Review: Court of Lions (Mirage #2) by Somaiya Daud

Court of Lions (Mirage, #2)Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Court of Lions is the second book in Somaiya Daud’s Mirage duology. This is a YA-Science-Fiction story following an ordinary peasant girl, Amani, who ends up being selected to be the body double for the Princess of their ruthless society.

Giving me Amidala’s handmaiden vibes from the start…

I really enjoyed the first book and knew immediately I wanted to continue on with the sequel. The story itself took me by surprise. For some reason I was expecting more of a blend of SFF, but this is definitely solid in the SF-category.

I found it to be fast-paced, drama-filled and enjoyed the writing style a lot. I also liked the cultural influence Daud lovingly-channeled into the story. Those details made it feel more unique compared to other stories in this genre.

This second book picks up not long after the first. Amani is still getting pulled in two different directions. She continues to want to help the rebellion; to try to make their world a more just place.

On the other side, she has started to build a friendship, however tenuous, with Princess Maram. Amani doesn’t want to betray her, but how can she possibly get Maram to see things from her perspective? More importantly, could she ever get Maram to use her power for change?

There’s also interesting romantic developments in this installment. Maram’s arranged fiance, Idris, of course seems better suited to Amani, but how the heck is that going to work? Their difference in stations would never allow them to be together formally.

And an intriguing new character ends up catching the eye of the thus far frosty-hearted Maram. You could cut the tension with a knife.

One of my favorite aspects of this story though, was the character growth displayed in both main characters, but in Amani in particular.

Amani grew so much in confidence and in the strength of her convictions. She became a leader over the course of the story; the kind of person even powerful people like Princess Maram could turn to for guidance and thoughtful advice.

I felt like Amani, as well as Maram, both were able to grow into the people they were destined to be and a lot of that was because of their unpredictable friendship/alliance.

It definitely felt predictable as we headed towards the final stretch, but honestly, it’s the outcome I wanted. It was a satisfying conclusion and I thought Daud did a great job with the overall arc of the story.

I’m glad I wrapped up this duology and am looking forward to reading more from Daud in the future. I hope she continues in the Sci-Fi space.

I feel like she did an exceptional job bringing a new creative voice to that genre. It felt fresh and fun, but also contemplative and layered. Well done!

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Review: Fractal Noise (Fractalverse #2) by Christopher Paolini

Fractal Noise (Fractalverse #2)Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fractal Noise is set in the same world as Paolini’s 2020-release, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. I really enjoyed that fast-paced story of first contact, so was pretty excited when I heard of this release.

As with To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, I listened to the audiobook of this and it is incredibly well done. I cannot recommend it enough as a format choice for taking in this story.

Jennifer Hale is such a talented voice artist and truly is able to bring life to the characters and the story. Additionally, there’s great sound effects included, perfect for this high-tech SF-tale.

In a way, this is also a story of first contact. It’s not as intense, or action-packed, as TSIASOS. It has a lighter touch and focuses more on the philosophical side of our place in the universe, our purpose and what our relationship would/should be with other sentient beings.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still gripping, emotional and full of tense moments, just overall, it’s a different focus for the SF-elements, IMO.

In Fractal Noise, our main character is Alex. Alex is a xenobiologist, who has lost his wife and at the beginning of the story, to say he is struggling emotionally would be to put it mildly. What even is the purpose of his life anymore?

In spite of his depression, Alex is an active member of the crew of a ship called the Adamura and this crew ends up discovering a giant hole, an anomaly, on the desolate planet of Talos VII. Perhaps, Alex has a purpose after all.

It’s unlike anything that could occur naturally. It’s too perfect. It has to have been created by something, or someone, but for what purpose?

The crew of the Adamura agree to partake in a mission to investigate the hole first hand. The truth of the anomaly could help to fill in answers for some of the mysteries of the universe. Who wouldn’t want to investigate that?

Because of the nature of the hole, they can’t touch down too close. They have to land some distance from the hole and then traverse the planet on foot in order to even get close. It’s incredibly dangerous. The four member team is ready to take it on though.

The other members of the team are Talia, Chen and Pushkin. Each of them specializes in a different area of science and each brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the table.

These individuals cannot be more different and their personalities definitely clash at times. It ends up bringing quite a bit of tension to the story. If you think their only threat would be aliens, or the hole itself, you’d be wrong. Humans can be volatile, whether on terra firma or in space.

The coolest aspect for me though was the hole itself. Once they begin their mission on Talos VII, it becomes clear very quickly that the hole is emitting a pulse of some sort. It’s so powerful that it messes with their comms and they can feel it through every fiber of their bodies.

If I am remembering correctly, it is emitted in a pattern, something like every 10.9-seconds. The closer they get, the more powerful it is. It gets to the point where it seems it is driving them a little mad.

Additionally, the closer they get to the hole, the higher and higher the tension gets amongst the team members. What is up, what is down? It’s hard to keep it straight. Who is in the right, and who is the evil one in their ranks?

I really enjoyed my time listening to this. I feel like Paolini is such a solid SF-writer. The story flows so fluidly and is full of fantastic sci-fi concepts and ideas, yet is so approachable and easy to understand.

I felt like I really got to know these characters and while I wasn’t crazy about all of them, or even most of them, I felt like I understood where they were coming from and why they made the choices they did. Their conversations did open up lots of avenue for thought into our place, and our greater role, as a species in the universe.

I would recommend this to people who enjoy SF-stories with a dangerous space-set mission, or stories of first contact. Especially if you like considering those types of scenarios for our own future, what that could mean. I felt really connected to this story and definitely hope Paolini continues writing in this genre.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Macmillan Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I have nothing but the highest praise Hale’s narration and this audio production in general!

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Review: Star Wars: Quest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton

Quest for Planet XQuest for Planet X by Tessa Gratton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quest for Planet X is a fun, action-packed, adventurous Junior Star Wars novel set in the era of the High Republic; known as the golden age of the Jedi.

If you aren’t aware, the High Republic materials take place hundreds of years before The Phantom Menace and explore the set-up and development of the galaxy.

This is Canon and is part of Phase II of the High Republic materials release. Specifically, Phase II takes place 150-years prior to the first release from Phase I, Light of the Jedi.

This is a time before the Republic has fully developed it’s vast communications network. Planets and various star systems aren’t as connected as they one day become. It’s really the Wild West time in space exploration.

This story mainly follows three characters: Dass, Jedi Padawan Rooper and Sky. They enter the great Hyperspace Chase with the goal of mapping a course to Planet X.

Planet X is a mysterious planet that many do not believe exists. 12-year old, Dass, has been there before with his Dad. In fact, their ship, the Silverstreak, is still there. Dass would like to reclaim it.

15-year old, Sky, will captain their mission. They have their own reasons for wanting to find Planet X, which is slowly revealed over the course of the story.

Dass convinces Padawan Rooper to join them on the mission for two weeks. He feels like Rooper’s Jedi status will only help them on their way; perhaps keep them safe.

It’s a stressful adventure from the start as it becomes clear that their ship, the Brightbird, was perhaps taken from Sky’s brother, Helis, by less than upfront means. Helis claims Sky stole the ship and he wants it back, by any means necessary.

The kids are flying against the odds, but nevertheless they are determined to find Planet X. The stakes get higher though when they have a run in with members from the ominous shadow group, The Path of the Open Hand.

The members of The Path are Force-Users who oppose the Jedi. They try to get Rooper to join their cause, claiming the Jedi are corrupt.

There is so much happening in this story. The characters are great and I loved that amidst all the chaos, we really got to know them and their motivations.

While they were all trying to forge their own path in the best ways they know how, I liked that they grew to trust and rely on one another. They showed great personal growth and teamwork over the course of the story.

The fun thing about Middle Grade, or Junior, Star Wars novels is that it is really one event start to finish. You see the problem and solution. While it doesn’t add as much to the building of the world as say the Young Adult, or Adult novels, it’s still a satisfying and engaging read.

Don’t get me wrong, you do learn things in here that contribute to the larger picture, it’s just lesser in scope than the more advanced novels.

I listened to the audiobook of this story and again was struck by the overall production. If you have never listened to a Star Wars novel released by Disney Audio, I highly recommend it. It’s an entire listening experience.

The narration is always phenomenal and don’t even get me started on the music and sound effects. It’s so freaking fun, truly bringing the stories to life.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This was a ton of fun. I have been loving the High Republic materials and am looking forward to picking up many, many more.

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Review: The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

The Scourge Between StarsThe Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

The Scourge Between Stars is a SF-Horror novella from Ness Brown. I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, which is performed by my favorite narrator, Bahni Turpin.

You know what I’m going to say: I would absolutely recommend the audio format. I’m serious though. It’s great!

This story follows, Jack Albright, a captain on the starship Calypso. The Calypso is slowly making its way back to its home planet after a failed mission.

There are constant threats involved with traveling through deep space and Jack, along with her crew, question if they will even be able to make it back to Earth. As if food shortages and potentially harmful space debris aren’t enough, there seems to be a murderer on board.

As bodies start dropping, and we’re talking in a very brutal, bloody fashion, Jack’s realizes she needs to figure out this danger ASAP.

Along with an AI, Watson, who I’ll admit to being fully suspicious of the entire way through, Jack digs deep into the mystery. The clock is ticking. Will anyone make it off this ship alive?

I really enjoyed my time listening to this story. The SF-writing was really well done. It felt fluid and engaging the whole way through.

I liked following Jack and wish I could have gotten the chance to learn more about her, the ship and Watson. That’s sometimes the only disappointing thing about a novella; that it’s not longer. I’m left wanting more. Please understand, this is a compliment.

I seriously hope this is like a prequel novella or something to a larger series. I would love more with these characters and within this SF-world.

Thank you to the publisher, Tor Nightfire and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I’m happy to have been introduced to the work of Ness Brown and am looking forward to more!

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Review: A Wilderness of Stars by Shea Ernshaw

A Wilderness of StarsA Wilderness of Stars by Shea Ernshaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Vega has been raised by her mother in a secluded valley. The two are completely isolated from the rest of their society, except for occasional visits from Pa, a medicine man, who travels around selling tonics and tinctures.

Her mother has warned her about the many dangers that lurk outside their safe haven. A rapid illness is sweeping the land, making people desperate, scared and fierce.

One night Vega sees an omen in the skies. It matches a legend she has been told; a prophecy of sorts. It calls for her to leave their valley.

Unfortunately, Vega’s mother is very ill. She cannot travel and Vega refuses to leave her behind. Vega’s Mom knows what the message of the skies means though, she knows Vega’s time is limited, she must leave. So, her Mom dies.

Problem solved.

Officially on her own for the first time, Vega, secretly the Last Astronomer, knows what she must do. She needs to travel to the sea, a place neither she, nor her ancestors have ever been and she needs to find The Architect.

Within the two, the cure to their world’s ills may be found. Hopefully. Vega knows her position is precarious, so keeping her identity secret is of the utmost importance.

This story follows Vega on her journey. There are a lot of obstacles standing in her way, but along with a couple of strong allies, she’s hoping she can get to the sea.

If she does though, what will happen once she gets there? It’s hard to decipher from the legends. All Vega knows is that the fate of her world rests in her hands. No pressure.

Objectively, I know that A Wilderness of Stars is a good, creative story with fantastic writing. However, it just was not for me.

It hurts my heart to write this, but honestly, I was bored throughout the entirety of the book. I didn’t like the characters, I found the setting to be lackluster and I wasn’t sold on the romance in the slightest.

It felt very low stakes and unengaging. I know you might be asking, how can the entire fate of the world being in one girl’s little hands not be high stakes? And to that I will just say, I gave zero poops about the world. It could’ve burned out in a blaze of glory for all I cared.

I have read other reviews and I know that I am definitely in the minority opinion on this and that’s okay. The writing is very lyrical and I know a lot of Readers love that. For me, the essence of the story sort of got overshadowed by all that beautiful writing.

Like, where you at plot, all I see is beautiful sentences…

With this being said, this is 100% personal opinion. I know the majority of people are going to read this and love it. It just wasn’t suited to my tastes.

There’s a book for every Reader and a Reader for every book. If the synopsis sound intriguing to you, absolutely give it a go. It could be a new favorite for you.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Although this wasn’t my favorite, I still love Shea Ernshaw so much and will continue to pick up anything and everything she writes!

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Review: Final Girls by Mira Grant

Final GirlsFinal Girls by Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

Mira Grant’s novella, Final Girls, originally published in 2017 is now being released in audio format.

This story features Dr. Webb, who has created a ground-breaking VR technology that she purports helps clients overcome long-term psychological damage and trauma.

With this process, the clients get taken back to significant times in their lives and run through situations that basically equate to scenes straight out of a horror movie.

I understand the idea to be that the scientists take the clients back to these pivotal moments, break them, shock them so severely, that they are able to rebuild new memories and thus rewire their brains; resetting their psychology.

Another main player in this one is Esther Hoffman, a journalist, who has her own very strong opinions on this type of science.

Esther ends up in Dr. Webb’s lab for a story. She observes a couple of clients running through the process themselves, as well as observing the resulting aftereffects. Then Esther agrees to undergo the treatment herself.

When a real world threat enters the lab during Esther’s scenerio, Esther and Dr. Webb, once on different sides, are suddenly forced together in a fight for survival.

Final Girls explores a unique concept that I was definitely intrigued by. I would definitely pick up a full-length novel tackling these futuristic ideas.

My experience with this story overall, however, can be broken down as follows:

Concept: 4-stars
Plot: 3-stars
Characters: 3-stars
Writing: 5-stars

Mira Grant’s writing is something to experience in and of itself. I love it. Every word carefully placed, themes thoughtfully examined, well-paced and nuanced. I always eat it up.

While I don’t think this story will stick in my memory from now until forever more, I am really glad that I listened to it. The narration was fantastic and it definitely is interesting to think about this type of futuristic therapy.

Thank you to the publisher, Tantor Audio, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I had fun with this one and will continue to pick up any Mira Grant work I can get my hands on!

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Review: The Last Town (Wayward Pines #3) by Blake Crouch

The Last Town (Wayward Pines, #3)The Last Town by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Last Town is the concluding book in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series.

I read the first two books last Fall, but for some reason, as often happens, I then failed to pick this one up. Sometimes when things are so good, you just don’t want them to end.

Luckily for me, this is a very memorable story, so I had no problem picking this one up even though almost a year had passed. I hadn’t forgotten a thing.

The truth of Wayward Pines, even the idea of it, is so horrifying that it is seared into my brain from now until forevermore.

After the reveals of the second book, which had huge repercussions for the entire town, things get much worse. Much, much worse.

Ethan Burke has ticked off Pilcher and that results in Pilcher cranking up for a temper tantrum of epic proportions. He’s about to unleash a community-wide shitstorm, pretty much the equivalent of a 10-year old flipping over a game of Monopoly because they’re losing.

This installment was non-stop action from the very start. It’s dropping you off directly where the action left off. There’s no time to pause.

It’s bleak. Not going to lie. For the majority of the book, I felt pretty helpless with regards to my favorite characters. How the heck are they going to get out of this?

It seemed the end was near. I mean I could feel it, watching the percentage run down on my kindle. It was coming. What was it going to be?

Overall, I am satisfied with this ending. I wouldn’t have guessed the ending and I can’t argue with it. This was a tough one. The world was what it was. There were no easy answers.

I think Crouch did an exceptional job over the course of these three books building out this world and providing characters that the Reader could care about. I loved many of these characters and it was sometimes tough to read about the things they went through.

I would definitely recommend this series. Even though it is a bit of an older series, it’s absolutely worth picking up!!

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Review: The Stars Between Us by Cristin Terrill

The Stars Between UsThe Stars Between Us by Cristin Terrill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vika Hale lives on a struggling planet with her parents and little sister. She works as a barmaid even though she doesn’t necessarily need to.

You see, there’s a secret-side to Vika’s life, a mysterious benefactor who has been watching her since she was a child and providing in certain ways for her and her sister.

As she nears adulthood, Vika suddenly gets summoned to the wealthy nearby planet of Ploutos. It’s requested she attend the reading of the will of her benefactor, who as it turns out was a billionaire.

Lucky Miss Vika is included in his will. We love an inheritance story!

It’s at the reading of the will that Vika first learns that she had been hand-picked by the dead billionaire to marry his son, Leo Chapin, the largest beneficiary of the will. I can hear the wedding bells now!

But then in an incredibly ill-timed twist of fate, Leo Chapin is killed in a spaceship explosion, cause unknown. Can you even believe that terrible luck?

Vika is allowed to stay on Ploutos thanks to the kindness of Leo’s one-time caregivers. They have been loyal employees to the Chapin family for years and now it seems their loyalty has paid off. They’ve inherited a huge sum of money.

Mira and Hal, the couple in question, take Vika in, provide her with a healthy allowance and allow her to ingratiate herself into the upper echelons of Ploutos society.

Perhaps she can find a suitable ((read: rich)) husband, thus ensuring that her family will continue to be cared for. With a little sparkle and glamour, she’s sure she’ll be able to do it.

There are still questions surrounding Leo’s death though, especially after another ship carrying Chapin heirs is attacked. Vika vows to get to the bottom of it.

This book was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed Terrill’s writing and like the world she created here. I found the tone of the novel especially interesting.

I read in another review that this felt like a retelling, original source material unspecified, and I absolutely agree with that. It does feel like a retelling. It carries similar themes to a lot of Victorian literature. I was personally channeling a bit of futuristic Great Expectations, or Vanity Fair vibes.

The whole idea of a have-not plucked from their dire existence and place into the sphere of the wealthiest families in their society; that entire dynamic is fascinating and watching Vika navigate it, the choices she made and the motivations behind her choices, I found to be completely engaging.

This novel is told as a dual-POV. You mainly follow Vika, but you also get the perspective of Sky Foster, a rather mysterious young man who she met just prior to leaving her home planet. He actually is a lodger at her parent’s home.

Sky does work on Ploutos though, for Hal, the man who has taken Vika in. The pair have a relationship fraught with tension, but when Vika fears her life may be in danger by whoever is coming after the Chapin heirs, she turns to Sky for help.

I really liked the relationship between Vika and Sky. Make no mistake, Vika is not a perfect character. She struggles with making choices that feel right to her.

After moving to Ploutos, she sort of cuts herself off from her family. She feels like she is doing things for them, but to them, it doesn’t seem that way. It’s a really tough position for her to be in.

I felt for her, I really did. Some may see her as selfish, but I felt like she was doing the best she could. She’s young, torn between two worlds, trying to figure out what would be best for her future. There were a lot of people willing to take advantage of her, but she had to learn how to be cunning enough to prevent that from happening.

It’s all a game. It’s chess pieces moving around a board. Eat or be eaten; extremely engaging content.

With this being said, I’m not sure how long this one will stay in my memory, but I’m happy for the time I spent with this story. I loved the futuristic world with the classic themes woven throughout.

Thank you to the publisher, Wednesday Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I am definitely interested in reading more from Cristin Terrill!!

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Review: Padawan (Star Wars Canon) by Kiersten White

PadawanPadawan by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Padawan is a YA Star Wars novel by beloved author, Kiersten White. Yes, it is canon and to put it in timeline order, this falls after Dooku: Jedi Lost and prior to Master and Apprentice.

I have really been looking forward to this release and for one main reason: MORE OBI-WAN!!!

At the time this story begins, Obi-Wan and his new master, Qui-Gon Jinn, are residing in Coruscant, the home of the Jedi Temple and the Galactic Senate.

Obi-Wan is becoming increasing frustrated with his position. He longs to be a great Padawan to Qui-Gon, but Qui-Gon is so distracted, he’s not making it easy for young Obi-Wan to feel confident in his training.

Most frustrating to Obi-Wan is how powerless he feels. While his contemporaries are all out on missions throughout the galaxy with their Masters, gaining experience and first-hand knowledge, he is stuck in the capital endlessly studying and meditating.

Something has to give. He wants so much more than this. What is the point otherwise?

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon weren’t paired up in the usual way. They were actually brought together by Master Yoda. Perhaps it was a mistake.

After Qui-Gon’s own Master, Dooku, leaves the Jedi Order rumors begin to fly that Qui-Gon may be considering the same move himself.

This obviously causes great concern for Obi-Wan. What will happen to him if his Master leaves the Order?

In spite of all of the concerns, Obi-Wan is still desperate to make it work with his Master and he eventually gets Qui-Gon to agree to go on a mission to a remote planet.

On the morning they are set to depart, however, Qui-Gon doesn’t show. Obi-Wan, young, impulsive and fed-up, decides to go on the mission solo. He is getting out of Coruscant one way or the other.

Along with a droid, A6, Obi-Wan sets out to find the distant planet once explored by Orla Jareni. Yep, you read that right, we are now getting connections to the High Republic-era.

I really enjoyed this story. Getting to spend this much time deep-diving into the growth and development of one of my all-time favorite characters was an absolute treat.

This is definitely a coming-of-age story and I thought it was really well done. Obi-Wan is questioning everything about his commitment to the Jedi, his connection to the Force and the workings of the galaxy in general.

The experience he gains on this mission is crucial to his development as a Jedi. Obi-Wan questioned himself a lot and having the freedom to explore by himself really helped to build future success for his character. He couldn’t have become who he does without this experience.

I’m really glad that we had the opportunity to get this additional content involving Obi-Wan’s development and his relationship with Qui-Gon.

White did a great job with this one. A must read for fans of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon!

Thank you so much to the publishers, Disney LucasFilms Press and Disney Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I did listen to the audiobook for this one and as always, Star Wars audiobooks are listening gold. There are so many great sound effects and narration. Highly recommend!!

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Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

UpgradeUpgrade by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

After an incident on the job where Logan Ramsey is exposed to possible contaminants, he begins to notice slightly alarming changes happening within himself.

He’s better able to concentrate, requires less sleep, his bones are becoming stronger and more dense. What is going on? It reads almost like he is becoming a superhero.

It’s the near future and the U.S. government has formed a Gene Protection Agency and Logan is one of their field agents. The agency was developed because gene editing has become a serious threat to the planet.

Logan has a lot of experience with gene editing, as his mother was one of the most influential scholars in the field. Unfortunately, not all of her projects ended well, leaving the family name tarnished.

Logan has worked hard to build his reputation back and he is known as a solid agent. That’s why the incident on the job hit him so hard.

He’s taken out of commission, but there’s so much more involved. His genome has been hacked. Was he selected for the upgrade, or was it just coincidence he ended up on that site that day?

We then follow Logan on the various stages of his upgrade, as he investigates who could be behind it and why. Ghosts from his past arise and a true cat-and-mouse game ensues with the fate of humanity at stake.

Blake Crouch is the ultimate SF-Thriller writer. He’s just so damn good. This story was a ton of fun to read. I loved contemplating the science behind it.

Additionally, the gripping plot, intelligent writing and non-stop action made me a very happy girl.

Honesty, I think nothing truly scares me more than certain advances in AI, technology and genetic manipulation. Thinking about how our future could be transformed by these advances, and in my mind it is always in a sinister way, is just fascinating to me.

I do feel this one would be super accessible as far as his titles go. Recursion sort of blew my mind and I can see how some Readers could be intimated by it. Also, Dark Matter got a bit trippy, although I loved it.

I think if you have never read Crouch before, this could be a great place to start to get a sense of his style. I definitely recommend it!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Ballantine Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I truly appreciate the opportunity to dive into a little early.

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