I’m back. It’s been a while. And I’ve so missed my book-loving community.
My hiatus was caused by a very positive, absolutely wonderful career turn. I build websites for businesses, mostly in the scientific community, but it’s always a struggle to find new clients. Until the beginning of this year. I was accepted into Upwork, which is very hard to get in within my field. The competition is brutal. With my 15+ years of experience, I was able to get in, thankfully. And since January, I have been flooded with work. So much work that I found myself working day and night, day and night. I’m not complaining – it’s a wonderful problem to have! But while my plate runneth over, I let The Portsmouth Review slide. I also wasn’t reading as much.
Now that I’ve made a name for myself, and work continues to slide in, I feel comfortable enough to raise my rates and only accept a conditional number of projects so that I have more time for the things in life I cherish: my family, my private time, reading, and reviewing/writing. While I’ve been happy with my burgeoning business, I’ve missed reading as much as I want, and writing reviews. This I vow for 2019: I resolve to restart The Portsmouth Review and I vow to return to my regular reading schedule.
I plan to write my first full review tonight on The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Gaiman. I almost can’t wait to feel that joy again! But first, here are some mini reviews on the books I’ve read but failed to review since my hiatus began.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (nonfiction)
The true story of the wealthy Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma who had been put on a reservation before it was discovered that huge oil deposits were directly underneath them. When the oil was discovered, the natives became very wealthy, and then very dead. One by one, they were dying and it was evident that they were being killed off – but who was the culprit? This was the first big case for the FBI, and the case that made the agency. This is fascinating (and heartbreaking) nonfiction with a narrative that reads like fiction. It’s hard to believe this actually happened – but it did. Another horrific and deadly blow to Native Americans in the name of greed.
Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones – Charley Davidson #2 (paranormal fantasy, series)
I’m thrilled with this series and the way the stories are constructed. Charley is the best private detective, in part because she can commune with the recently departed for additional clues. She’s also the Grim Reaper. Just like the first book, there are a number of critical issues and mysteries to be solved in a time crunch. She’s hired to find a missing woman while at the same time must deal with the son of Satan who is haunting her from an out-of-body experience. Cheeky, hilarious, wild, and unputdownable. I plan on reading them all.
California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout (fantasy, alternate reality, series)
In this alternate version of Los Angeles, to have magic is to be in danger. Those who possess magic can become more powerful by consuming the bones of others with magic. A cannibalistic recipe for disaster. A young man who must hide who he truly is leads his team of faithful followers on a dangerous heist, right under the nose of the most powerful consumer of flesh and bone.
Monkey’s Luck by Bonnie Milani (science fiction)
This is a short story set in the same world of Milani’s Home World universe, one of my all-time favorite scifi books. In this universe, the genetically modified humans called Lupans, who often clash with humans, take over a ship and nearly kill all on board. One woman who had been knocked unconscious tries to find out what the hell has happened while she is held captive by a Lupan in heat, tries to thwart the efforts of a desperate pretty boy, and keep her true identity from being revealed.
Invictus by Ryan Graudin (fantasy)
This was a hype-read for me that I had to get my hands on. In this story, a group of renegade time-traveling bandits plunder history to rescue valuables known to have been destroyed. They are the best at what they do. Until a trip back to the Titanic right before it sinks, another group has beat them to the mark. But that’s not the only problem. A darkness seems to be chasing them, and memories are fading. Existence of all time and space seems to be closing in on itself. A fun, fast-paced read with memorable characters.
FantasticLand by Mike Brockoven (horror)
This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. The premise is a catastrophic storm that cuts off a fictitious amusement park for weeks, leaving staff who had agreed to stay behind to protect the park from looters in such an event. The story is told through interviews of survivors after the event. After being cut off from their phones and social media for a few days, society completely breaks down inside the park. People break off into groups, food is protected, and enemies are made. People are murdered, raped, beaten, tortured, and all-out war is waged. Is this how our young people would behave without social media interaction?
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer – Southern Reach #2 (science fiction, series)
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Annihilation, and I’ve been dying to read the second book, convinced that I would love it just as much. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. In this book, we’re back at the Southern Reach facility with a new department head – a man manipulated by everyone. He tries to understand the motives of the last director and interrogate a survivor who had returned from the last expedition (someone from book 1). I was truly hoping to be back in Area X rather than a boring office with a new character who bored me to death. No resolution – perhaps the third book?
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (mystery, psychological)
Told in alternating chapters of past and present, we are introduced to a woman in a coma who can hear everything that’s going on. She can’t move or speak, but she can hear when someone is in the room. Her husband sounds so upset, but isn’t he the reason why she’s in the hospital? Her memory is fuzzy, but she tries to piece her thoughts together in order to remember how she got into the position she’s in, and if she’s still in danger. Lots of twists and turns in this one!
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer – Southern Reach #3 (science fiction, series)
I am massively disappointed. Telling you why would be a spoiler, but then again – wouldn’t I be a hero from saving you from equal disappointment? Let’s see – if you’re desperate to know WHAT, WHY, HOW and pretty much anything else, you won’t be satisfied. This is a non-conclusion. I wanted more, so much more – and I was hopeful. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen for me. At least the first book was amazing.
Third grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones – Charley Davidson #3 (paranormal fantasy, series)
More mysteries to solve, more dead people to talk to, more people who want to kill Charley Davidson, famed PI and the esteemed Grim Reaper. These books are filled to the brim with hilarious banter, sassy women, souls of the dead, and demons. The Son of Satan loves and hates Charley, and now he’s really, really mad at her. She did, after all, bind him and held him hostage, so to speak. With help from her favorite dead boy, an autistic man (ghost?) with a penchant for names, a dangerous gang, and a dog, Charley the Grim has a number of tasks to complete while she tries to stay alive. LOVE THESE BOOKS!
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (nonfiction, memoir)
The true story of a young woman’s sudden descent into sheer and utter madness. With a lot of love from her family – and an incredible amount of luck – her diagnosis changes from psychological to biological. She wasn’t permanently mentally disabled. She was sick, and there was a cure. Had she not received the correct diagnosis in time, she would have descended further and never returned – and she likely would have died. A relatively new diagnosis, her recovery was made bare through her memoir to shed light on the many more like her who were simply misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, psychotic, etc. I would label this a must read.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunder (fantasy)
One of my favorite reads this year simply because of how much it surprised me. I was expecting an alternate reality with Lincoln and his son – or even a historical fiction, but not the complete fantasy it was. Similar in a way to Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, this tells the story of Lincoln’s son who died tragically young in his brief afterlife. Stuck in the graveyard and holding onto life, Lincoln’s son is looked after by other souls in the yard who have also refused to move on. In order to prevent this boy from suffering as they do, they try to help him let go of this world – the best way they can. I would love to see this one as a movie.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman – The Illuminae Files #1 (science fiction, series)
I fell in love with this series from book one. This is a scifi tale of corporate murder on a massive scale. Beitech had just wiped out an illegal mining colony but some inhabitants escaped on a few crippled vessels. The survivors are desperately trying to make it to the jump station several months away, while a lone Beitech vessel is in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for the survivors, it seems that one of their vessel’s AI is acting up – it wants to kill them too. Young Kady (the hacker) and Ezra (the pilot) are desperately trying to understand what is happening, and how to stay alive. Absolutely loved it.
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (general fiction)
A woman realizes she wants a divorce after decades of marriage. The husband has just won an esteemed literary prize and while she has always been supportive of his work, she has been massively let down. It’s only taken her decades to realize it. As we move between past and present, we learn about their beginnings, infidelity, and lies. And then there is the biggest lie of all. While the truth isn’t written in plain English until the very end, it’s easy to figure out well before the reveal. An enjoyable read.
Gemina by Amie Kaufman – The Illuminae Files #2 (science fiction, series)
Gemina takes place immediately following the first book but at the jump station Heimdell, the one the survivors are trying to reach. The jump station is also under seige by Beitech, the company who is trying to cover up their massive crimes against humanity by tying all loose ends through destruction and full-scale human liquidation. To make sure no message or ships get through, they are going to destroy the station. Hanna, the Commander’s daughter, and Nik, a criminal, have the advantage with a combination of war strategy know-how, street smarts, and dirty plays. They figure out what’s happening, and make plans to fight back. Love. Love. Love.
City of Thieves by David Benioff (historical fiction)
Based on a true story, this is the fictitious account of a young Russian in Leningrad on a mission to find a dozen eggs. If he manages to find the eggs in a city where people are so hungry they’ve resorted to cannibalism (Leningrad is under siege by the Nazis), he’ll get to keep his life. Searching the rooftops of the city only to find a rooster, to the farmland beyond the city where Nazis have control, young Lev evades death a number of times while developing the best kind of friendship. This is the story of a beautiful bromance.
We Are Legion – We Are Bob by Dennis E. Taylor (science fiction)
This book is not for all scifi lovers. It’s not the techspeak or the difficult concepts – it’s the world that is built. This is an extreme introvert’s fantasy world, and it might not work for some readers. A man who died many years earlier has his consciousness uploaded into a computer (not by choice). He has been given a mission – to man (hehe) an intergalactic probe to search for habitable planets or signs of life. Through advanced technology, he can replicate himself and his probes, create weapons, and even develop new technology. His many units fan out across the universe, effectively creating the Bobiverse. A bit of a God complex going on here. It worked for me.
Obsidio by Amie Kaufman – The Illuminae Files #3 (science fiction, series)
The perfect series finale. Survivors are coming full circle and are on their way back to Kerenza (the attacked planet/mining colony). And there are still survivors on the planet, but they’re under full Beitech occupation. Most have been liquidated, but those with skills have been kept alive to mine for the needed fuel to help their jump ship escape to a new system. Asha, a med tech, and Rhys, a Beitech traitor, need to devise plans to slow down the efforts before final liquidation of all inhabitants will occur. And they need a way to get communications out. Everything comes together under the stars for an epic third book. THIS is how you write a finale.