Review- Nothing is Strange

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell

4/5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 144
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication date: December 31, 2015

25099252A man called Dunce who is bald with a pointed head, a couple who wishes that their genitals would fall off, and a clone who gets locked up in a shed, are all different types of people who make appearances in Nothing is Strange. The 20 short stories exist in their own fantastical lands that each have their own special laws of physics. What happens when right arms are nonexistent or the act of crying is never heard of? These things are just normal occurrences in Mike Russell’s writings.

Earlier this year, I was gifted a copy of Mike Russell’s other book, Strange Medicine. It was the first short collection in a long time that I actually enjoyed. I went into Nothing is Strange with high expectations and I was not disappointed. Thank you to the Strange Books team forsending me this title!

Mike Russell has a brain similar to Douglas Adams’. His stories make almost no sense at all, which actually makes them sort of make sense. He begins each short story in a world with at least one strange concept and then builds off of that with seemingly random events and characters. Reading his work is almost like riding a roller coaster, except you can’t see and don’t know where all the curves and drops are. Although, I don’t like roller coasters, but I liked Nothing is Strange.

My favorite thing about these short stories is that most of them don’t make any sense until the last paragraph or last sentence. Or in some cases, the stories don’t make any sense and the last sentence makes even less sense. For example, “Lesley Visits the Barber” ends with “thus beginning the universe”. While reading the story, I had no idea where I would end up, but the beginning of the universe was not it. I haven’t read a book that blindsided me so many times since finishing the “Dirk Gently” series a few years ago. That’s truly saying something about Mike Russell’s writing technique.

I also want to comment on the story length, as I think it says a lot. The stories range from 3 to 9 pages. That is not very much room to develop a made-up world and characters. The fact that Mike Russell can give enough detail and context for a reader to imagine the setting of each story is amazing. While reading Nothing is Strange, I never felt confused due to the short length of the book.

It’s clear to me that it takes quite a bit of talent to successfully write a collection of short stories such as Nothing is Strange. I’m so honored that Strange Books sent me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. It was such an enjoyable read for me, as I love science fiction. If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams, you’ll love this book.

Review- A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

4.5/5 stars

Binding: Hardcover
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: October 20th, 2016
Page count: 365

29475447Lovelace is learning to navigate to her body kit, something that she doesn’t consider part of her ‘self”, since she is really a program running inside of it. She is getting used to her new home with Pepper and Blue and they are getting used to having her, as they’ve had to make many changes to keep her comfortable. Lovelace doesn’t understand why Pepper is so adamant that she can survive in a kit; She feels like it’s not possible due to the way she was programmed specifically for a ship. She has no idea how Pepper grew up and what AI’s were in her life from a young age. Slowly, Lovelace learns to function in her new world and Pepper opens up about her dark upbringing.

I’ve loved Becky Chambers since I got through the first 10 pages of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet last year. The way she creates and describes alien cultures is so real. Honestly, it makes you feel like these species have been around your whole life, not that you’re just learning about them now.

In her last book, I loved the way Becky Chambers played around with gender. Some of the alien creatures she describes change genders throughout different periods of their lives. This also means that their pronouns change many times in the book. A Closed and Common Orbit was no different. Tak, one of Lovelace’s friends, changes from female to male. No one questions it or struggles with the pronoun change. Tak just is Tak and everyone adjusts to the way their identity changes. I think Chambers does an amazing job showing that gender is a social construct and, also, that it is completely different from sex. In addition, everyone is assigned gender-neutral pronouns until they indicate their gender or pronoun preferences. This kind of trans-inclusive language is key for transgender folx to feel safe and respected, and it really makes the reader think about the preconceptions we hold about people before getting to know them in our own society.

Becky Chambers completely has the sci-fi formula down pat. She includes everything you need in a well written, page turning, science fiction novel. Some of these ingredients include a system of unique planets that house different species, space travel, artificial intelligence, alien cultures, and alien relationships. I have yet to come across another author who completes their sci-fi formula so efficiently. I swear, I could give A Closed and Common Orbit to anyone, even those who don’t enjoy classic science fiction novels, and they’d enjoy it. She really knows what she’s doing.

Lastly, I want to point out the way Lovelace is treated– as a character. Yes, she’s a spaceship program loaded into a body kit. Yes, she’s not considered a full human in her world and is technically committing a crime by merely existing. Despite all this, Chambers treats her like a ‘real’ person and gives her the same existence as everyone else in the book. I know AI’s aren’t really part of diverse reading, but it was comparable, in my mind. Giving someone, who society considers a less-than, the same opportunities in a story as the rest of the characters is what queer characters, characters of color, and characters suffering from chronic illnesses want to see in literature. I know it’s not the same, but I felt really good reading A Closed and Common Orbit for this reason (and many others outlined in this review!).

Just as I expected, I absolutely loved this book. It’s definitely different from her first book, considering most of the plot takes place on a planet and not space, but that’s not a bad thing in the slightest. I will continue to support Becky Chambers throughout all of her works, as I recognize the importance of the way she treats gender, in addition to the extraordinary way she describes alien species and their behaviors. If you’re looking for an outstanding science fiction novel, this is it.

Unboxing: Paper Street Books April/May 2017 Box

Paper Street Books April/May 2017 Box

I’m so excited to feature my first review of Paper Street Books’ subscription box on my blog. They’re a bimonthly book and graphic novel subscription box with a focus on science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’ve been receiving their boxes for a while now, and this is my 4th box. There are 3 options: Book Addict (you receive a book and bookish goodies), Comic Addict (you receive a graphic novel and bookish goodies), and Book Warrior (you receive a science fiction book, graphic novel, and bookish goodies). I have the Book Warrior option selected and every box has had an amazing theme with books and graphic novels that are the perfect fit for me. This month’s theme was “Terra and Luna”. Here’s the unboxing:

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The books!

Avengers of the Moon, by Allen Steele, was the book for this month! This book is homage to the Caption Future stories from the 40’s. One thing that I love about Paper Street Books is that they pick publications from lesser-known authors. This means that I receive books that I don’t already own and that indie authors are put into the spotlight. I can already tell that this is a retro science fiction novel that I’m going to LOVE. I’m so glad that something fresh and new was added to my shelves!

Wires and Nerve, by Marissa Meyer, was the graphic novel for this month! This was the first YA graphic novel and the first work from a well-known author that I’ve received in their boxes. Marissa Meyer is the best selling author of the Lunar Chronicles, a YA fantasy series. I’ve never heard of Wires and Nerve and I’m so excited to read it! It’s about the android from the Lunar Chronicles, but knowledge about the series is not mandatory. I love robot adventures with a little bit of romance, so I know I’ll really like this.

The goodies!

– This box included a single issue of American Gods, which I have yet to read. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite fantasy writers and I’ve been meaning to get my hands on some of his graphic novels. I know American Gods is a very popular book, so I’m sure the comics are just as great. Also, I love single issues because almost no one sells them anymore! Bookstores (mostly) only carry the large, paperback book editions of comics now. This was a really nice surprise.

– I also received a crystal growing cherry tree by Copernicus Toys. This is a paper tree cut out that grows crystals, which “bloom” to make it look like a cherry tree. This is a perfect little toy that fits the theme. I’m excited to try this out, but I’ll have to store it somewhere where my cat can’t knock it down, haha!

– A ‘Moon Prism Power!’ scented candle, from Paper Street themselves, was another one of the goodies in this box. This is the second candle I’ve received from them, and they both smell so good! This one is orange blossom, grapefruit, mangosteen, Egyptian amber, and peach. I thought the science fiction reference was really clever and I’m excited to get it burning soon!

– A Sailor Moon magnet was next in this box! Although I don’t know much about Sailor Moon, this magnet includes two things that I love: outer space and cats. It’s perfect for me! I have this stuck on my refrigerator right now and I’m so, so happy with it.

– A galaxy sucker (or lollipop, depending on where you’re from), from Sparko Sweets, was the candy portion of the box. I know they don’t technically have an edible part every month, but the last few boxes have included sweets. I have a lot of food allergies, so many candies are a no for me, but I can have this sucker! Sidenote: I always try to get my cat to pose with the box, but this month he wouldn’t stop chewing on the sucker. Photo for proof—

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– Lastly, the box contained a teaser for Beautiful Nightmare, by AM Nestler. This book has no reviews on Goodreads yet, so I’m intrigued to give it my opinion. It’s dystopian novel about a girl with narcolepsy. It sounds really interesting and I think I’m going to read more into it and maybe purchase it!

That’s all for the “Terra and Luna” box of April/May. This was one of my favorite boxes (behind the “Ladies of Sci-Fi” box). I want to thank Jennifer and Marty for working so hard and always putting together amazing boxes. Your subscribers really appreciate it and CONGRATULATIONS on selling out of this box. I can’t wait to see what the summer holds for Paper Street Books!

April 2017 Wrap-Up

April 2017 Wrap-Up

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Hello everyone! If you didn’t notice, I totally forgot to do a March Wrap-Up. I’ve decided to skip it because I didn’t read that much in March. I’d rather just jump ahead to April because….. I got through 11 books this month! I’m so happy with my reading progress over the past 30 days. I read a lot of books that had been on my to-be-read since the fall. Before I do a breakdown, I want to give a quick update on my blog:

  1. I’m trying to post reviews more frequently now, since I’m reading a lot more than February/March. I’m aiming to publish one every 3 days or so.
  2. I want to focus my reviews on books that involve topics that I think should be normalized in literature. These topics include people of color, mental illnesses, LGBTQ people, chronic illnesses, and strong female protagonists. Of course, I’m going to read books that don’t focus on these themes, so if that’s not your thing, don’t worry.
  3. I currently receive one bimonthly book subscription box, Paper Street Books, and will be posting full unboxing reviews every time I get a box from them. So far, I’ve gotten 4 of their boxes and I haven’t been disappointed yet. I just got a box about a week ago so I’ll be posting a review of that shortly!

Now, on to the breakdown!

 

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (science fiction,) 5/5 stars

This book absolutely blew me away. The main character is a queer woman of color with chronic pain. I’ve never read a book about someone who struggles with an invisible physical illness before Ascension, so this book really makes the top of my ‘favorites of 2017’ list. I actually ended up contacting Jacqueline Koyanagi and telling her how much her book touched me. She was extremely nice and I hope she publishes more work soon. If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

  

Strange Medicine by Mike Russell (fantasy/short stories), 4.5/5 stars

I am so honored that I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, because I really enjoyed it. I’ve never been a fan of short stories, but I got into this collection very easily and couldn’t put it down. I just received another one of Mike Russell’s books and I can’t wait to start it in the next few days! If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

  

Burned by Ellen Hopkins (fiction), 3/5 stars 

This is the second Ellen Hopkins book I’ve read, and I was really disappointed with it. After Crank, I had such high expectations for Ellen Hopkins. Her verse style of storytelling is so unique and makes for a fast-paced page turner. Burned was not like this. The story is very interesting– a girl raised in a religious family with an abusive father, who is sent away for the summer– but is told in a very boring way. I definitely will be giving Ellen Hopkins another chance sometime soon.

  

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (young adult fiction), 4.5/5 stars

I read an ARC of this book, so I’m not sure how much it differs from the final publication. That being said, this was a great first YA read for me in April! It is unconventional, as the two main characters are different genders but they do not have any romance between them. Alice Oseman wrote their relationship perfectly and it made for a very feel-good novel. I also like how she included a lot about internet culture. I can tell she really did her research into ‘fandom’ communities and networks. This book reminded me about why I love YA lit!

  

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (fiction), 4.5/5 stars

Reading Crank last month inspired me to pick up this book in April. I was looking into more books that educate people about addiction, especially in young people, and this was at the top of many lists. I’m not going to say much in this blurb because I don’t think I can type anything without it turning into a rant about how addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as one. If you want my full review, please click here: x.

  

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz (young adult fiction), 4/5 stars

Yay! I spent all of last year waiting for Benjamin Alire Saenz to release a new book after Aristotle and Dante. I think he is a master at developing wholesome relationships between friends, but especially between parents and their children. This book doesn’t have much of a plot, but it is still so worth it. If you liked Benjamin Alire Saenz’s writing style from his previous publications, then you’ll absolutely love this book. If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

  

Such Small Hands by Barba Andres (fiction), 2/5 stars

This was the only book I read in April that I truly didn’t like. I found this book on the New Release Index on Book Riot Insiders, which often has books that I wouldn’t hear of otherwise, and it seemed really interesting. It ended up being a creepy novella about girls taking turns dressing up as a doll every night and performing rituals on said doll. Maybe, if the book had been longer, I would have liked it more.

  

Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately by Alicia Cook (poetry), 3.4/5 stars

This is another book that I found thanks to Book Riot Insiders! I picked up this book because I read that it was written for anyone who has struggled with addiction or loved someone who struggles with addiction, which is something I’ve recently been striving to read more about. I thought, maybe, it would include poems from the perspective of the addict, but they were mostly written for people who have a loved one who is an addict. To me, this made it a lot less interesting. I was hoping it would give more education about the disease, but the poems were too vague to teach the readers much. I did find a few that I liked a lot, though.

 

One Year Left by J.C. Robinson (romance), 3/5 stars

I’m so grateful that I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This was my first romance of the year and it was a great start! The characters were both extremely likable, although predictable, and were a match made in heaven. I do wish there had been more depth to their character development, but, overall, they were very fun to read about. If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

 

Colorblind by Siera Maley (LGBTA, young adult), 5/5 stars

This was the only young adult book I read in April with a lesbian protagonist. Of course, with me being me, I LOVED it. It was so cute that I needed to put the book down a few times to just take it all in. Reading F/F young adult books is so refreshing because it reminds you that there are authors out there who want to normalize lesbian characters (especially teens!) and relationships. If you’re looking for an queer YA book, this is it. I’m excited to write a full review for this soon, so keep an eye out!

  

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (science fiction), 5/5 stars

If you’ve been following my blog since I read The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet (review: x), then you know how much I adore Becky Chambers. I was so pumped for this book, that I ordered the UK edition, because I’d have it sooner than my fellow US readers. Rationally, I NEEDED the hardcover in order to survive, so I did what I had to. I’m mad at myself for putting this book off for so long because it was the perfect sci-fi book to finish the month off. This is a companion novel to Becky Chamber’s previously mentioned book, so you don’t necessarily need to read the first one before A Closed and Common Orbit. There are some references to the Wayfarer crew, so I think at least reading up on the first book is important. Becky Chambers will remain one of my favorite science fiction writers for a very, very long time. I plan on writing a full review for this book soon!

  

And there you have it! I’m looking forward to reaching my reading goal of 40 books this year (I’m already at 36) and I’m excited to be sharing some of my favorites with all of you. I’m working on making big changes to my blog this summer, as I stated at the beginning of this post, so bear with me. Thank you for your continuous support, I really appreciate the people who read my blog.

 

Review: Ascension

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

177512745/5 stars 

“Pain is just the world wanting us to pay attention to it because we’re so damned beautiful it can’t stand being ignored.”

Alana Quick is stuck; she repairs spaceship engines for a living and doesn’t make enough to pay for the advanced medication she needs for her chronic pain. Her and her aunt Lai both suffer from a disease, Mel’s, that puts their bodies under enormous stress and pain when they don’t take medication. Alana dreams of being able to afford treatments for her and Lai someday, and the only thing she needs is a steady job. The opportunity finally arises when Alana gets a visit from a spaceship captain in search of her sister. Alana makes the gut decision to stow away on the ship in hopes that, once they are far enough away, the crew will be forced to keep her on board for the remainder of their current mission. This is Alana’s only chance at making a better life for her and her aunt, maybe the crew of this ship can understand that and take her onboard as an engineer.

WOW. This book has a mix of everything I’ve ever wanted. It has a space ship, a crew of multi-alien-cultures, a main character of color with a disability, and many queer characters whose plot lines don’t revolve around being queer. If this sounds like something you’d love, like it does for me, read on!

Sidenote: This book is VERY comparable to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I loved both books and would recommend them to basically anyone who likes science fiction.

Ascension is full of diversity. One of my favorite parts about science fiction is getting to read about new, unique alien cultures and species, and Jacqueline Koyanagi really incorporated that into this book. Really, all of the characters ware anthropomorphic (mostly,,,), but all of them are from different cultures and go through life with unique things in mind. The author really does an amazing job portraying that they all have their own sets of values and beliefs about how the world works. Often, it’s hard to give each character their own personhood, especially when there are many individuals in a regular length novel, but Jacqueline does it very well.

This is the first adult book I’ve read that really puts chronic illness and pain in the spotlight. It’s a very easy thing to get wrong, by trivializing it or romanticizing it, but when it’s done right, it is done RIGHT. Alana is an independent woman with a strong work ethic and heart full of determination. In addition, she also suffers from a chronic illness. This disease, Mel’s, acts up unexpectedly. Alana has some good days and some not so good days, just like a real person with chronic pain. When Alana has flare-ups, she takes her medication as prescribed and works through it. Seeing her push through the horrible pain and tremors is heartbreaking because real people suffering with real invisible illnesses experience this all the time. I think it’s very important to normalize books that have main characters with disabilities because actual people like that are EVERYWHERE.

I also want to mention the representation of people of color in Ascension. Many books introduce characters by giving a physical description—hair color, skin tone, and clothing style. Ascension does this by mentioning that Alana pulls her “locs” back out of her face and the dark complexion of her skin. The thing that this book does that most others don’t is that it doesn’t let the reader forget that Alana is a person of color. Her locs, the texture of her hair, and the color of her skin are all mentioned multiple times. Jacqueline did not write Alana and just add on the fact that she’s a person of color, she wrote Alana AS a person of color. This is so important for representation.

Everything about this book was an A+ for me– The characters, the storylines, the writing, and the takeaways. It’s everything you could ever want from a sci fi book. This book made me happy in so many ways but there are two I want to highlight: Ascension does an amazing job portraying what it’s like to live with a chronic illness and it successfully uses minorities (sexuality and race wise) as more than just plot devices. Thank you, Jacqueline Koyanagi, for this brilliant book.

February 2017 Wrap-Up!

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January was a really big poetry month for me and February ended up being my graphic novel month. I think I poetry’d myself out…I can’t seem to find any more poetry books that grab my attention! Nevertheless, I found another genre that I love. This month, I read a lot of series that lead me to buying the 2nd and 3rd issues because I liked them all so much. A big theme for February was science fiction and women in science fiction. Cheers to new indie authors that graced my reading list this month! Here’s the 8-book breakdown:

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (memoir) 5/5 stars- I meant to pick up this book for the longest time and then, as you probably know, Carrie Fisher died, so it got bumped to the top of my To Be Read. I am SO glad I finally read this. It was super informative and real, which is something I love to read about, especially when it has to do with mental health. Carrie Fisher had a lot on her plate– substance abuse, a mood disorder, and growing up in the spotlight. It was very interesting to hear what she had to say about these issues.

Where the words end and my body begins by Amber Dawn (poetry/LGBT) 2.5/5 stars- I didn’t like this poetry collection very much. I thought I would, because of the LGBTQ themes, but it just didn’t do it for me. I skipped a lot of lines and even full poems at some points. It’s possible that I just didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the topics at hand, but I did NOT get it.

Saga Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (sci fi/graphic novel) 5/5 stars- This is the second issue in the Saga comic series that I grew to love in January! I’m trying to pace myself with these because they’re just that good. If you appreciate female narrated sci fi with kick-ass characters and a little bit of romance, Saga is the series for you. It’s no wonder that this series is so popular, because it’s absolutely amazing.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli (graphic novel) 5/5 stars- I read this book during my 2nd year of college in 2014 and loved it. I had a feeling, though, that I didn’t quite understand it. So, I re-read it. That was a great choice because I definitely got more out of it this time around. In addition, it was a lot of references to The Odyssey which is fantastic (for me, at least).

Love is Love  by Marc Adreyko (graphic novel/LGBT) 2/5 stars- Wow. I really did not like this book. I had such high hopes for it, since the sales benefit the Orlando shooting victims. I mean, what an amazing cause to donate to. This book is catered for cisgender, heterosexual people FOR SURE. Most of the comics were about straight people trying to explain queerness to their kids or accepting LGBT people themselves. Less than half of the stories had a queer main character and only one comic featured a bisexual person. And, get this, bisexuality was explained as being straight, then gay, then straight again. Buy this book for the cause, please, not for the content

Husks: The First Book by Randall P. Fitzgerald (sci fi) 4/5 stars- YAY for the bimonthly bookbox I receive in the mail! It’s called Paper Street Books and you get a graphic novel, a sci fi book, and bookish goodies in each box. Most of the books are by indie authors, too. It’s AMAZING. So, this book was in a past box of theirs and I finally got around to starting it. The main character is totally a kick-ass female protagonist, something I live for. Ultimately, this was a great book by an indie author and I’m so glad it found its way to me.

Dept. H, Volume One by Matt Kindt (graphic novel/mystery) 4/5 stars- This was another book that I received from Paper Street Books. It was from the most recent box of theirs. As soon as I opened it, I knew I had to read this book. I ended up finishing it in a few hours! It is the perfect mystery…but under water!

Astrid: Cult of the Volcanic Moon by Kim W. Andersson (graphic novel/sci fi)- This was the third book from Paper Street Books that I read this month. It was from the same book box as Husks: The First Book. The theme was all about women in science fiction so, as you can probably guess, this graphic novel features a strong, independent female protagonist. What’s not to love? This is easily one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve ever read.

There you have it! I didn’t realize that 5 of the 8 books were graphic novels until just now and I’m pretty impressed with myself. I just started reading graphic novels a few months ago and I’m really happy with the style preference I’ve developed over that period of time. As of right now, March has been more of a fiction month for me. Maybe I comic’d myself out in February! If anyone is interested in the book box I mentioned, here is the website link: x. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll be sure to have another formal review up in a few days.

Review- Nexus

rn_rebrand_nexus_03-tiny-233x400Nexus by Ramez Naam

4/5 stars

Nexus is a drug that connects peoples’ minds together in low doses, and can allow people to alter the way their brains work in high doses. On the more extreme end, a few scientists have permanently put Nexus into their brain and used it to become almost super-human. These scientists are working to make Nexus a safer and practical drug, until they get caught illegally altering and administering the drug and are forced to give the blueprints up to the government. What happens when this potentially dangerous drug gets into the wrong hands? What happens if people all around the world are creating their own versions of Nexus, each with different purposes in mind? How far can one alter their brain until they become non-human altogether?

The concept of this book reminded me a lot of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, which I loved, so I was really excited to start this book. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. In my opinion, it’s very easy to write a book about the dangers of mind-altering drugs and fill it with fluffy, filler plot devices. Ramez did a great job of not doing this. The plot, characters, and dialogue were very constructive and really made me think of the pros and cons of developing mind tools.

I thought the most interesting parts of Nexus were the instances that you got to see how the drug affected the brains of the narrators. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have connected minds and experience other people’s memories, and I found reading about that fascinating. Also, the concept of treating your mind like a computer and uploading programs coded specifically to manage anxiety and stress is one of the coolest things I’ve ever read about. If that were possible today, would there be need for anxiety medications? Could there be a programs designed to help with other conditions or mental illnesses?

The negative thing I have to say about Nexus is that is dragged out a lot. I thought it should have ended 75 pages sooner, because I became bored in the last few chapters. I felt like there was a lot of extra plot and dialogue that wasn’t needed. I ended up skimming the last hundred pages or so. I hate doing this, but I was quickly losing interest and I really wanted to finish the book!

All around, great characters, great themes, great conversation starter. Like I said, this is a topic that can either be done really poorly or really well, and Nexus was definitely the latter. I love a good thought-provoking sci-fi novel, so I’m really pleased with this book.