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.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

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!

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee // Book Review

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee // Book Review

I went into this book was very different expectations than what came out of it. Dark academia is my favorite kinds of stories and I thought A Lesson in Vengeance had it in spades. There was an interesting and inclusive cast of characters, a big question mark around one Felicity, and a story that really caught me off guard at the end.

CW: mental abuse, physical abuse, animal death

Here’s more about A Lesson in Vengeance

Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School.

Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students—girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.

Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. In secret rooms and shadowy corners, girls convene. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she’s already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called “method writer.” She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource.

And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway–and in herself.

My thoughts

I’m not a huge fan of thrillers. Most of the time, I either figure out the murderer by the end or the ending is so convoluted that I end up throwing the book across the room. This time, I was totally thrown off guard. I was expecting one thing and it went in a completely different way that I didn’t even imagine. There were definitely clues to it throughout the story, but it just doesn’t hit until the truth comes out.

The setting of the book was my favorite; an old home with tons of history. I loved how generations of girls went there and most of them study literature. There’s a few references to some great horror books written by women while you read along. I also loved the whole underground “skull and crossbones” style coven that’s mainly for girls who come from affluent families. While I’m not a huge fan of books where everyone is super well off, super rich, and super entitled, I thought it was interesting with a character like Felicity who’s dealing with the loss of her best friend/girlfriend, Alex.

The plot itself moved slowly digging more deeply into Felicity’s psychosis rather than having her chase clues across campus to find out some truth. I loved the usage of witchcraft and its presence in young people’s lives. The school with the underground coven, the witchcraft practiced by the founders of the school, the tradition that’s passed on from generation to generation of students, and the stories that get passed down as well. It was interesting to see how steeped Felicity was in that reality; how she truly believed there was dark forces at the school, how the author makes you believe it too.

Ellis was so determined to prove that magic didn’t exist while you’re constantly reminded through Felicity that it does. There were moments in the book where I was so worried for Felicity because there was something about Ellis that you couldn’t put your finger on. You couldn’t tell if Ellis truly liked Felicity or if this was all a ploy to have Felicity play into Ellis’s hands. Because you’re reading the book through Felicity’s perspective, that’s the only perspective you get. You want to know more about Ellis and you think that there’s something going on there that you didn’t see before, but you only know as much as Felicity does. That unreliable narrator really made it more intriguing to figure out what’s really going on.

I thought it was interesting that all these characters were way beyond their years. They’re all supposed to be seniors in a private school, but they lived and acted way older. It surprised me the most to find out that Ellis was a 17-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning author who smoked cigarettes and drank bourbon while using a typewriter to write her stories. But there was still a level of naivete within all of them. They were still young in so many ways despite it. I wish the other characters, (Leona, Kajal, and Clara) were a bit more fleshed out. You get glimpses into their worlds and who they are, but then the plot reverts back to Felicity and Ellis’s relationship. I would have loved if their involvement in the story was a bit deeper.

The only things I didn’t like about this story was that it didn’t end with a paranormal trope. I was hoping for some ghosts to come out and stir things up or magical witches coming down to bring their vengeance, but they’re used in a different way than I imagined. I won’t go into it because it will definitely spoil the story.

Overall, it’s a spooky one with some atmospheric vibes, a lot of unanswered questions that get the most unique answers at the end. It’ll keep you reading and then it will slap you in the face.

I received a copy of A Lesson in Vengeance from the publisher. My opinions haven’t been influenced by the author or the publisher.

The Project by Courtney Summers // Book Review

The Project by Courtney Summers // Book Review

I wanted to read something different than I normally read, so I picked up The Project by Courtney Summers. I had read Sadie from Courtney Summers a few years ago and remember really liking it, so I wanted to see if this one would be just as good. While it didn’t read like a thriller, it did leave me with a lot of things to think about. If you need a thriller story that will test your understanding of the human psyche, then this is the book for you!

Here’s More About the Book

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.

My Thoughts

Alright, I’m going to try and do this without spoiling the book. I wasn’t surprised at all by the big reveal towards the end of the book, but it did tie so well into the rest of the story. Truly, this story really blew me away with how suspenseful Courtney Summers laid out the book, but I was also so intrigued by The Unity Project, the mental state of all the characters, and how someone could be enticed to join what feels so obviously a bad idea.

I was expecting this book to be a thriller with a central villain and a central main character that was targeted by said villain. However, I got a completely different book. Yes, it was suspenseful and it did have some thriller-y components to it, but I felt like this book was much darker than just a villain coming out to get you. If you’re looking for a more traditional thriller book, this isn’t going to be it. Instead, it’ll make you think. It’ll make you wonder who truly saves you when you’re having a rough time with life.

The first part of the book reads like your typical thriller. There’s a dual timeline; one present and one past timeline that’s slowly making its way to the present. The way that it’s written gives you that suspenseful feeling because of the marked time moving forward. There’s also very little information. It was also written in dual narratives; Lo and Bea. Lo’s narrative is the present one as she uncovers more about what’s happening in the Unity Project while Bea’s is the past one as she shares her side of the story. There were a few threads you had to follow along like Lo trying to get this story about The Unity Project while also looking for her sister. There’s also her sister’s story and where that leads. But then you also have Arthur who lost his son to the Unity Project and how he wants someone wants to expose the group. And on top of that is all the mist hiding the secrets behind The Unity Project. While some threads did seem to fall off, others did carry through the rest of the book and really painted this intriguing picture.

For all intents and purposes, it sounds like The Unity Project is just another cult trying to prey on young people who’ve experienced trauma in their life. It’s based on Christianity, but also renounces religion because Lev Warren, their leader, believes himself to be the savior of humanity. Throughout the novel, there’s a lot of references to God and Christianity and how if you do good, then you’ll be able to walk the same path, except the path is with Lev Warren. It wasn’t too heavy on the religion, so if you’re not a fan of religious stories, then this won’t bother you. However, it is a topic that comes up a lot.

I thought it was interesting how this plays out and I appreciated Lo’s perspective to keep you as the third party instead of having you fully believe that Lev Warren is God. I can see the appeal for folks to join The Unity Project, but as you continue through the book and you slowly see the reveal it suddenly becomes less enticing. In fact, by the end of the book, I had my hands in fists.

What I found interesting is that the enemy here isn’t any one specific person. Yes, you can say that Lev is this bad guy, but Courtney Summers really makes you question that as well. We, as outsiders, all think that cults are bad. Every cult that’s existed in American history has ended in some terrible way and it turns out their leaders are borderline insane. But this book explores the other side of being in a cult and that makes you think. If so many people believe in what he’s saying and find comfort and solace in his help, then how can he be such a bad person?

I found myself asking this question throughout my read. I loved that Courtney Summers gets into this and makes you question the widely adapted belief that cults are bad. But they help people. They give people purpose. They help those who need help and save those from a world that hasn’t been kind to them. This was so obvious at the end. When everything is said and done (trying to avoid spoilers here), how the folks from The Unity Project reacted to what happened really made me pause. You would think that a place that does bad things would ultimately be happy to escape from it, but these folks weren’t and that was the most interesting part.

I truly appreciated Courtney Summers for writing a thriller that stepped outside the box of what a typical thriller is supposed to look like. She definitely kept the suspense going and while I felt there was a lull in the middle of the book, I was never not hooked to this story and what happens at the end.

I received a gifted copy of this book from Wednesday Books. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

The Two Lila Bennetts by Lisa Steinke and Liz Fenton // Review

The Two Lila Bennetts by Lisa Steinke and Liz Fenton // Review

Have you ever read a novel and asked yourself questions about how the author went about writing it? Well, that’s how I felt after finishing this book and luckily, I got the chance to meet Lisa and Liz and discuss the book with them.

My real life book club received this book from Lisa and Liz and we decided to make it our July book. Over the weekend, Lisa and Liz invited us to their book launch party where we got to meet the authors and talk about the book. It was so excellent because Lisa and Liz decided to run the event like a book club meeting chatting about the book, its pros and cons, and getting really deep with how their process looks like. No topics were off the table and I left the event feeling like I knew these authors better than before.


43236278The Two Lila Bennetts follows Lila Bennett, a criminal defense attorney in LA who is bad ass at her job. Perhaps a little too bad ass as she’s helped many suspected criminals walk away innocently. She’s also the villain in her own life having an affair with her best friend’s husband and really not being a great partner to her own husband. She’s got a lot of secrets she needs to keep and she’s not ready to reveal them all despite her feelings about them.

But when Lila is kidnapped by a mysterious person in a black ski mask, her life splits creating a “Sliding Doors” style story where one side she’s captured by someone who is determined to oust her and the other side she’s free but still being chased to tell the truth.

The two sides of this story will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat while you piece together who the kidnapper might be. You’ll draw info from the “captured” side and from the “freed” side to see how Lila’s truly messed up her relationships with the people around her. Lila was a very difficult character to like mostly because she’s such a villain in her own life. I wouldn’t say she had the ruthless personality you would imagine a criminal defense attorney to have, but it definitely seemed like she saw opportunities in her life for her own advancement and she took them without any remorse.

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I honestly felt the suspense in Lila’s “captured” chapters and her “freed” chapters felt like a redemption story. I loved how Lisa and Liz juxtaposed the two sides of this story creating a mega thriller that uses two kinds of thriller tropes. First being a forced redemption where she’s captured and forced to not only face the secrets and lies she’s told, but also watch as the people affected are told. The other felt more like Lila learning on her own that redemption is possible and requires her to be brave and face the ugly truth.

Lisa and Liz’s writing is great as well. This was my first book from the duo and I loved how the story flowed so well between the two narratives as well as the two authors. It’s obvious that they’re passionate about what they do and create really intriguing stories that capture readers attention.

In the end, her two split sides meet very different endings and the book makes you really think whether or not Lila’s actually changed. I think this is the best part. The question that the book leaves at the end may come off a little confusing, but after hearing that Lisa and Liz intended to keep the ending open-ended for interpretation made it a bit more interesting!

I received a copy of this book from the authors for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

My Thoughts on The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

My Thoughts on The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

I picked up this book for my IRL book club.  My friend, Ani, was so in love with this book and surprised by its ending so we’re reading it. Once I was done, the only thing I could think of was what did I just read? LOL. This is the second twisted family story I’ve read this year and it was definitely twisted.

The story follows Hal (or Harriet). She’s down on her luck. Her mother died a few years ago and she doesn’t know who her father is. She’s been living in her apartment alone and reading Tarot cards on the pier to make ends meet. But life is super hard for Hal and surviving is a daily struggle.

When she comes across a letter saying her grandmother recently died, Hal is intrigued. While she knows her grandparents passed 20 years ago, she’s curious as to why this lawyer is telling her another grandma just passed. Is it her father’s mother? Is it a huge mix up? She decides to spend the last of her savings to get to Trepassen, the estate her grandmother lived in, and find out the truth (and maybe take a little inheritance).

When she gets there, she uncovers truths about her mother, her father, and the rest of her family. It’s definitely up there with twisted, but it’s difficult to explain without reading the book.

I’ll start by saying this book was a slow burn. It almost reads literary because you’re following Hal around and seeing her try and discover the truth. Honestly, I didn’t think anything “thriller-y” was going to happen and then it did at like 90% (I read this on my Kindle). Throughout the story, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. When is the big thriller part going to happen? It really takes its time and I get that people aren’t happy about the pacing. It really irks me more.

But I absolutely loved Hal. I almost thought this book was literary because you’re following Hal and the character-driven journey to find the truth. There’s not a lot of actual action, so you’re waiting in suspense for what happens to Hal. She’s like your best friend in this entire situation; the confused character that you follow along with to find the truth. But she’s also a bad ass.

The ending is definitely worth the wait of the whole book. While I wouldn’t call this a thriller in its traditional sense, the atmospheric suspense and the ending feeds whatever you wanted out of a thriller at the end. I would strongly say read this book, take your time, get to the end. You will not regret it.

WARCROSS by Marie Lu

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When there’s books like READY PLAYER ONE about to come out as a big blockbuster movie, I want to read more of that particular set of books. Stories about young people who fight for what they believe is right even if that means sacrificing everything. Good thing I stumbled across WARCROSS by Marie Lu.

Here’s some more about the book:

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire. 

WARCROSS is definitely one of those girls kick ass kind of novels. I love a strong female character who sticks to her beliefs despite what other people (including the law) says. The story takes place in the near future where everyone is hooked up to this new game called Warcross. The game comes with a special set of glasses that immerses you not only into the game, but this virtual world where you can basically win points for breathing. It was definitely reminiscent of READY PLAYER ONE’s Oasis world where you can basically do the same thing.

I honestly think there’s a little bit for everyone. There’s science fiction, mystery, thriller. I think the big part is figuring out who is trying to sabotage the game and who is trying to hurt Hideo’s vision. There was lots of game play and strategic thinking on everyone’s character. Reading it from Emika’s point of view, it almost makes you feel like you’re playing the game.

The best part was that it wasn’t contrived. Emika needed time to think about her next step and it wasn’t easy for her to learn how to play Warcross properly. I love it when a character’s knowledge is based on real humans and how they would consider things. No one goes right into a battle knowing all the ins and outs unless they were cheating.

I also found the writing to be quite detailed and developed. Marie Lu didn’t leave any details out and I was able to imagine the mech battles during game play pretty easily. It’s tough for me to read battle scenes sometimes because I get all lost in who is doing what and to whom. However, it was super easy in Warcross and it definitely left me wanting to read more.

The twist on this book was definitely something I couldn’t stop thinking about. The argument made was kind of compelling and if you’re looking at the world from one perspective, you can see why someone would be so motivated to change it. However, there’s a lot of plays on morality here. What’s right and what’s wrong? What determines who you are and should that be controlled? While I wish I can give more of this away, I’m afraid that it’ll ruin the entire book.

The only things I considered issues were the romantic aspects and the technological aspects. For the romantic aspects, it was really unnecessary. I tried to think about this carefully after I finished and while there were romantic scenes between Emika and Hideo, I don’t think that it really contributed anything to the story. It was fun to see them connect in that way, but it felt a little gratuitous and unnecessary. I think it’s great that Emika finds Hideo as this huge role model and someone she looks up to, but falling in love with him kind of cheapens her strong female character.

For technology, I thought it was really awesome to read about these hi-tech glasses that allow you to comm with your friends and has augmented reality and you can play games with your real life. However, it irked me that after a game of Warcross Emika took out her phone and proceeded to call Hideo with it. You have all this technology with a device that allows you to read each other’s minds and then you have your dumb phone that you’re making calls with? It kind of doesn’t make sense in this world.

But these aren’t major flaws. These aren’t the make or break of a story, but little things that almost feel like me nitpicking a little. I really enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to read the next one in the series!

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (September 2017)
  • Rating: 4/5 stars
  • Buy WARCROSS on Amazon

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