Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura // Book Review

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura // Book Review

What if one day you walked through your bedroom mirror and find yourself in a castle that grants wishes? That’s what happens to Kokoro in this incredible story. Thanks to Erewhon Books for the gifted copy.

Here’s more about Lonely Castle in the Mirror

Bullied to the point of dropping out of school, Kokoro’s days blur together as she hides in her bedroom, unable to face her family or friends. As she spirals into despair, her mirror begins to shine; with a touch, Kokoro is pulled from her lonely life into a resplendent, bizarre fairytale castle guarded by a strange girl in a wolf mask. Six other students have been brought to the castle, and soon this marvelous refuge becomes their playground. 

The castle has a hidden room that can grant a single wish, but there are rules to be followed, and breaking them will have dire consequences. As Kokoro and her new acquaintances spend more time in their new sanctuary, they begin to unlock the castle’s secrets and, tentatively, each other’s. 

With the thoughtful whimsy of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, the exquisite textures of A Tale for the Time Being, and the youthful resonance of Your Name, Mizuki Tsujimura paints an intricate portrait of a cycle of loneliness that can only be broken by friendship, empathy, and sacrifice. Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a mesmerizing, heart-warming novel about the unexpected rewards of embracing human connection.

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My thoughts

I picked up this book while I was on vacation hoping to find something that would fit my mood. I was expecting a contemporary story translated from the original Japanese, but what I found was something much deeper than that. The story follows Kokoro, a young girl who has recently decided not to go back to school. She’s been bullied by one of the other students and worried that the student will keep her promise to kill her, Kokoro decides the best thing to do is stay away from her junior high school and just stay home. Her mother is quietly furious with her, her father thinks she’s wasting her potential, but Kokoro doesn’t want to deal with the trouble and more worried by her threats than anything else.

One day, the mirror in her bedroom begins to glow. Surprised by what is happening, Kokoro steps through the mirror to find herself in a massive and abandoned castle. She’s greeted by a little girl wearing a wolf mask who tells her alongside six other kids around her age that they’re about to embark on a hunt for a Wishing key. If you find the key, you can make one wish and it will come true. However, there’s rules around the hunt; the castle is only open from 9AM to 5PM Japan time, you cannot bring other people into the castle, you cannot let anyone see you pass through the mirror, and you have only until March 30th (which is roughly 10 months) to find the key and make your wish or the castle will disappear forever.

As the students settle into hanging out in the castle instead of going to school, they each learn a little bit about each other. One is obsessed with video games, while another falls in love with each of the girls. Another is a musical prodigy while the other comes to the castle from Hawaii. Throughout the story, you learn more and more about each kid figuring out the pieces of their life that they’re not willing to share fully at the beginning. At first, I thought this was a bit annoying. My perceptions of the book was that it would be a massive scavenger hunt, cut throat as each kid fights each other to find the key, but the story is very different than what I imagined. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as they do whatever they want within the confines of the castle. When I finally understood what actually is happening in the story, I became completely enamored and enjoyed every moment of it.

The story dives deeply into the themes of childhood and teenage mental health. While Kokoro may be escaping the bullies at her school, each of the students refuse to go to school for one reason or another. As their secrets are revealed in the story, it turns out that their issues are just as big as Kokoro’s. This really fascinated me to see someone discussing mental health especially when it comes to young people who for any other intents and purposes are good students who work hard. Some face their parents, some face some real bullies, and others face horrors that no young person should ever experience. I loved this dissection creating teenage characters that aren’t vapid and silly who only focus on relationships and superficial things. It’s about young people who are lonely coming together to share in their loneliness.

It truly moved me to see these characters grow throughout the story. But the other aspect I truly loved was the castle itself. While the themes of mental health played vital role, there was still the story of the castle, the wolf girl, and the wishing key. While I will admit it’ll take some time for the kids to finally start the hunt for the key and much of this novel is inspecting their lives and mental well being, it did surprise me at the end when everything finally came together. It combined my favorite kinds of science fiction and fantasy stories; falling through doors that open up into new worlds,. finding friends in the most unlikely places and people, and hoping for a brighter future with room to really make a difference in someone’s life.

I absolutely adored this story and it really opened my eyes to the kinds of stories I’m in the mood for. I definitely recommend this to anyone who is feeling lonely this holiday season and it will have something that both the literary fiction/magical realism crowd as well as the speculative crowd would enjoy.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel // Book Review

This is the first book since Station Eleven that I’ve read from Emily St. John Mandel. I heard that there was moon people and time travel, so I thought I would give it a shot. I’m so thankful I did.

Here’s more about Sea of Tranquility

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

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My thoughts

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first started reading Sea of Tranquility. The description was kind of vague, but the reviews were inspiring, so I went into reading with an open mind. And I was wholeheartedly thanked for it.

This book blew me away in so many different ways. It’s definitely got its twists and turns and surprises that will go off like a light bulb in your head, but then you’re left with this deep cut of emotions as you navigate trying to live your life after reading this book. Trust me, all I can think about while I write this review is this book.

The story starts off with three different timelines. The first story is from the 20th century where a young man is journeying from England to Canada. The second story is from 2020 about a young woman searching for an old friend she hasn’t seen in years. The last story takes place in the 22nd century about an author who is recently on a book tour across Earth for her most famous novel. What connects all three people? Well, they were all at some point transported to a mysterious forest where they can hear a violin playing and an airship taking off.

That’s the point that really hooked me. I was a little confused by where the story was going with the lengthy description of the first character traveling across the ocean to Canada, but the moment he’s transported to that airship terminal and hears that violin is where it sucked me in entirely. It felt like Mandel purposefully designed the moment for her reader; to make you believe that at any given moment you can find yourself snapped into some random space in time and completely changed by the experience.

It’s currently what rookie investigator Gaspery Roberts is investigating; an anomaly in the timeline where three people from three time periods experience the same glitch in time. Gaspery is a new recruit at the Time Institute sometime in the year 2400. He volunteers to go back in time to investigate the three incidents and find connection between the people it affected.

This is the point in the story where I thought we might get another Blake Crouch science fiction thriller. It had all the factors of his style of writing and wondered how far Emily St. John Mandel may go, but because this is Emily St. John Mandel and not Blake Crouch, the story took a different turn creating a paradoxical Quantum Leap-style story. Gaspery’s journey across time made me hopeful about my future and the world around us.

And at the titular moment where you thought everything would be solved and the mystery would make sense, Mandel pivots again and surprised me with an ending that was both satisfying and enduring. One of the major themes is humanity and our unpredictable nature. How something that make the most sense takes a turn for us in the moment. How we’re all faced with many different paths and our choices may lead us down to a place of destruction or reincarnation. Gaspery’s journey is very much like the ones we experience in our daily lives. We my not be traveling through time to solve anomalies in the timeline, but we are making the choices that affect not only our own lives, but the lives of people around us. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and truly shares the silver lining in all of this.

It did surprise me that the book mentions, not one, but several pandemics. I think this might be my first pandemic story since 2020 and to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating. Of course, they were there in the background providing the setting of these events, but it wasn’t the main focus which I truly appreciated.

Overall, this book moved me and surprised me and made me feel things I’ve been hoping to feel after reading such an incredible book. It’s on par with authors like Haruki Murakami and Blake Crouch, but entirely unique like Mandel herself. I truly recommend this book to everyone.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton // Book Review

I’ve finally read the book that inspired the movie! And wow, it is worth the hype.

Here’s more about Jurassic Park

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong. . . .

In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton taps all his mesmerizing talent and scientific brilliance to create his most electrifying technothriller.

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My thoughts

Throughout my reading of Jurassic Park, I tried to imagine myself back in 1990 when this book first came out. If I were me, but in 1990 and I picked up this book to review on my blog (or not blog, since blogs didn’t exist in 1990…I don’t think), what would I have thought?

While I may be a reader reading the book well after watching the movie(s), I set aside what I already knew about the story and focused on the book. And what I came away with is that both the movie and book complement each other. Where the book fails, the movie makes up for and where the movie lacks, the book makes up for. If anything, Jurassic Park should be judged on both its iterations rather than the two parts. You get a better sense of the entire story, the world, the emotional depth, and the characters when you consider both together working to create a much more complete story.

I could only imagine what people thought about this book when they picked it up. I mean, the idea of dinosaurs roaming the Earth millions of years after they went extinct is exciting. There’s so much you can unpack with that alone and I feel like Crichton tries to in the space of 450 pages.

There’s a real horror aspect to the story. Bodies being ripped apart, people hiding in fear of the various dinosaurs hunting them down. I felt so much suspense in the scenes with the velocirators because of their intelligence and the idea of fighting an animal that knows how to open doors just puts you on the edge of your seat. It may not be the same level as some of the other great horror authors out there, I think Crichton does a really good job creating a sense of reality in this book that you forget that this is all fiction.

While it’s definitely science fiction, it’s obvious Michael Crichton wanted this to be as close to real science as possible. With graphs, charts, data pulls, and even code spread out the novel to portray the level of human preparation put into the book, Crichton really makes me believe that genetic manipulation and recreating extinct animals can be real. I know it doesn’t all go to plan in the book, but the way the information is presented, it made you feel like maybe there’s a dinosaur Disney World somewhere out there. I read a lot of science fiction and even in stories like Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, you still know that this is just fiction. Michael Crichton is next level. There’s a level of dedication put into the book to make it as life-like as possible.

The biggest element of this is the discussion of genetic engineering and bringing something like dinosaurs into human existence. The book is described as a cautionary tale of genetic engineering gone wrong. While there’s many scenes with introspection and reflection on scientific ideologies, I think Michael Crichton instills his personal beliefs within Ian Malcolm. While injured for most of the book, Malcolm’s still able to wax poetic about the reality of science adding that sometimes because we can doesn’t mean we should. The impassioned speeches Malcolm makes while in a morphine-induced stupor (including his belief in The Malcolm Effect) were still extremely insightful as if someone may have been thinking about these concepts for a very long time. Even the commentary from the experts throughout the story (Henry Wu, John Arnold, Muldoon, and even Gennaro) all felt like perhaps having dinosaurs exist on Earth again wasn’t a good idea. It was also their opinions that brought about a lot of my frustration with one of the characters.

My least favorite character was John Hammond. I’m not the type of person to hate a billionaire just because he’s rich. No, it goes deeper than that. You would think the moment that he loses his grandchildren in the midst of a massively unstable dinosaur park with no communication and no protection against the deadly creatures would make him think differently to his decision for creating said park, but it doesn’t. He still believes it’s a good endeavor and once they figure out the “kinks,” then this will be a fun zoo for young people to enjoy with their multi-million dollar families. It bugged me how little he understood of the severity of the situation. And maybe there are billionaire men out there in the world who believe that; pushing at the advancement of scientific discovery for the sake of human enjoyment and pleasure, but it lacks of level of humanity as well. Perhaps the biggest villain in the entire book is Hammond who had the gumption to try and make money off this scientific endeavor.

Overall, this was such an incredible book that I can only imagine stunned the millions of readers who picked it up without having heard of the Jurassic Park movie. While I thought the first half of the book was a little slow, it was also necessary. There’s a lot of exposition in this book and a lot of explanation of the more scientific and mathematically components, but without those explanations, I don’t think Michael Crichton would have been able to get the believability he was able to get otherwise. Having read the book and watched the movie, I now have this much bigger view of what Michael Crichton was trying to get at and I applaud him for this level of creativity and the level of realism he puts into the world.

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir // Book Review

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir // Book Review

I don’t ever know what to expect when staring a new Tamsyn Muir book. I go in empty-headed. I don’t think about Gideon. I don’t think about Harrow. I just focus all my energy into learning about Nona and hopefully at some point, Tamsyn Muir will give the cue that it’s okay to feel things and understand what’s going on. If you’re looking for the ultimate book that requires you to just trust the author to get there, then this next installment is for you.

Here’s more about Nona the Ninth

Her city is under siege.

The zombies are coming back.

And all Nona wants is a birthday party.

In many ways, Nona is like other people. She lives with her family, has a job at her local school, and loves walks on the beach and meeting new dogs. But Nona’s not like other people. Six months ago she woke up in a stranger’s body, and she’s afraid she might have to give it back.

The whole city is falling to pieces. A monstrous blue sphere hangs on the horizon, ready to tear the planet apart. Blood of Eden forces have surrounded the last Cohort facility and wait for the Emperor Undying to come calling. Their leaders want Nona to be the weapon that will save them from the Nine Houses. Nona would prefer to live an ordinary life with the people she loves, with Pyrrha and Camilla and Palamedes, but she also knows that nothing lasts forever.

And each night, Nona dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face…

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My thoughts

Like her previous books, Nona the Ninth was just a weird extension of the Locked Tomb universe Tamsyn Muir has somehow crafted. When I heard that she was going to extend the trilogy into four books, I was so surprised. I mean, give me more Gideon and Harrow, but I didn’t know what could possibly be said that couldn’t be said in the final book. I am so glad to be wrong and truthfully, Nona the Ninth made me look at the entire Locked Tomb series in a different light.

For the most part, I’ve been operating under the belief that this was a fantasy series, but after Harrow, I know it’s more like a science fiction series. Nona helped me understand that there’s much more going on than just a bunch of dirty-talking necromancers in space.

I felt like this one adds a bit more context to the bigger story that I was hoping to see, especially with the final book coming out some time soon. Nona the Ninth follows, Nona. She’s not Lyctor. She’s not a necromancer. She’s just a 19-year-old girl that somehow was born six months ago. She’s a teacher’s aide at the local school. Her best friends names are Hot Sauce, Born in the Morning, and Kevin. She loves the teacher’s dog, Noodle. For all intents and purposes, she’s just your average girl living on a planet where necromancers are shunned and human beings try to exist without the body-possessing weirdos that plague this universe.

That’s what I really loved about this book; this feels like an extension of what happened in Harrow the Ninth. Instead of being confusing, you’re starting to see the pieces of the bigger puzzle coming together and more is revealed behind the ulimate end-game: the opening of the Locked Tomb. But there’s also a playfulness to this story. Unlike the last two books, this felt more…familial as Nona lives with Camilla and Palamedes who take care of her, teach her things, and don’t mention anything to her that contributes to the bigger picture (of course). She’s more excited about her birthday party than the strange dreams she has.

Starting this book with an open mind about what could possibly happened really benefited me. While I really wish I reread the first two books, I knew that it might also hinder my perception and make me want to see a familiar face or two throughout the text. It wasn’t as difficult to follow. It still has that air of mystery behind it, but somehow easier to follow than the other books. It almost felt a bit slow because you’re expecting some big dog fights or a mystery that needs to be solved, but it does eventually pick up and when it does, you’re launched straight out of this stratosphere.

Tamsyn Muir’s writings are like listening to a symphony play something with several movements. Each book stands on its own as a movement, but the bigger picture is always better revealed by the end. There’s true highs and sad lows. There’s the Adagio and the Allegro and all of it sounds different, but makes absolute sense in its whole.

And like all of Tamsyn Muir’s books, this is another one you need to explore on your own. It’s different, but actually fits perfectly into the context of the rest of the series. And the ending will definitely make you hope for Alecto the Ninth to finally arrive. I already plan on rereading this entire series once Alecto is out and I can only hope that everything will make sense by the end.

Upgrade by Blake Crouch // Book Review

“We were a monstrous, thoughtful, selfish, sensitive, fearful, ambitious, loving, hateful, hopeful species. We contained within us the potential for great evil, but also for great good. And we were capable of so much more than this.”

This new novel from Blake Crouch was definitely different than the ones he’s written in the past. However, it felt like I was watching a movie and hope that someone does pick it up one day (probably will). Thanks Ballantine Books for the gifted copy.

Here’s more about Upgrade

“You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential.

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My thoughts

Like I mentioned earlier, this was defintiely different than the Blake Crouch we’ve known in both Dark Matter and Recursion. Instead of focusing on theories within quantum physics, he’s decided to go the biology and genetics approach.

A lot of this book feels like it’s been influenced by the events of the past few years. From the pandemic, to climate change, to social justice issues, the story envisions an entire breakdown of humanity, it creates a futuristic America where humanity is on the brink of destruction. And in this world, science has caught up to science fiction as humans now have the capability to manipulate their genes. It’s kind of crazy to think that you can edit yourself and change your face, make you more intelligent, or even create new species of animals, and yet, we are still down the path to the end of our species.

In this world, Logan is an agent for the GPA, Gene Protection Agency, who works to stop unlawful use of gene manipulation. On a routine investigation and raid of a possibly illegal genetics lab, Logan is attacked. He contracts a random virus leaving him in quarantine for fourteen days.

Once Logan has recovered from the virus, he slowly starts to change. He remembers every memory from his life as if they just happened. He can recall every piece of writing he’s ever read right down to the very quotes. He can think more precisely, more logically, and can also suppress his own emotions. He’s an enhanced version of himself and he’s made this way by design. He realizes that his genes have been upgraded, but he doesn’t know why.

From this point, the book turns into an action movie. You have your main character who escapes the GPA in order to find out why he was infected and what will happen to him in the future. Honestly, every bit of this story felt like I was watching a summer blockbuster action movie starring Tom Cruise or something. There were cyphers and codes to go through. There were shootouts and melee fights. There were even some touching moments with Logan and his family. It was the perfect combination of science fiction with thrilling action movie and I devoured the crap out of it. I don’t think my eyes read that fast in my life.

I also loved Logan as the main character, grasping between his logical thinking brain and his emotions. I loved seeing him push and pull between the two and the imagery really reminded me of Mr. Spock from Star Trek; a man stuck between the intelligent choices and the emotional choices Something I love about Blake Crouch’s stories is how human he makes his characters. They always have someone they are fighting for and it’s the same in Upgrade as Logan can’t let go of his family. It truly made it so much more personable especially when it gets heavy with the science.

This was such an absolutely thrill to read and I can’t believe I devoured it so quickly. I loved the characters, the action, the adventure. I think the only thing I didn’t like was the epilogue, but that’s not really anything to criticize. Overall, it was such a fun read and definitely one you want to squeeze in before the summer is over!

August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White // Book Review

August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White // Book Review

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first started reading August Kitko. In fact, I only knew that it would include a person named August, giant mechs, jazz music, and a race to save the world. Now I know that it’s way more than that and one of my favorites this month. Thanks Orbit Books for the gifted read!

Here’s more about August Kitko and the Mechas from Space

When an army of giant robot AIs threatens to devastate Earth, a virtuoso pianist becomes humanity’s last hope in this bold, lightning-paced, technicolor new space opera series from the author of A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe. 

Jazz pianist Gus Kitko expected to spend his final moments on Earth playing piano at the greatest goodbye party of all time, and maybe kissing rockstar Ardent Violet, before the last of humanity is wiped out forever by the Vanguards–ultra-powerful robots from the dark heart of space, hell-bent on destroying humanity for reasons none can divine. 

But when the Vanguards arrive, the unthinkable happens–the mecha that should be killing Gus instead saves him. Suddenly, Gus’s swan song becomes humanity’s encore, as he is chosen to join a small group of traitorous Vanguards and their pilots dedicated to saving humanity.

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My thoughts

If you’re a fan of cinematic movies like The Matrix, Armageddon, and Transformers, then this is the book for you. The book takes place in the very far future, about 600 years, in a world that’s still thriving, but on the brink of destruction. Five years prior, an alien tech arrived destroying human beings by the thousands, absorbing their memories. The whole the world believed that this was the end of humanity, an unceremonious wipe of the human race. August Kitko, a jazz pianist who’s already lost his entire family to the tech, is ready to die. On the night the world was scheduled to end, Gus attends a party hosted by a prominent lord to play out the end of the world with some good times.

However, things change when the end of the world doesn’t come and Gus is kidnapped by a giant mech forced to become a conduit of all the human memories that it absorbed. Gus finds out that the mech, aka Greymalkin, is no longer a villainous AI and willing to help the human race hold some semblance of life on Earth.

I loved this futuristic view of the world. It feels so familiar because it reminds me of what we see nowadays except with the added bonus of tech that automates everything for us. The world Alex White envisions in their story is remarkable. The descriptions are so vivid that you can literally see what they’re describing and it lends itself well when it comes to the big fight scene between mechs in space. Their writing is also very casual and contemporary. I loved that while they’re describing massive mech battles in space, there was also levity and humor in their voice.

I also thought that the story was so genius. It reminded me a lot of those futuristic sci-fi movies I mentioned earlier, but combining them all to create this intelligent world where sentient AI are out to kill the human race. I think that one of my absolute favorite things about science fiction like this is how humans come together to fight a bigger threat to them.

While Gus is the person named in the title, the book also follows Ardent Violet. They’re a very famous pop star who hooks up with Gus at the “end of the world” party only to find themself saving Gus when he’s abducted by the mech. They eventually become a part of the team designated to help save the world. I also really loved how different Gus and Ardent were. Gus feels more like this introverted jazz pianist who’s spent a lot more time alone than Ardent has. While Ardent definitely carried the pop star/celebrity vibe, they were also so vulnerable and scared about what they’re about to do.

The music in this book was also a major player. I loved how the mech responded to Ardent and Gus’s talents choosing them to be their conduits and how that music plays throughout the story as a way for them to connect to their mechs. It was such a clever way to incorporate that piece of both these characters and not let it fall to the wayside.

This was such a solid start to a new series from Alex White. While it’s my first by them, I’m definitely a fan now and I can’t wait to see what happens to Gus, Ardent, and the giant mechs in the next book!

Eclipse the Moon by Jessie Mihalik // Book Review

Eclipse the Moon by Jessie Mihalik // Book Review

Ok, if you’re a fan of love stories plus a lot of action/adventure and a plot to save the universe from another war between two different beings, then this series is for you. Thanks to Harper Voyager for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Eclipse the Moon

Kee Ildez has been many things: hacker, soldier, bounty hunter. She never expected to be a hero, but when a shadowy group of traitors starts trying to goad the galaxy’s two superpowers into instigating an interstellar war, Kee throws herself into the search to find out who is responsible—and stop them.

Digging up hidden information is her job, so hunting traitors should be a piece of cake, but the primary suspect spent years in the military, and someone powerful is still covering his tracks. Disrupting their plans will require the help of her entire team, including Varro Runkow, a Valovian weapons expert who makes her pulse race.

Quiet, grumpy, and incredibly handsome, Varro watches her with hot eyes but ignores all of her flirting, so Kee silently vows to keep her feelings strictly platonic. But that vow will be put to the test when she and Varro are forced to leave the safety of their ship and venture into enemy territory alone.

Cut off from the rest of their team, they must figure out how to work together—and fast—because a single misstep will cost thousands of lives.

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My thoughts

After finishing Eclipse the Moon (the second book in the Starlight’s Shadow series), I have to say that this is the perfect story for anyone who wants to read science fiction, but felt super intimidated by the genre. It’s also for folks like me who don’t like romance novels too much, but prefer ones with a bit more story to them.

In fact, similar to the first book in the series, this focuses more on what’s happening in space than on the romance. Don’t be fooled, the romance readers will get their steamy scenes and emotional roller coaster ride throughout the story, but it’s also such a great adventure story.

Eclipse the Moon follows Kee (the hacker) and Varro (the weapons expert) as they head off on an adventure on their own. They decide to attend a fashion show hosted on Bastion, the space station they visited in the first book. The interesting part of this fashion show is that both Valovians and humans collaborated to create clothing that combines both art and technology together. This is all in an effort to bring their two races together in peace rather than continue to promote harm and war between the two of them. However, Kee has a sinking suspicion that the folks who stole the Empress’s young grandson will also be at Bastion during this time. She heads to the event with Varro in hopes of finding more information on their plans to start another war.

I really loved this adventure and while most of this story focused on Kee and Varro infiltrating the fashion show, saving some key folks from the event, and then helping to track down the traitors, I loved it. I think many folks looking for another found family story may be a bit disappointed to see that it’s only featuring Kee and Varro, but I loved watching them take action, defend the good folks (regardless if they were human or Valoff), and helping track down the villains.

The romance itself was much lighter than the first one. While there wasn’t any lack of romantic gestures and beautiful words, it didn’t feel as intensely as it did between Tavi and Tarron. That’s okay with me since many relationships are different and love is shown in many different ways. It might also be because this was a classic grumpy/sunshine trope and Varro is 100% grumpy.

Since this book is in Kee’s perspective, a lot of what she did was hacking and looking at data to find one piece of information here or there. I think my least favorite part was reading through that because not much is going on aside from her looking through lines of code. It’s not the most tantalizing thing in the world, so I wasn’t that excited to read those parts. However, they are redeemed with all the action as they try to escape the situations they found themselves in and make it back to the Starlight Shadow.

Overall, this was another great adventure for the team and another great love story for me. I can’t wait for book 3!

Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik // Book Review

Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik // Book Review

This was such a great start to a new series from Jessie Mihalik and definitely achieves what I believe is the perfect romance for me!

Here’s more about Hunt the Stars

Octavia Zarola would do anything to keep her tiny, close-knit bounty hunting crew together—even if it means accepting a job from Torran Fletcher, a ruthless former general and her sworn enemy. When Torran offers her enough credits to not only keep her crew afloat but also hire someone to fix her ship, Tavi knows that she can’t refuse—no matter how much she’d like to.

With so much money on the line, Torran and his crew insist on joining the hunt. Tavi reluctantly agrees because while the handsome, stoic leader pushes all of her buttons—for both anger and desire—she’s endured worse, and the massive bonus payment he’s promised for a completed job is reason enough to shut up and deal.

But when they uncover a deeper plot that threatens the delicate peace between humans and Valoffs, Tavi suspects that Torran has been using her as the impetus for a new war. With the fate of her crew balanced on a knife’s edge, Tavi must decide where her loyalties lie—with the quiet Valoff who’s been lying to her, or with the human leaders who left her squad to die on the battlefield. And this time, she’s put her heart on the line.

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My thoughts

I’m not a huge fan of romantic stories that focuses soley on the couple. I know I’m in the minority here, but when I heard that this is a romance with a bit of science fiction, I had to check it out. I’m so glad I did. Not only does this book feature romance, but it has a big political plot, a cast of quirky characters, an enemies-to-lovers trope, and so much more. I mean, this is everything I’ve ever wanted in a romance story.

But I will say that the science fiction comes first and the romance comes second, which is all super fine with me. It starts off with Tavia and her crew aboard her ship and receiving the details of a bounty mission; to find a missing ring lost by Torran, a Valovian general. Now, the background between humans and Valovians goes back a long time where both these races fought each other for land and power. To have a Valovian ask a human crew to find a missing item is a huge risk and Tavia is will to take it for the huge cashout at the end.

Of course, the crew alongside Torran’s gets into their own rows as they travel back to Valovia in search of the missing item. This is where it gets really good because the twists and surprises are endless. It totally caught me off guard in a good way and I found myself racing towards the end to see what happened.

I would also consider this book science fiction lite because it doesn’t delve too deeply into worldbuilding. That’s okay with me because despite the lack of worldbuilding, there was enough intrigue and suspense to keep me going. If anything, this would be a great starter for anyone who wants to get into science fiction, but feel intimidated by the big worlds.

The romance itself was really well done as well. I loved seeing our protagonists go from enemies-to-lovers and while there are only closed door scenes, I will say that this telepathic caresses were something I wish existed in real life lol.

The only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the pace. It felt a bit slow in the beginning as you’re building towards the ultimate ending, but I also loved getting to see these two crews from completely different worlds get to know each other and become friends.

Overall, a great start to a new science fiction series and I can’t wait to read the next!

This is definitely my kind of romance story. I love it when there’s a little bit more going on than just the couple getting together and this one combines it with one of my favorite genres: science fiction.

I will note that the worldbuilding isn’t that strong, but I don’t really care. It comes secondary to the plot and conflict that the author built and I’m all here for it.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers // Book Review

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers // Book Review

Friends, it’s with a heavy heart that I write this book review. Truly because while I truly enjoyed reading Record of a Spaceborn Few, I was saddened by the fact that this wasn’t an instant favorite of mine.

Here’s more about Record of a Spaceborn Few

Centuries after the last humans left Earth, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, a place many are from but few outsiders have seen. Humanity has finally been accepted into the galactic community, but while this has opened doors for many, those who have not yet left for alien cities fear that their carefully cultivated way of life is under threat.

Tessa chose to stay home when her brother Ashby left for the stars, but has to question that decision when her position in the Fleet is threatened.

Kip, a reluctant young apprentice, itches for change but doesn’t know where to find it.

Sawyer, a lost and lonely newcomer, is just looking for a place to belong.

When a disaster rocks this already fragile community, those Exodans who still call the Fleet their home can no longer avoid the inescapable question:

What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination?

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My thoughts

I’m a huge fan of Becky Chambers and I’ve read almost everything she’s written (aside from whatever short stories and articles she may have written on the Internet). But from my count, I’m pretty much up-to-date with all her books. There’s something so cosmically fantastic about her reads. Perhaps because it’s not solely about people in space or robots meeting each other, but that deeper emotional connection that draws me into her books every single time.

However, I found myself a little bit bereft with Record. I wanted to like it way more than I did by the end. Oh, it’s still a deeply enchanting story with intriguing characters living in a space station-style ship that took the place of Earth a long time ago. But it didn’t have the extra glow of magic, action, and adventure that made A Long Way and Close and Common instant favorites of mine.

But if you need to complete the series like me and on your way to the final book, I would recommend it. The book takes place in the final moments that A Long Way… happens and while it doesn’t feature any of the crew from that book, it does share a different kind of existence among the stars. I think I’ve finally accepted that this series will not take place all on the Wayfarer’s ship, but within the same world. Ok, I can live with that.

Instead of it being a crew of people who want to be on the same spaceship as each other, this one is a group of people who have lived and died generations over in this one spaceship. It’s big enough to fit an entire society and it’s been floating in space ever since its escape from Earth. It reminded me a lot of Battlestar Galactica except without the vicious androids coming after humans to destroy their very existence. Instead, it’s more about the mundane lives they lead and how one particular event changes the course of their lives from then on out.

One of the major themes of this book is the discussion of existence. I feel like this theme is very close to Becky Chambers’s heart since it makes its way into many of her works. From To Be Taught to even the discussions between Mosscap and Dex on how important existence is, it’s something that you see weave itself throughout her novels and Record is no exception. And while I do love a philosophical discussion on our existence and what it means to die, it ended up triggering my anxiety a little too much and I spent some time sitting and trying not to have a full blown anxiety attack.

However, if this doesn’t bother you like it does me, then you’ll welcome these discussions. It’s the questions we all ask ourselves at one point or another and it’s poignant when it’s written in a sci-fi story. I mean, the story follows four people who’s lives have always been in space and wondering what it all means definitely should come up every once in a while.

Let’s discuss the characters for a moment while we’re here. This story has four unique perspectives. I thought each of these characters brought something different to the table and coming from unique backgrounds whether by age, by occupation, by identity, you see their seemingly separate lives come together towards the end. I think that’s one of the best benefits of Becky Chambers’s writing; you meet characters that would normally never associate with each other, but through some strange and not-so-strange circumstances, their lives intertwine with each other. I guess you can say that their existence feels more relatable once they meet people who can associate with them. The humanity of their lives is what brings them together and while the event that brings them together is tragic, they become better human beings than they were.

However, the only issue I had with this book is its lack of movement. It felt passive. It felt character-driven. There wasn’t enough movement in the story to compel you continue reading. And while I absolutely loved the existential discussions Becky Chambers brings to all of her stories, this didn’t thrill me the way her other books do. It felt exactly as its title suggests; a record of a spaceborn few.

But don’t let that hinder you from reading the book. Because in the end, it’s quite a story and well worth the read. If I knew this was a more character-driven story when I first went into it, I might have approached it differently.

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire // Book Review

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire // Book Review

Well, Seanan McGuire’s gone above and beyond to create another story of alchemy and mystery set in the same world as Middlegame. It’s a companion novel, so you can read it alone. However, I think you’ll really benefit more if you’ve read the first. Thanks to Tor dot com for a gifted copy of the book.

Here’s more about Seasonal Fears

Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.

Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.

So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.

But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.

It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all….

“One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter.” —Thoreau

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My thoughts

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I started this book. I knew that there was going to be some wibbly wobbly timey wimey-ness to it because if it’s a companion to Middlegame, then there’s definitely going to be talk of the Impossible City, the Up-and-Under, and maybe even appearances from the A Deborah Baker books she’s written.

And this book does all of those things and more. One of the reasons why I love reading Seanan McGuire is her ability to create these incredible worlds. A place where real life huamsn can dream of places they’ve only read in books or seen on TV. Portals to worlds that coincide with ours, energies that exist that shouldn’t exist. And this one explores these concepts just as much as any of her other books. Alchemy is supposed to be the study of science and magic and I think Seanan McGuire does an excellent job throughout this series with creating her alchemical world.

Seasonal Fears features two main characters, Harry and Melanie, but if I’m going to be honest, this is Harry’s story. Melanie has been sick since she’s been born and Harry is the jock football player with a huge sense of humor. In many ways they’re different, but they’ve loved each other for as long as they’ve known each other. But when both of them collapse one day, only one came back alive and thus began their journey on the improbable road to the Impossible City.

I absolutely love the play on seasons in this one. Seanan McGuire’s creativity is one of the reasons why I come back to her stories. Using the same concepts in Middlegame of embodying intangible things and making them human plays itself out in Seasonal Fears as Summer and Winter. It’s so beautiful to think about; how a person can embody a season and their emotions contribute directly to how the season will play out. On top of that, the corruption and lies behind the seasons and the people who embody them. It was part political, part emotional, and just really blew my mind.

Harry and Melanie were also the kinds of characters you rooted for. While both of them come from different backgrounds and lived very different lives side-by-side, you can relate to either of them in any of the ways. Harry is naive and hard-headed, which makes it difficult for him to understand the alchemical concepts that are being explained to him numerous times. Melanie is made for the season she was built for, which made it easier for her to accept what’s happening. Their relationship was sweet and the kind of young love that makes readers sigh with joy for them and make you fiercely protect that innocence from any outside parties.

And throughout the story, there were numerous outside parties; people who were trying to kill Harry and Melanie for their candidacy as Summer and Winter. I also loved this part of the book because Harry and Melanie weren’t technically the chosen ones. They are candidates for the position and they were on their way to claim the crowns for themselves, but so were a few dozen other people. It was interesting to see them on their journey, but I also felt like it was unnecessarily long. I honestly felt like the journey was too long and the destination scenes were too short. I would have loved the reverse.

Seanan McGuire definitely puts in a lot of effort to make sure every reader understands clearly what’s going on. Perhaps there was some feedback from Middlegame being too difficult in its concepts, so she doubled-down on this one. In some ways, it was a little too much becoming more repetitive than informative. But I can also understand her frustration with receiving “I don’t get it” feedback from her first novel. I truly appreciate that she took the time to really flesh out these ideas creating a much more robust world that’s a bit more digestible. It wasn’t as good as Middle game, in my humble opinion, but it was still something I devoured.

Of course, this book isn’t complete with a few surprises around each corner. I loved seeing the characters from Middlegame make an appearance and also a lot of understanding behind what happened to them, the parallels of the story to the stories by A Deborah Baker, and deeper understanding of the entire alchemical world created by Seanan. I appreciate this book for finally bringing to light some of the more confusing aspects and while it wasn’t perfect, it was definitely the perfect companion.