Monsoon Mansion

Monsoon Mansion: A MemoirMonsoon Mansion: A Memoir by Cinelle Barnes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The upbringing related in this memoir of a childhood in the Philippines is so far outside my own experience that I can only shudder. The author’s parents are both neglectful, and the emotional and physical abuse inflicted by her mother is horrifying. I’m amazed that this account in hazy, dreamlike writing was wrought from such harsh memories.

Creative nonfiction is a strange arena. How much is creative and how much is nonfiction? Conversations relayed from when a person is five years old must be largely reconstructions. In this book, however, instances from two+ decades past are conveyed clearly, and the emotional impact feels honest.

I have two complaints, one about the writing, and the other about the content. The writing is sometimes overwrought and would more easily bear its meaning with simpler structure. The last line of the author’s note got me off to an eye-rolling start: “Reader, here is Monsoon Mansion, my otherworld.” Then, in the prologue:

“I twirled, dizzying and dizzying.

The melodramatic line break strains my patience.

In the content, some difficult scenes are elided. The elisions stand out because the whole book is full of terrible instances that no child should have to endure, so closing the curtain on some of them is odd. It’s not as if the author needs to protect her mother’s dignity, because that is long gone. At one point her mother is chasing her father with a knife, but the scene just cuts off. Later I cried through a scene of implied sexual molestation, but again it simply stops, and we’re left wondering if it was a nightmare. The author is entitled to her privacy, of course, but that’s not the contract with a memoir. A memoir usually promises some degree of brutal honesty, and I think some things were elided because they were too difficult.

I really look forward to reading this talented author’s next projects.

The Henchmen of Zenda

The Henchmen of ZendaThe Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this slightly silly, queered send-up of a Victorian pulp novel. The characters are totally fun, and Charles’ witty banter makes her one of my favorite authors. The book rollicks through dastardly deeds and swashbuckling sword fights. The convoluted politics in the middle-to-late section are a bit draggy, but I just let go of the details and went along for the ride.

The Outsider

The OutsiderThe Outsider by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Outsider was my first Stephen King book. I really enjoyed it. I can see a master hand at work in the tiny details that give characters just enough texture to be memorable. Sometimes if a minor character has a yellow hoodie or a cowlick, we don’t need to know his entire childhood, and I appreciate that.

Protagonist Ralph Anderson is honorable and a bit of a blank slate, presumably the better for readers to project themselves onto him. One character refers to Anderson as “Mr. No Opinion,” which for me carried both his intended meaning (from a bad performance review) and also reinforced the tabula rasa effect. I liked his warm, close relationship with his wife, who is his best friend and with whom he is clearly in love. They trusted each other and told each other important details. I vote for Michael Shannon to play Anderson in the movie adaptation.


Michael Shannon is my Hollywood casting choice for Det. Anderson.

The first two-thirds of the plot was engaging and mysterious. In the last one-third all the mystery has been unravelled and we’re basically just fighting monsters and bad guys, but that’s ok too.

The Naturalist

The Naturalist (The Naturalist #1)The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not super picky about the accuracy of fictional crime investigations, so I liked all the stuff in this book about Theo’s science, insights, and methods. I don’t love first-person present tense, but that’s just a personal preference. My two main complaints are both character-driven:

1. Theo barely remembers Juniper Parsons, but somehow her death motivates him for the rest of the book. He descends into a guilt/grief that seems implausible and self-centered.

2. The author states several times that Theo is a little vague on social cues in a harmless dorky-professor kind of style. However, he seems to scrounge up a miraculous insight into humanity at key plot moments. He can tell if someone is lying by looking in their eyes, and he picks a killer, as a child, no less, out of a group of photos of strangers because the kid apparently has the cold look of a killer. That’s not how it works.

The audiobook narrator was excellent!

Honor Among Thieves

Honor Among Thieves (The Honors, #1)Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“We’re–I don’t know. Rogues.”
“I don’t have any idea how to be a rogue.”
“First rule: more belts. Second rule: no more rules.”

YES: Characters, writing, sentient alien spaceships with a hidden agenda.
BIG NO: Human-spaceship sexual tension.

The characters and writing in Honor Among Thieves were sooo good. I loved Zara and her realistic struggles with anger and acting out, and her remorse for the grief she’d caused her mother growing up. I liked her interactions with Beatriz. The idea of sentient alien spaceships with a hidden agenda is super cool.

I deducted two stars purely for the squick factor of the (I can barely type this, just imagine me grimacing) awkward sensuous connection between Zara and her ship, Nadim. Like, he’s a whale-shaped alien spaceship, and he’s sending warm heat through her nethers. I cannot get past that point.

Here is Zara feeling feelings for her ship:

The blush intensified, and suddenly it was hard to breath. My fingers flexed on the wall, and then I felt the pulse of his life force. I went lightheaded, because it seemed like I was drinking Nadim through my skin cells.

That’s a big nope for me. There is no sexual intercourse, but there is attraction and arousal…and a sequel. I’m not opposed to love between humans and sentient ships in general. In fact I would consider myself well read in the subgenre. I spent happy hours with Anne McCaffrey’s Brains and Brawn series (Helva! Le sigh) but those ships had an actual human grafted into them. I also enjoyed Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders. In my memory, those ships loved their humans in a familial way, not in a sexual way.

Other than the awkward alien sexual tension, I liked it!

Everyone is alive

A few framed photos around our apartment are hung using those 3M Command sticky strips. Lately things have been falling off the walls, so the sticky strips must have a specific expiration date. Or we have a poltergeist. One or the other.

This past weekend a huge, clattering, cascading noise woke me from a dead sleep. I sat up and gasped loudly on a whooshing intake of breath, like Whooooaaaaahhhh but sucking air into panicking lungs. Brian earned 3 husband points because he instantly sprang up and knelt over me to either administer CPR or fend off a robber. He said later that I looked like Jon Snow (SPOILER) returning to life, pale and terrified. Sheila stood up and wagged her tail.

My heart was racing and I peeled at least a year off my life from the adrenline running in my blood like paint thinner. We quickly ascertained that everyone was fine, no one was injured, and there was no robber. It was an effort to fall back asleep.

In the morning I found that a photo over my nightstand had come unstuck and fallen off the wall, then knocked over a little mirror and about six of the 183 bottles of lotion etc. that live on the nightstand. It fell perilously close to my sleeping head. We spent half an hour the next day removing other framed things before their sticky strips could expire and kill us all.

The Immortalists

The ImmortalistsThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am rounding up from a 3.5 because the writing was clear and elegant. The plot was perhaps a bit unfocused and not to my specific taste. The underlying idea of “if you knew your death date, how would you live your life?” is interesting and worth exploring. That concept sparked excellent discussions among my book club! In this book, however, the stories of the four siblings were disjointed, and the sweeping arc across American history is not my jam. Overall I’m definitely interested to read what this author writes next.


Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m about 1/3 through this behemoth and on the plus side it’s certainly good for my biceps! On the downside I’m not totally enthralled. Some of the things that I love about GoT books–a zillion characters! 1,200 pages! complex plots!–are not pulling me into Oathbringer as much. But the illustrations are incredible, and I’m interested enough for now (on a frigid Sunday with little else happening…) to keep at it.

Took me 3 weeks but last night I finished Oathbringer and really enjoyed it. The back half was better than the first half. Spoiler-free thoughts on characters:
βœ… Jasnah: literal queen πŸ‘‘
βœ… Renarin: damaged cinnamon roll to be protected
βœ… Shallan: get yourself together sweetheart
βœ… Adolin: basically a golden retriever with a sword
βœ… Kaladin: that’s a LOT of brooding boo but I still love you
βœ… Dalinar: …I have very few feelings about Dalinar πŸ€·πŸ»β€β™€οΈ
βœ… Szeth’s sword-nimi: murderous, sassy, and #relatable
βœ… Rock: will def be played by Dwayne Johnson in the movie
βœ… Syl: unproblematic fave πŸ’•πŸ’«πŸ˜


This is about the shash (slave) brand on Kal’s forehead. Stormlight heals everything, but not that scar. The fan wiki reports that the order number of the Lightweavers is “shash” and their symbol is a woman with a large jewel on her forehead.

My theory is that Kal could be both a Windrunner and a Lightweaver. A wise friend pointed out that spirited little Syl would likely NOT appreciate sharing him with another bonded friend. I have no idea what it could mean, but I’ll be back here shouting in 3 years if I’m proven correct in the next book!

Old St. Pat’s

IMG_3910Last weekend we toured the old St. Patrick’s basilica, the original Roman Catholic cathedral in NYC. It burned in 1866 and was replaced by the familiar, current St. Patrick’s on 5th Ave. in midtown.

The old basilica is actually quite small and humble. Many prominent Catholic New Yorkers from the 19th century are buried in the catacombs below. The church still serves its local parishioners with daily services.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing the guts of the 1868 pipe organ.