kenjari: (Default)
Uncle Silas
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Uncle Silas is an early example of the suspense/horror novel. Maud Ruthyn is a 17 year old girl recently orphaned by the death of her father, who has also left her heir to a very large fortune. She is placed under the guardianship of her sickly yet sinister Uncle Silas, whom she has had no prior relationship due to a terrible scandal that left Silas in utter disgrace. Despite Maud's at times naive determination to see her uncle in a positive and charitable light, her life as her uncle's ward soon becomes frightening as mysterious and menacing events start piling up.
This novel has a lot of the Gothic in it - gloomy old manor houses, brooding landscapes, strange people, dark secrets, and a few hints of the supernatural. It also has a lot of the "sensation novel" as well - suspense, mysteries to be solved,and crimes committed. The combination is very successful and satisfying. Sheridan Le Fanu's writing can at times seem a little overwrought, but it works in Uncle Silas because the narrator, Maud, is a teenaged girl attempting to cope with a very dangerous and disturbing situation. while the suspense does build more slowly than in modern thrillers, it was still effective and made the last couple of chapters exciting reading.
kenjari: (St. Cecilia)
Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World
by John Szwed

This biography of song collector, ethnomusicologist, and singer Alan Lomax was endlessly fascinating and wonderful to read. This is one of the rare non-fiction books that is as compelling and absorbing as a good novel. Szwed takes an all-encompassing view of Lomax, delving into his beginnings as an assistant to his father's song-collecting, his alliance with progressive causes, the FBI's investigations of him, his sometimes contentious views on the importance of folksong - especially that of African-Americans - to American national identity, and his complex relationships to the worlds of academia and popular culture. The only thing that gets a little shorted is Lomax's personal life and relationships, as Szwed concentrates mainly on Lomax's career.
Although the biography is clearly not a hagiography, it is clear that Szwed admires Lomax and it is hard not to share in that admiration. Whatever Lomax's personal failings, Szwed makes it clear that Lomax was an important figure in the preservation and popularization of American folk music, an ardent promoter of the musicians who played it, and a true believer in its value.
kenjari: (Christine de Pisan)
Managing Student Assistants: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians
by Kimberly Burke Sweetman

Sweetman's book is pretty much what it says on the cover. It's a very easy, straightforward read. I liked the inclusion of real-world examples and explanation, although there are a few out-dated pieces of advice as the book was published in 2006. Sweetman heavily concentrates on the pre-hire steps: including determining the need for student staff, defining student positions, and setting up a hiring procedure. Thus, the book was less useful for those of us who stepped into institutions where the student staff is well-established.

Book Review

Jul. 2nd, 2017 10:49 pm
kenjari: (illumination)
The Kingdom of Gods
by N.K. Jemisin

This last book in the Inheritance Trilogy begins several decades after The Broken Kingdoms, and is told from the godling Sieh's point of view. As the Arameri rule begins to weaken, Sieh returns to Sky, the place of his long enslavement. There he meets the two young Arameri heirs and makes a pact of friendship with them that has unexpected results that precipitate crises in both the Arameri and in Sieh himself.
The Kingdom of Gods was very good and an excellent ending to the trilogy. The plot is intricate and compelling, and the emotional depth and complexity is beautiful and at times wrenching. Nothing is simple or easy - not the characters, not the problems they face, not their relationships with each other. Jemisin takes on a lot of deeper themes - the nature of friendship, the nature and consequences of relationships between deities and mortals, revenge, forgiveness, and growing up. It was surprisingly moving and very rewarding.
kenjari: (illumination)
The Broken Kingdoms
by N.K. Jemisin

This sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms takes place ten years later, and most of the action occurs in Shadow, the city underneath the palace of Sky and the World Tree. Oree Shoth is a blind artists making her living selling trinkets in a heavily trafficked plaza of the city. She takes in a mysterious homeless man who glows at dawn and is clearly not human. This is not alarming to Oree, as Shadow has become home to many godlings, newly returned to the mortal realm after the events of the previous book. What is alarming is that godlings start turning up dead, and, at least partly because of her relationship with the homeless man, Oree finds herself in the middle of the mystery and conspiracy around the murders.
The Broken Kingdoms is even better than its predecessor. The plot is tighter and has some great turns, the characters are even more interesting, and the world-building continues to be terrific. I especially liked the smaller scale setting combined with large-scale issues - most of the story takes place in the poor and more marginalized parts of the city and among people without wealth or access to great resources yet involves cosmic-level conflicts and problems. I also really loved Oree. Her blindness never renders her helpless or passive, not does it dictate everything about what she does or how she experiences things.
kenjari: (St. Cecilia)
Music in Pacific Island Cultures
by Brian Diettrich, Jane Freeman Moulin, Michael Webb

This volume in the Global Music Series covers music in Melanesia, Micronesia, and French Polynesia, with each of the three authors covering one of the areas. Despite the constant switching among authors, the prose is pretty seamless. The subject matter is fascinating - I started this book knowing nothing about the music of the Pacific Islands and really got into it all over the course of the book. Even though Music in Pacific Island Cultures is by necessity an overview, it still conveyed all the richness and depth of a wide variety of musical cultures and practices.
kenjari: (illuminated border)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
by N.K. Jemisin

I really enjoyed this novel and was a little blown away by it, too. A fantasy novel st largely in the castle of Sky, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms tells of Yeine, barbarian daughter of a the disowned princess of the Arameri king, called back to her mother's home to be one of three heirs contesting for the throne during the king's last days. Yeine must acclimate to the refined yet vicious society of Sky, figure out how to deal with the other two heirs, find out more about her mother's mysterious death, and determine her relationship with the Arameri's enslaved god and godlings (yes, this is indeed quite messed up).
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has an engrossing plot and some great characters. There were many things that were more or less as I expected, but also many things that were rather surprising. I especially loved the deities and mythology that Jemisin created. It managed to both fall into recognizable patterns and to have a lot of originality, and the balance between these two aspects made it all really work. I also liked the way Jemisin turned a couple of fantasy cliches on their heads - the castle of Sky, despite having all the makings of a glorious place of beauty and wonder that is worth fighting for is instead anything but. The conflicts between the gods are not clashes between good an evil but are instead predicated on jealousy and anger.
This novel grapples with a lot of deeper questions. Yeine must work out what the right thing to do when she must engage with a deeply unjust and cruel system and at least partially take part in it. How does one try to fix relationships between gods, and between gods and humans that have become horribly unbalanced?
kenjari: (Default)
Mentoring and Managing Students in the Academic Library
by Michelle Reale

This short volume on working with students in a college library was fairly useful and an interesting take on the role of a supervisor. Reale concentrates more on the mentoring than the managing, and provides some nice guideposts for the kind of mentoring a librarian can do with her student workers. I wish there had been a little more real-life examples and concrete advice based on those examples, but the advice and direction she did give was helpful. Reale's prose is on the chatty side, but clear and easy to grasp.
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: (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.

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