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Playing Catch-Up: Fifteen-Second Reviews by Ivana

I have been a BAD book reader and reviewer for the last couple of years, but now I’m trying to catch up! I’ve listened to a lot of audiobooks that I haven’t reviewed yet. I MEANT to review them, but… life, ya know? Anyway, in an effort to get caught up, I’m going to do some fifteen-second reviews – just a quick note about some of the books I’ve read and whether I liked them or not. I’ll do longer reviews when I reread some of them, which I’m sure I will.

The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan – purchased from Audible. FABULOUS!! I thoroughly enjoyed all five books plus the short story. I loved the perspective of a Victorian naturalist, and I appreciated the issues of being a woman working a field traditionally male and having less sentiment and more ambition than other females.

Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen – purchased from Audible. Great follow-up to Wake of Vultures. This western paranormal/urban fantasy is intriguing, both because of the gender identity issues it addresses and the Old West setting. Robin Miles is fantastic as the narrator of this series. I’m eagerly awaiting book 3, Malice of Crows, in audio (the audio is two books behind; what’s up with that?).

The Trouble with Fate by Leigh Evans – purchased from GraphicAudio.net. I liked this urban fantasy story, but GraphicAudio does have to abridge books because of their unique format, and I felt this one suffered a bit from it; the romantic relationship between the main protagonists seems to progress too fast. I want to pick up the Kindle version and read in unabridged format sometime soon.

The Magician by Raymond E. Feist – purchased from Audible. I am so excited that the original Riftwar tales finally came out for Kindle and audio. I last read Magician (Apprentice and Master) in high school or college, and there was a lot to the story I didn’t remember, so it was almost like experiencing it for the first time.

Midnight Texas series by Charlaine Harris – purchased from Audible. The first time I read Midnight Crossroads, the first book in this series, I thought it was slow and uneventful. But I later listened to all three books all in a row, and really loved them. It’s a quieter story than Sookie, but no less interesting once you get invested in the characters.

I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart – purchased from Audible. Listening to Kevin Hart narrate his own book is hysterical. The story of his struggles to succeed and to deal with his growing fame are interesting and contain some good lessons. I particularly love it when he goes off script or starts laughing at himself. I’m so glad those parts aren’t edited out; they really enhance the listening experience.

Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines – purchased from GraphicAudio.net. Terminal Alliance is the first in a sci-fi series called The Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse. With a name like that, I expected a full-on, Douglas Adams-esque comedy. While it has it’s funny moments, Terminal Alliance was more serious than I expected and a very good story. GraphicAudio’s radio-play style, with individual character voices and sound effects, really enhanced the story. I can’t wait for the next book.

Believe Me by Eddie Izzard – purchased from Audible. Izzard gets very introspective in this memoir, identifying what has shaped him since childhood and how those things have contributed to the person he has become. He goes off-script a lot, which is just delightful for the listener. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir.

A Wrinkle in Time & A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle – purchased from Audible. I was pretty excited when the newest movie version of A Wrinkle in Time came out. But it seems no version can live up to my childhood memory. So I thought I’d go back to the original trilogy. My first observation is that NO movie is going to do these books justice because so much of the story is internal to the characters, rather than external and observable. My second observation is that the religious overtones (which some sources say were not originally part of the story, but were forced upon it by the publisher) were annoying. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish the third installment. I will always have nostalgia for these books, but they didn’t hold up well for me as an adult. That made me a little sad.

Indexing & Reflections by Seannan McGuire – purchased from Audible. McGuire never fails to build an awesome world. In this series, a team of investigators track down and stop instances of “memetic incursion: where fairy tale narratives become reality, often with disastrous results.” These books were part of the Kindle Serials program, which is now defunct along with this series, but I really wish it wasn’t. The premise of these books is incredibly clever, and the writing is excellent. I really want to read more.

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Intergalactic Insurance Agent by Larry Correia – purchased from Audible. This is a hilarious, absurd, weird, and totally entertaining sci-fi comedy in the vein of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Plus, listening to Adam Baldwin narrate is a hoot! It’s a shortie at just over two hours, so perfect for a car trip.

Menagerie and Spectacle by Rachel Vincent – purchased from Audible. These books are totally amazing! Incredibly good and incredibly depressing at the same time. Vincent builds a richly diverse world and then fashions the humans who exploit that diversity for personal gain. But I have to say that my revenge fantasies are well-sated by the nature of the protagonist, and that book 3, Fury, promises even more bloody justice. I’ll be rereading these two books, with reviews, soon because Fury just came out, and I’m super excited to read it.

I’m getting back into the groove, so watch for more fifteen-second and full reviews coming soon!

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Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes

Cinelle Barnes is a creative non-fiction writer and educator from Manila, Philippines. She writes memoirs and personal essays on trauma, growing up in Southeast Asia, and on being a mother and immigrant in America.

Title: Monsoon Mansion
Author: Cinelle Barnes
Publish Date: April 1, 2018 by Little A
Genre: Memoir
Source: Purchased through the Amazon’s Kindle First program

Publisher’s Description: Told with a lyrical, almost-dreamlike voice as intoxicating as the moonflowers and orchids that inhabit this world, Monsoon Mansion is a harrowing yet triumphant coming-of-age memoir exploring the dark, troubled waters of a family’s rise and fall from grace in the Philippines. It would take a young warrior to survive it.

Cinelle Barnes was barely three years old when her family moved into Mansion Royale, a stately ten-bedroom home in the Philippines. Filled with her mother’s opulent social aspirations and the gloriously excessive evidence of her father’s self-made success, it was a girl’s storybook playland. But when a monsoon hits, her father leaves, and her mother’s terrible lover takes the reins, Cinelle’s fantastical childhood turns toward tyranny she could never have imagined. Formerly a home worthy of magazines and lavish parties, Mansion Royale becomes a dangerous shell of the splendid palace it had once been.

In this remarkable ode to survival, Cinelle creates something magical out of her truth—underscored by her complicated relationship with her mother. Through a tangle of tragedy and betrayal emerges a revelatory journey of perseverance and strength, of grit and beauty, and of coming to terms with the price of family—and what it takes to grow up.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

My April “Kindle First” book choice was fantastic. Monsoon Mansion is a memoir that immerses you in the life of the author as a child.

I hardly knew anything about the Philippines before reading the book other than the name of Imelda Marcos and her huge shoe collection. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished in yet another “third” world country, but the author vividly describes the differences between her own family’s life and privileges and the abject poverty of the servants’ village life and the misery in Manila outside her gates.

I still marvel at the author’s ability to put perspective on her mother’s behavior. Barnes describes the relationship in a poignant scene in the final chapter as she answers her own daughter’s questions.

…Then she asks, “Mama, do you miss your mama?”

“I do, but it’s better to miss her than to be around her.”

“Because she does things that hurt people?”

That’s how I’ve explained it to her: that my mother cannot come near us because she does regrettable things.

Barnes’ mother was a true nightmare, but her father, whose choice to abandon the family brings about the depraved situation the author grows up in, is portrayed so richly that the reader fully understands the complexity of his thought process and the details of his personality, and it’s easy to understand why he made the choices he did and that he was truly trying to do what was best in the scope of his own human weakness.

Barnes writes in such a way that the mansion itself and the weather are also characters that play a role in her childhood. The deteriorating mansion is a symbol of her mother’s decay, but it has its own characteristics and can haunt or protect the children. It’s described in such rich detail that I feel if I walked in the front door, I would recognize it immediately. The monsoon that is the catalyst to her father leaving, also provides the author with a glimpse of the freedom brought by big water. It’s such an interesting parallel to explore the flood waters and forever after be drawn to the ocean.

This book is definitely a 5 and I look forward to reading more of Cinelle Barnes’ work.

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