kenjari: (rosette)
Changeless
by Gail Carriger

This is the sequel to Soulless, in which we find Alexia enjoying her marriage to Connall Maccon, her new role in Queen Victoria's government, and her new wealth and social position. Until something causes the supernatural residents of London to revert to their mortal forms, and Connall goes haring off to Scotland to investigate. Along the way, Alexia meets the unusual inventor Madame Lefoux, and learns more about her husband's past.
Changeless is slower-paced than Soulless, but equally fun. The mystery and intrigue is not overly predictable, and ends with a nice twist that I assume leads directly into the plot of the next book. All the wit and charm is still there - the characters are fun and the dialogue is snappy.

Book Review

Jun. 6th, 2017 08:28 pm
kenjari: (illumination)
Two Serpents Rise
by Max Gladstone

This engrossing fantasy novel is something of a sequel to Three Parts Dead in that it takes place in the same world. This time we are in the desert city of Dresediel Lex, where powerful Craftsmen and followers of the old gods and religion vie for control of the city and especially of its waterworks. When the water supply is attacked, risk manager Caleb Altemoc becomes even more involved in the struggle between the Craft concerns and the old religion than his position as both an employee of Red King consolidated and the son of the outlawed and disgraced former high priest. Adding further complication is Caleb's emerging yet difficult relationship with the mysterious cliff-runner Mal.
The plot of Two Serpents Rise was complicated and fast-paced, but never got in the way of itself. I particularly liked the way the romance part of the story spun out - it was a realistic and gritty portrayal of two people attempting to pursue a relationship in the midst of a complex crisis.
The setting is marvelous. Dresediel Lex very much resembles the kind of modern city we'd recognize. It's densely populated, contains both squalor and luxury, has a diverse population, and has conveniences like public transportation. However, the culture, people, architecture, and especially the old gods and religion are based on the Aztecs. This is a city that was formerly built and sustained through human sacrifice to implacable gods and is now run through the magic of the Craft. One of the best parts of the book is the way Gladstone uses this setting and its opposition between the old religion and the new Craft-based regime as an exploration of what is sacrificed for a comfortable modern existence, how those sacrifices are negotiated, and what they mean.

Book Review

Jun. 2nd, 2017 09:19 pm
kenjari: (rosette)
Welcome to Night Vale
by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor

This light, fun novel is a spin-off of the popular podcast of the same name. The plot revolves around 19 year old pawnshop owner Jackie, office worker Diane Crayton, Diane's teenaged son Josh, and their involvement in the mystery surrounding slips of paper with the words King City written on them. But the plot is actually kind of thin and isn't really the point of the book anyway.
The point is an exploration of Night Vale and its denizens. Night Vale is a pretty typical town in the American southwest, if your idea of normal includes lovecraftian horror, shadowy government agencies, strange conspiracies, time not working quite right, a variety of monsters, mysterious glowing clouds, ghosts, angels, and aliens. It's a really fun place to read about.
(Also, you do not have to have listened to the podcast to enjoy the book. I had only listened to a couple of episodes, and had no trouble following any of it.)
kenjari: (illuminated border)
The Ladies' Paradise
by Émile Zola

This novel recounts two stories of late-nineteenth century Paris. The first is the rise of the large modern department store, and the other is a rags-to-riches tale of love across socio-economic classes. Octave Mouret, and enterprising widower, creates the Ladies' Paradise, a large department store that sells fabric, trimmings, ready-made clothes, and other sundries necessary to a fashionable lady. It eventually swallows up an entire city block, employs over 2000 people, and drives the smaller local shops out of business. Denise Baudu, a shopgirl from the country, gains employment at the ladies' Paradise just as it is on the rise. As the store expands, Denise and Octave fall in love, almost reluctantly, causing very different crises of conscience to each of them.
One of the best things about The Ladies' Paradise is the way Zola describes the workings of the store - the piles and displays of goods, the movements and behavior of the crowds of shoppers, the labor and maneuvering of the shop assistants. It's all very sensual and swirling and lively. It's almost velvety the way his prose flows. It's a very seductive yet clear-eyed look at the workings of capitalism.
kenjari: (St. Cecilia)
Music in Mainland Southeast Asia
by Gavin Douglas

Another in the Global Music series, this volume cover the music of Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.It's a lot of ground to cover in a short book and Douglas mostly succeeds. He gets the reader familiar with a lot of different kinds of music and the roles they play in their respective societies. However, Douglas also spends a lot of time discussing the political situations and histories of each country and how that relates to music. It was all very interesting, but I could have done with less of this and more discussion of the structures and workings of the music itself.
kenjari: (rosette)
The Divine Husband
by Francisco Goldman

Several years ago, I read Goldman's The Ordinary Seaman and loved it. So I finally picked up this more recent novel of his, because it sounded equally interesting. Alas, it was quite the disappointment. Set in the late 19th century, The Divine Husband follows the tale of Maria de las Nieves Moran from her youth in an unnamed Central American country as first a schoolgirl then a novice nun through her young adulthood which eventually lands her in New York City then Massachusetts. The narrative also takes a close look at the lives of Maria de las Nieves love affairs and suitors, who include a great Cuban writer and revolutionary, an half-American adventurer, a clever and devoted entrepreneur, and at least two foreign dignitaries.
The story and characters had a lot of potential, but none of it worked. There was too much sprawl and not enough sweep - the story never hung together properly. The changes of focus were also largely unsuccessful. I always felt like there wasn't enough of Maria de las Nieves in the story, even though she was nominally the main character. At the same time, when the narration switched over to the stories of the suitors and lovers, I felt like they were treated too distantly. All of the elements were fine individually, they just never added up to much.
kenjari: (Govans)
Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward

This beautiful yet often brutal novel is narrated by 15 year old Esch, who lives in deep poverty with her three brothers and alcoholic father in the rural coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Desperate poverty and their father's neglect has led the four children to more or less raise themselves, developing close bonds in the process. The story takes place over twelve days that culminate in the devastation of hurricane Katrina. As the family struggles to prepare for the hurricane, Esch grapples with the fact that she is pregnant and her older brother Skeet struggles to keep alive his beloved fighting dog China and her litter of puppies.
Salvage the Bones is not a long novel, but it is an extremely rich one. Ward's prose is often poetic, and full of metaphors - there are a lot of layers to this novel. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and very real. I know I'm going to find myself wondering how they are doing as if they are living people. The bonds between Esch and her brothers are deep even if not often openly expressed. Esch's inner journey as she comes to terms with her pregnancy is very moving in all its complexity and nuance. There's nothing simplistic in this book.

Book Review

May. 7th, 2017 08:22 pm
kenjari: (Default)
Soulless
by Gail Carriger

I read this steampunk and paranormal romance novel because I something fun and fluffy, and Soulless did not disappoint. Maybe not great literature, but a fun and exciting read. The story is set in the later Victorian era and follows the adventures of Alexia Tarabotti, a smart, witty spinster who is a reare preternatural, or person without a soul. This does not render her undead, evil, or even amoral, just kind of lacking in the spiritual department. Her soulless state also allows her to neutralize the powers of werewolves, vampires, and the like with her touch. Which comes in handy when an ill-mannered vampire attacks her during a party. This event is the beginning of and adventure involving mad scientists, dilemmas of etiquette, and a romance with a high-ranking werewolf. While there's really nothing new under the sun here, it's all executed quite well. I especially liked that while our heroine is virginal and inexperienced, she is neither ill-informed nor lacking interest when it comes to the physical aspects of romance. I'm looking forward to continuing with the series.

Book Review

May. 3rd, 2017 09:53 pm
kenjari: (piano)
Intertribal Native American Music in the United States
by John-Carlos Perea

This volume in the Global Music Series was very interesting, and was very effective at taking on huge issues. Perea covers pow-wow music, Native American protest music, and the participation of Native American musicians in jazz. He puts everything in the context of contemporary Native American experience and gives the reader a lot to think about.

Book Review

May. 2nd, 2017 09:56 pm
kenjari: (Govans)
The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton

Set in late 17th century Amsterdam, The Miniaturist is the story of 18 year old Nella's entrance into the Brandy household as the new bride of rich and successful merchant Johannes Brandt, and his forbidding spinster sister Marin. However, despite the comforts of the Brandt house, Nella's new life is nothing like she imagined: Johannes is distant, Marin is mysterious and aloof, and the household servants Cornelia and Otto are are more familiar towards the Brandts than she expects. The Brandy house is one of secrets and dangers. When Johannes presents Nella with a dollhouse as a wedding present, she begins to order pieces from an elusive miniaturist to furnish it. The pieces belie an eerie knowledge of the Brandt household, allowing Nella to unravel the secrets around her and to find her place in the household.
I really enjoyed this book. Nella's journey from naive young bride to a more self-assured and capable young woman was well-written. While the secrets of the Brandy household would not be much of a big deal today, Burton does an excellent job of conveying just how serious and perilous they are in 17th century Amsterdam; she also spins out the intrigue surrounding these secrets in a very satisfying way. Even when I knew where things were going, I still liked the way it all developed. Burton did a great job with the atmosphere and affect of the setting and the story - it all felt very interior and intimate, and the contrasts between the outdoor and public spaces versus the close privacy of the inside of the Brandt house was an interesting thread throughout the book.
kenjari: (Default)
The Beet Queen
by Louise Erdrich

I have wanted to read this book for over 20 years, and now that I finally got around to it, I am very glad I did. And possibly also glad that I waited until now, as I'm not sure some of my younger selves would have appreciated it as much.
The Beet Queen starts out in 1932 and follows the lives of Mary Adare, age 11, and her brother Karl, 14, after their mother abandons them. Mary and Karl ride the rails to Argus, North Dakota, to find their aunt and uncle who own a butcher shop there. Karl continues to travel and drift while Mary moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, and it is her story that dominates the book. Over the next 40 years, she grows up, gains a best friend, takes over the butcher shop, and navigates relationships with neighbors, family, and friends.
The Beet Queen was a thoroughly satisfying read. It is filled with prickly characters who are often hard to really like but never cease to be interesting. The story is at turns dark, funny, exasperating, and moving. Woven through all of this is a beautiful look at small-town life and family relationships.
kenjari: (Default)
Elisha Barber
by E.C. Ambrose

This historical fantasy novel is set in an alternate version of 14th century England and concerns Elisha, a barber-surgeon who, after a serious family tragedy, is dragged to war to treat wounded soldiers. There he discovers that he is a magus or witch, one who has magical powers. He also falls in an ill-fated love with Brigit, a mysterious fellow magus. It's a very gritty story that pulls few punches when it comes to medieval medicine.
Elisha Barber started out unremarkably but became fairly compelling once the plot got going. Ambrose created a cast of interesting characters with varying motivations and principles. I also found the way the magic worked to be pretty interesting. Plus, Elisha's climactic working of magic was a terrific set piece. However, the setting really, really did not work for me. This is all supposed to take place in an alternate medieval England, but the alternate history made no sense. As far as I could tell, neither the king and nobles nor the war were based on real people or events, so it was impossible to tell how Ambrose has changed or branched off from history. There were also some things that didn't quite match up with what I know of the 14th century. I think this story would have worked much better as a secondary world fantasy where the world closely resembles 14th century England.
kenjari: (illumination)
The Sixteen Pleasures
by Robert Hellenga

This engrossing novel follows the adventures of Margot Harrington, a book conservator who travels to Italy in 1966 to help recover and restore rare and antique books after the flood in Florence. Margot begins working in a convent, where a rare and valuable book of Renaissance erotica is discovered. As she restores the book and becomes involved with the process of selling it, Margot also beings a passionate affair with an older man, an art restorer also working in Florence.
I loved the way Hellenga treated Margot's love affair and her work restoring the book with an equal amount of detail, passion, and sensuality. I also really liked Margot, especially her bravery in following her dreams and longings, and her bravery in facing herself and getting on with her life even in the face of deep loss. I also happy about the way the book, its restoration, and its sale, not her love affair and its ending, are the drivers for Margot's self-discovery and emerging control over her own life.
kenjari: (piano)
Music in America
by Adelaida Reyes

Another volume in my quest to finish off the Global Music Series, Music In America grapples with the American music scene and what makes music American. Covering American music in around 100 pages is a nigh-impossible task, but Reyes does a great job of conveying the breadth. She touches on folk music, Native American music, jazz, popular music, Broadway musicals, and America's contributions to classical and avant-garde music. Her main themes are the diversity of American music and the underlying unity of those who make it. Unfortunately, Reyes is not left with much space to investigate anything in depth, or to look into the way any of this music works.
kenjari: (Govans)
Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This short book is a long-form essay written as a letter to the author's 15 year old son. In it, Coates reflects on, explores, and explains the experience of being a black man in America in order to help his son navigate this experience. He takes on the systematic subjugation of African-Americans and how this is embedded deeply in American life and history, and looks at what it means to live as an African-American in these systems and to struggle against them. Coates weaves together history, current events, and personal experience into one masterful whole. His prose is amazing, and this is seriously some of the best writing I have read in years. It grabs a hold of you and pulls you along.
This book gave me so much to think about, and so much I need to think about more. I can't quite write more about Coates' ideas and points because I am still thinking about and processing it all.
kenjari: (Default)
The Rose Rent
by Ellis Peters

This is the thirteenth of the Cadfael mysteries, and it's one of the most enjoyable. A few years prior to the events of the book, young widow Judith Perle gave over her house to the monastery, for the annual rent of a single rose from the house's garden. The mystery gets underway when the monk charged with delivering the rose is found dead, the rosebush hacked in two, and Judith disappears. Cadfael thus has a multi-part mystery on his hands. The working out of the plot involved a tender romance and a few surprises, making The Rose Rent one of the standouts of the series.
kenjari: (illumination)
The Blind Assassin
by Margaret Atwood

This achingly tragic novel is really three nested stories in one. The main narrative concerns the childhood and youth of Iris and Laura Chase, as recounted by elderly and solitary Iris. Laura drove herself off a bridge and into a ravine just a few days after WWII, and Iris tells the story of their lives and how it came to that. Alongside this tale of two sisters, there is the ext of Laura's novel, also called The Blind Assassin, which is about two mysterious lovers who meet clandestinely and tell each other a pulpy sci-fi story as pillow talk. Over the course of these three stories, the truths about Iris and Laura's lives emerges as well as the relationships between the narratives.
I very much enjoyed The Blind Assassin and whole-heartedly recommend it. But it's very hard to describe, because what made it so good for me was not the plot or even necessarily the characters, but the experience of it all. It's very affecting, and so masterfully done. A bit bleak, but I have a thing for bleak literature.
kenjari: (Me)
I'm going over to Dreamwidth completely, no more crossposting here. I'm kenjari over there, too.

Do LJ, do widzenia i spierdalaj.

Book Review

Apr. 3rd, 2017 09:41 pm
kenjari: (piano)
Music in the Hispanic Caribbean
by Robin Moore

One of the longer books in the Global Music Series, Music in the Hispanic Caribbean covers a lot of ground in a satisfying degree of detail. Moore largely sticks to the music of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. He gives a lot of attention to ways the music of this region was affected by the slave trade and colonization, which puts the music of these three islands into context. The explanations of musical structures and the selections on the accompanying CD worked well together to give the reader a good understanding of how the different forms and genres work and relate to one another.
kenjari: (Eowyn)
Who Fears Death
by Nnedi Okorafor

This post-apocalyptic fantasy is set in a future Africa. Onyesonwu, daughter of the only survivor of a massacred village, grows to be a powerful sorceress who is destined to change the fate of both her own people, the Okeke, and the genocidal Nuru. In order to accomplish this, Onyesonwu must undertake difficult magical training, travel far from her home, and face down death. She must also struggle with living in and resisting a patriarchal culture, managing interpersonal relationships, and her own volatile temper.
Okorafor breathes new life into the hero's journey story and the trope of the chosen one. The setting is rich and original, and the narrative takes on the sheen of a folktale or legend. The characters have aspects of archetypes without being flat or stereotypical. Onyesonwu herself is prickly, complicated, and impulsive, yet always a sympathetic character. It is largely through her and her relationships with her lover Mwita and her teacher Aro that Okorafor explores complex and nuanced feminist themes.

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