cool-but-superficial roles instead of real character development. There is a desire to squeeze in as many heroes and villains from the comic books, resulting in numerous “blink and you’ll miss them” cameos of characters who do nothing but stand there while the camera pans over them. And while the plot has plenty of surprises, it also has some massive plot holes dug for the purpose of handing the audience another action series.

While Hugh Jackman may be starring in Wolverine-focused movies, X-Men: The Last Stand is likely to be the last movie featuring all the X-Men. It’s a decent end to this trilogy, flaws and all. (And be sure to stick around through the credits for an extra scene.)

Overall Grade: B+


North Country

"All She Wanted Was To Make A Living. Instead She Made History"

Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, and Sissy Spacek star in the drama North Country. The "north country" is in rural Minnesota. Theron's character plays Josey Aimes, a single mom who needs a job at the local iron mine to literally make ends meet. Unfortunately, the men of the mine really don't want the women working there, and they make it more than completely uncomfortable for the women to come to work each day. The men repeatedly cross the line, and harass them constantly. The women workers endure their torture because of their need for the better paying mining jobs. As time goes on, the atrocities contnue to the point that noone would be able to endure them, and they reach a breaking point. This leads to the first class action sexual harassment lawsuit in US history.

Not quite a "stand up and cheer" movie, it is more of outrage and shock that this went on in recent history. The movie also runs a little long at over two hours, and has a slower pace than was somewhat necessary. The actor's performances are well done, particularly Josey's strained relationship with her parents, given the fact that her father works at the mine and has a divided allegiance. While North Country reminded me of Norma Rae, I enjoyed that film much more.

Overall Grade: B


Kate Bush – Aerial (2005)

Reviewed by Rachel Wifall

Granted, Kate Bush’s latest release came out six months ago (November 2005)—just in time for my birthday. You’d think I would have returned the favor and reviewed it in a timely fashion. However, I was busy. I also, like all Kate Bush fans from back in the day, waited twelve years for her to present the world with a new album (since her 1993 release The Red Shoes). So, I think it’s ok; we’re even.

She’s back! …and after all this time she has a lot to say: Aerial is a double album, comprised of 16 songs in total. The first song, and first release, “King of the Mountain,” did very well in England (peaking at number four on the UK singles chart), as did the entire album, which entered the UK album chart at number three. I think it’s safe to say that Aerial, and all of Kate’s oeuvre is a bit too esoteric and quirky for the mainstream US music market, but, as always, Kate has a loyal underground following over here, including yours truly.

These two CDs, subtitled “A Sea of Honey” and “A Sky of Honey” are full of songs of varied styles—yet, however different they may be, each track is an unmistakable child of Kate, echoing her earlier musical innovations. As always, her lyrics are quirky, moving, sensual, unexpected: “King of the Mountain” is an ode to Elvis; “Joanni” an ode to Joan of Arc; “Pi” is a tender song which reflects on a “sweet and gentle and sensitive man/ With an obsessive nature and deep fascination/ For numbers” in which Bush proceeds to sing the integers of the number pi. “Mrs. Bartolozzi” is a subtly erotic song about washing laundry. Bush is a master storyteller and a supreme painter of verbal imagery (dealing, in fact, with painting itself in “An Architect’s Dream” and “The Painter’s Link;” “Sunset” is a gorgeous poem of visual imagery in itself, bringing together the honey images of the CD subtitles).

Musically, there is much of Kate’s trademark moody piano, but also electronic and orchestral instrumentation, and even early modern strings on “Bertie,” a delightful Renaissance-styled homage to Kate’s son. As always, Kate has scattered interesting sound effects throughout her songs: speaking voices, strange voices, bird calls. Some of these work, some of them are…well…perplexing: as Alexis Petridis of The Guardian Unlimited notes, “It is filled with things only Kate Bush would do. Some of them you rather wish she wouldn't.”

The album is somewhat slow moving and melancholy in tone throughout, until it picks up momentum toward the end of CD2 (“A Sky of Honey”): “Sunset” closes with a rousing refrain of Spanish guitar, and “Nocturn” has a great funky groove accompanied by some dissonant harmonies reminiscent of Bush’s former work with the Bulgarian Woman’s Choir on her album The Sensual World. The final, title track, “Aerial” incorporates a driving beat and ends the album on an excited note with the lyrics “I’ve gotta be up on the roof/ Up, up high on the roof/ Up, up on the roof/ In the sun,” bird calls, lots of laughter—and a fantastic electric guitar reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, one of Kate’s mentors whose talent she has employed in the past.

Musically, Aerial sounds like much of what Kate Bush has done before. This listener wishes she had followed the tack she took in the second CD a bit further, into more upbeat and wildly transcendent tunes. However, what she does she does so well, and I still have to give this album an A.

Overall Grade: A

Draupner, Arvet (Caprice Records, 2003)

Draupner are a young trio of folk musicians from the Swedish province of Hälsingland. Hennig Andersson (fiddle and viola), Görgen Antonsson (fiddle and five-stringed fiddle), and Tomas Lindberg (guitar and mandola) started playing together as adolescents in 1994, and released their self-titled debut CD in March 2001. For their second CD Arvet ("Heritage"), Draupner obtained the services of Väsen's Roger Tallroth as producer. Four of the seventeen tunes on Arvet are originals; the rest are gleamed from the expansive Hälsingland fiddling tradition.

Not surprisingly, given the band's trio format and Roger Tallroth's production, Draupner sounds a lot like Väsen on many of the tunes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in general, but Draupner doesn't bring quite the same muscle to its arrangements, and sometimes comes across as "Väsen lite." The band instead hits its best stride on the more distinctive tunes. For example, the second track "Waltz from Per Jonsson" actually oscillates between an energetic jig and a waltz, and Draupner does a fine job of making the transitions flow naturally and seamlessly. Another of the disc's highlights is the exquisite, deliberately paced "March, from Jon-Erik Öst." Lindberg's accompaniment is its most effective when he aims less for power and more for counter-melody, like in "From-Olle no. 7." In general this happened when he played the mandola, but Lindberg's 12-string work on "A-minor polska from Hultkläppen" is very nice as well.

Arvet does live up to its name, as it is both a celebration and a promotion of the musical heritage of Draupner's home region. The band's style is more purely traditional on the whole than that of Väsen, or the other New Nordic Folk bands carried by NorthSide for that matter. People looking for polskas and other traditional tunes from Hälsingland to play or to dance to will find a lot of music on Arvet to their liking. And while I wouldn't put Draupner on the same level as Väsen, any fans of Väsen looking for similar music shouldn't be disappointed by what they hear on this disc.

Overall grade: B+

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2006 The Green Man Review


The Family Stone

The Family Stone is a fresh look at the modern American family. It stars Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson as the parents of a brood of children. The plot revolves around the adult children returning to the family home of their empty nester parents for an extended Christmas holiday. Some of these kids bring home those that significant to them: their children, a significant other, a girlfriend. The girlfriend, brought home by the eldest, Everett, is the fly in the ointment. She is the metropolitan yuppie that is the antithesis of the simpler New Englandish Stone family. After a few scuffles in a very full house, we need to make room for one more as the girlfriend's sister shows up. This takes a complicated situation, and ratchets it another notch up! This dramatic comedy is filled with zany and touching moments that any dysfunctional family is sure to identify with and enjoy.

Overall Grade: B+


Scimitar SL-2

In my continuing series of submarine novels, this time we're looking at Scimitar SL-2 by Patrick Robinson. This series is heavily advised by a former Royal Navy admiral, as well as other experts. Scimitar SL-2 is the sequel to Barracuda 945, and the seventh in this series of novels.

When last we left our seafaring Hamas terrorists (in Barracuda 945) their rogue nuclear sub was destroyed, but they got away. In Scimitar SL-2 they put a second sub to destructive uses. Filled to the brim with North Korean missiles, they're off to terrorize America. Familiar evil doers, including General Rashood, and his wife Shakira figure prominently into the plot.

Just when we thought Patrick Robinson had written everything there was to write about a sub, he comes up with missile attacks on volcanoes. I will say it was creative, but probably not too realistic. In the end, the Barracda would have been better off just launching the missiles directly at a target than at a volcano. I guess we can call this "ecoterrorism."

I was disappointed the way that Robinson spent a great many pages describing the possible effects of a tsunami into our cities (in excrucating detail), but the sub hunt occupied only a handful. Scimitar SL-2 would have been a stronger novel had it been reversed. We still did get a glimpse into the logistics of tracking down a silent sub in the Atlantic ocean.

Of course, who better to lead a sub hunt, but the loud-mouthed leader, Admiral Morgan. Coming out of retirement for this, he leads the American response to the rogue nuclear sub. The novel is worth reading just to hear the way he tells off the French diplomatic corps! I'm also not sure if their military junta to deal with an ineffective President was too realistic either, but it does advance the plot so I'll chalk it up to creative license.

In conclusion, Scimitar SL-2 is not the strongest novel in Robinson's excellent submarine series of novels. It is an enjoyable technothriller for those with an interest in naval fiction. Anchors aweigh, and full speed ahead!

Overall Grade: B

Also by Patrick Robinson:
The Shark Mutiny
Hunter Killer


Feathermerchants, Last Man on Earth (Innocent 12th Street Records, 2006)

Feathermerchants are an up and coming band in New York City's crowded indie rock scene. They have just put out their third full-length CD, Last Man on Earth. Most of the album consists of amped-up rockers, but the album's strongest track "Change My Night" is one of the exceptions. This song features soulful lead vocals from Shannon Kennedy above a great noirish, jazzy arrangement. The album's other gems are the title song, which tells a creepy story about falling in with a cult, and the waltzy "Hitchcock Blonde," which makes excellent use of a discordant toy piano. Most of the rest of the songs on the album, despite their volume, felt unimaginative and even a little restrained to me. The band gives every impression of being able to really cut loose, and often appears to be on the verge of doing that, but never quite delivers. Listening to Last Man on Earth is a lot like watching a pretty good movie that definitely has its moments, but leaves you thinking that it could have been great with a few minor changes. Feathermerchants are presently a decent band that need to develop and distinguish their sound a bit farther before they can fully realize their potential.

Overall Grade: B-


RISK 2210 A.D.

RISK 2210 A.D.
Reviewed by James Lynch

Updating a classic game is a challenge. If a new version is too similar to the original, there’s little reason to own both. (There are a nigh-infinite number of versions of Monopoly, but for all the new pictures, names, and pieces they play the same as the original.) If a new version is too different, it can lose the elements that made the original the classic. Hasbro reached an excellent balance with Risk 2210 A.D. , a game that combines innovative changes and the core rules of the original Risk.

Once again, players are vying for control of the world through military conquest. Players use military units – called Machines of Destruction (MODs) – to battle for control of countries and, for victory, continents. Combat is the same as the original Risk: Attackers and defenders roll a 6-sided die for each attacker and defender, with higher numbers winning and ties going to the defender. One look at the map, though, reveals this is a different world for conquest. The countries have changed – players now battle in the Exiled States of America, the Amazon Desert, or the massive country Hong Kong – plus there are undersea countries and areas on the Moon to control. Players have Space Stations, which let defenders roll 8-sided dice when attacked. The game is limited to five years – with each player taking a single turn during a year – so victory is not from total annihilation of opponents, but from having and holding the most territories when the fifth turn ends.

The biggest changes, though, are energy and commanders. Energy is used as currency – obtained through controlling territories and continents – and can be spent to try and go first. (The player who spends the most gets to go first, with ties rolled off.) Energy is more useful for Commanders. Risk 2210 A.D. has five commanders: Diplomat Commander, Land Commander, Naval Commander, Nuclear Commander, and Space Commander. Players start with the Land and Diplomat Commanders and can purchase others or replace Commanders lost in combat. Commanders roll an 8-sided die to attack in their terrain (except for the Diplomat) and defend with an 8-sider. More significantly, players can purchase Command Cards if they have the appropriate type of Commander in play. Command cards have varying effects, from giving additional troops to preventing opponents from attacking for a Year to destroying enemy units to giving bonus points at the end of the game. Also, players need the Lunar Commander to send forces to the Moon or the Naval Commander to enter the undersea territories. Getting the right cards can make the difference between victory and defeat.

Risk 2210 A.D. is an extremely well done updating of the classic Risk. The Commanders and Command Cards add significant strategy and luck to each game, giving numerous opportunities for success and failure. Limiting the game time means quicker games, instead of endless rounds of gain and loss. Enter the future to struggle and conquer with Risk 2210 A.D.

Overall Grade: A+


The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is an offbeat drama set in the 1950's and 60's. It stars Julianne Moore, and Woody Harrelson as the working class parents of no less than ten children.

This movie is based on a true story, and the real children are shown at the end. This adds a sense of realism that is hard to simulate. The details of the story are not sugar coated, which also gives it a healthy dose of reality.

The story chronicles the struggle of trying to raise ten children in middle America. Complicating the family dynamics is that the father is an alcoholic. What keeps the family afloat is that the mother wins a series of manufacturer contests. Hearkening to a past era, the contests require completing jingles about a company's products. This provides the bulk of the entertainment of this somewhat different film.

If you're looking for a film that highlights the America of mid last century, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is well worth viewing. It's definitely a change from the usual "formula films" that Hollywood puts out.

Overall Grade: B+


Raquy and the Cavemen, Jordan (Meef Records, 2005)

I first heard of Raquy and the Cavemen when I attended the 2006 Golden Festival here in New York City. Raquy Danzinger is a percussive sorceress, specializing in the drumming traditions of the Middle East. Her partners in crime include her husband Liron Peled, originally from the Golan Heights, on guitar and drums; Daphna Mor on recorders and nai; Yotam Beery, another Israeli native, on bass; and Rami El-Aasser on riq and bass dumbek. The instrumental tunes on Jordan, their most recent album, can be split into two categories. Half the tunes are performed entirely with percussion instruments, and the steady, sometimes trance-inducing grooves work equally well for listening or as background for belly dances. The remaining tunes have a full band sound, with Raquy doubling on an Iranian bowed instrument called a kemenche. Also inserted between a few of the tracks on the CD are little snippets of a market in Tel-Aviv, a Sufi ceremony outside Istanbul, and Raquy's cat Nouf purring in her Brooklyn apartment.

I definitely prefer the percussive tracks, which have this infectious quality to them that makes it hard to sit still even as I'm trying to type up this review. The full band tunes have their moments, but I felt the drums were a little too heavy and frequently buried any subtlety in the melodies and arrangements. Having also gotten the opportunity to see Raquy perform both with the Cavemen and with another project of hers called The Messengers, I can't really say that Jordan quite matches the band's live show or does justice to Raquy's exceptional stage charisma. Still, Raquy and her band are absolutely worth getting to know, and her ability to reflect the common ground in Jewish and Muslim cultures by simply letting the music do the talking deserves the strongest possible praise. Furthermore, Raquy and the Cavemen's willingness and ability to tour both Egypt and Israel as an American band, and be equally well received in both places, sounds a note of hopeful possibility for this country's future relationship with that troubled region.

Overall Grade: B

Joshua's Hammer

Joshua's Hammer is the ninth novel in the Kirk McGarvey series of adventures. The author is David Hagberg whose work we have reviewed before.

Kirk McGarvey is the all American action hero. Even though he is a "big wig" as the Deputy Director of Special Operations, he still rolls up his sleeves and does plenty of hands on work. He can compare to such other well known literary action figures like Cussler's Dirk Pitt, and Coonts' Jake Grafton. Despite some medical issues, he performs admirably throughout the entire novel.

Joshua's Hammer is also notable for the villain involved: Osama Bin Laden. There is a lot of insight into Bin Laden's psyche, methods, and organization within the book. What is even more impressive is that Joshua's Hammer was written pre-9/11! This is another example of a cautionary tale, that ends up containing an eery sense of prophecy in the post 9/11 world, like Larry Bond's Day of Wrath.

The plot is intricately planned, and complicated, so plan on taking a little extra time and concentration on this one. There are also a lot of details into the President's Secret Service and the CIA's procedures. The cast of characters is also quite lengthy, which also contributes to the time needed to enjoy this work.

The novel starts with a meeting between Garvey and Bin Laden. The tension was palpable, and I felt like a fly on the wall of the cave when I read it. The rest of the novel is a cat and mouse game with a suitcase nuclear on the loose. It all builds to a nail biter ending that will have you on the edge of your seat like only a handful of novels are capable of.

What also contributes to making this a great novel is that we are given insight into each of the family's and their dynamics. There is a well planned parallelism, and contrast, between three daughters: McGarvey's, Bin Laden's, and the President's.

Joshua's Hammer
is an excellent thriller that stands with the best of them. If you want a well developed plot, with believable characters, then this is definitely worth a read. Without reservation, I can give it our highest recommendation. Joshua's Hammer should be at the top of your books to be read this summer.

Overall Grade: A+

Also by Hagberg:
By Dawn's Early Light
Eden's Gate



Proof is a film that stars two Hollywood heavyweights: Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The film is a character driven story that was adapted from a play. The theatrical roots of the screenplay come through as most of the movie takes place in the family home.

Anthony Hopkins plays Paltrow's father. He is a genius mathematician and former college professor. Unfortunately, he did his major work at the young age of 23. His later years are plagued by disabling mental illness.

Gwyneth Paltrow is the dutiful daughter that has put her life on hold to take care of her father. She is also bound to her father by her ability and interest in math.

The plot then focuses on a lost notebook that just may represent some holy grail of numbers. Since we are not college professors, we are never really told what was discovered. I suppose they didn't want us to feel lost in some graduate evel calculus class, but I ended up feeling in the dark about the whole thing.

On one level, Proof explores family dynamics between a father and two daughters. Through a series of dream sequences and flashbacks, the details are carefully metered out. Like in many families, what appears to be almost normal emerges as dysfunctional with a capital "D."

On a deeper level, this movie delves into the fine line between crazy and genius. As Proof develops, it is elucidated that Hopkins has blurred this line for years, and skirted along both sides of it.

If either of those themes appeal to you, check out Proof. This well acted film will appeal to you.

Overall Grade: B

Dion, Bronx in Blue (DMR, 2006)

He's been a teenager in love, and king of the New York streets. He's the kind of guy who likes to roam around, but he couldn't keep away from Runaround Sue. He's sung doo-wop, rock, folk, and gospel. He was the classic guy's guy, when everybody knows that crooners are supposed to be ladies' men. In a remarkable career spanning close to fifty years, Bronx native Dion has been a lot of different things, but a few things have remained constant. First and foremost, Dion is a great singer. Also, even though his musical direction has gone on a few tangents, he's never been dull. And perhaps most importantly, even now at 66, Dion simply exudes cool. "After all," as Lou Reed pointed out when inducting him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, "who can be hipper than Dion?"

Now Dion has re-emerged with Bronx in Blue, an homage to the blues and country music that inspired Dion to become one of rock music's founding fathers way back when. Along with two original songs, Bronx in Blue includes covers of some of the great blues standards, including Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love," Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" and "Traveling Riverside Blues," and Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues." The instrumentation is sparse, but the combination of Bob Guertin's light drumming and Dion's remarkably deft picking on acoustic guitar works spectacularly throughout the album. Dion demonstrates an understanding of the blues rivalling that of the Stones and even Eric Clapton, and manages to exceed those performers in his ability to do justice to the old songs without drastically altering the original arrangements. This is the blues in as pure a form as it still can be done, and it works.

Bronx in Blue
is a brilliantly conceived and executed disc of simple, homemade blues from one of rock's living legends. Anybody in the mood for some front porch acoustic blues, or even some basic guitar music in general, will love this.

Overall grade: A


Corvus Corax, Best of Corvus Corax (Noir Records, 2005)

Corvus Corax have been playing their unique brand of agressive Medieval music throughout their native Germany and the rest of Europe for over a decade. Now they have issued their first ever American release, a compilation of their best material to date. While they use a great variety of homemade instruments, all of which were originally developed in the Middle Ages, the standard Corvus Corax sound consists of five pipes and three drums in a full-tilt, spectacularly unsubtle bombardment of the eardrums. This will definitely not appeal to everybody, but the more I listened to it, the more I dug it. Most of the music on this CD is instrumental, with melodies that evoke a distant past but arrangements that put the group squarely on the cutting edge. The percussion, in particular, injects Corvus Corvax with an energy that would make a lot of arena rock bands envious. The handful of songs work well too, especially "Cheiron," with powerful deep harmonies and lyrics dating back to 100 A. D. Their sound and appearance might take some getting used to, but the music on Best of Corvus Corvax is too energetic and too much fun to be denied. And something tells me their concerts are an experience not to be missed; hopefully they'll make an effort to get over here often from this point.

Overall grade: B+