Category Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Crimson Ash by #Haley Sulich #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I thought this a fascinating premise and am always attracted by a YA dystopian science fiction world as a number of them have proved to be interesting and enjoyable reads.

You may live as a soldier or face death. Choose wisely.
Solanine Lucille wants her little sister back. Eight years ago, the government kidnapped her sister Ember, stole her memories, and transformed her into a soldier. But Solanine refuses to give up. Now that she and her fiancé have located the leader of a rebel group, she believes she can finally bring Ember home. But then the soldiers raid the rebels, killing her fiancé and leaving Solanine alone with her demons and all the weapons needed for revenge.

After raiding a rebel camp, sixteen-year-old Ember doesn’t understand why killing some boy bothers her. She’s a soldier—she has killed hundreds of people without remorse. But after she fails a mission, the rebels hold her hostage and restore her memories. Ember recognizes her sister among the rebels and realizes the boy she killed was Solanine’s fiancé.

As you can see, there are some heavy-duty events along with the resultant emotional cost going on in this story. I had thought the sibling relationship would the at the heart of the story. In the event, because this is an action-led adventure rather than all about the characters, while it is an important part of the plot, it doesn’t particularly drive it forward. Apart from anything else, the sisters spend a significant part of the book at cross-purposes with each other.

To be honest, I’m still not completely sure of my response about this one – there is a great deal of action and the world is bleakly awful, with a psychotic monster running the City of Graven. The consequences of existing within such a dark landscape, pervaded by loss are clearly spelt out – alcoholism and suicide are depicted within the story by some major characters and kudos to Sulich for having the courage to depict protagonists who are not invincibly cheerful in the face of hopeless odds against them.

But I did find the plot looped along a pattern, where something bad happens, one of our protagonists is cast down, painfully rallies to the point of fighting back, only for something else bad to happen so that they are cast down, before rallying… And this happened to most of the main protagonists. Fortunately, the final climax broke free from that.

I found the City of Graven really fascinating and would have liked a bit more insight into exactly how it was set up and why. Overall, it was an action-packed, intense read and is ideal for fans of YA dystopian worlds where it’s all about what happens next.
7/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NEGALLEY arc #Obscura by #Joe Hart #Brainfluffbookreview #book review

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I am a sucker for near future crime and recently there’s been so many excellent examples – so when I read the premise for this offering, I immediately requested it. I’m so glad I did…

In the near future, an aggressive and terrifying new form of dementia is affecting victims of all ages. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms are disturbing. Dr. Gillian Ryan is on the cutting edge of research and desperately determined to find a cure. She’s already lost her husband to the disease, and now her young daughter is slowly succumbing as well. After losing her funding, she is given the unique opportunity to expand her research. She will travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew has been stricken with symptoms of a similar inexplicable psychosis—memory loss, trances, and violent, uncontrollable impulses.

That’s as much of the chatty blurb as I’m prepared to reveal, but the brilliant thing about nefarious scheming on a space ship or station on a planet like Mars – everyone is trapped. Gillian is a brilliant, likeable woman with some profound emotional scars after the tragedy that overwhelmed her family – and unlike most of the others on the ship, she isn’t keen to be in space for a moment longer than is necessary. She takes the decision to stay awake and continue working through the voyage to Mars as she is running out of time to find a solution – when she realises that something isn’t right…

She teeters on the edge of meltdown, as the loneliness, her longing to be back with her sick daughter – and her addiction to the medicine she was taking during her recovery from a serious car crash – all take their toll. So when she begins to feel that someone else is also on the ship, she has to accept the fact that she is losing her mind.

Often, when the intense atmosphere is built up in these types of psychological thrillers, once we learn the reason why our protagonist is in such a lather, the whole episode falls rather flat. It’s why this sub-genre isn’t one my favourites – I’ve been disappointed too often. However, that’s not the case in this tightly constructed, beautifully plotted gem. I loved the whole story arc – including the climactic, action-filled denouement. Plus that final amazing twist… I haven’t read any of Hart’s work before – but I’ll be reading more of it in the future if this is an indication of his writing talent. Highly recommended for fans of futuristic murder mystery thrillers. While I obtained an arc of Obscura from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Song of Blood and Stone Book 1 of the Earthsinger Chronicles by #L. Penelope #bookreview #Brainfluffbookblogreview

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Like so many of my Netgalley finds, it was the cover that caught my eye – such a beautiful, unusual image for a dystopian fantasy adventure…

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb. I’m willing to share. I really enjoyed Jasminda as a character – she is gutsy, intelligent and resourceful under pressure. It was a really nice change having a young girl being the one doing the rescuing during those first, desperate encounters on the mountain. The other main viewpoint character in this adventure is Jack, the wounded soldier who Jasminda finds herself trying to protect from the brutality of the soldiers hunting him for a spy. The beginning immediately pulled me in and had me fully engaged – fast-paced, full of adventure and peopled with strong, sympathetic characters. There is thoughtful, intelligent handling of racism throughout this book, which worked effectively within the story – I wish other fantasy authors would also tackle this subject. I also enjoyed the world and the magic system, which made sense and had definable boundaries – always a bonus.

I powered through the book until I got nearly to the halfway stage when the whole tenor changed as it morphed into a love story – furthermore, a love story with a fair amount of graphic sex. As I was under the impression that this was a YA read, I was slightly taken aback because the amount of description and time devoted to the sex scenes felt far more appropriate for a New Adult book. While the sex took part between two people who clearly loved each other, it isn’t what I’d bargained for, or expected from the cover or the blurb – and yes, that was something of a problem for me. However, I am aware that is a personal preference and there was nothing violent or untoward about these scenes, other than they went into a lot more detail than I was expecting.

Alongside the love story is the deteriorating political situation between the two countries involved, along with a power-hungry, autocratic wizard of immense power. The flashback scenes were well handled and no time was I confused about what was happening. The writing is smooth and the plotting well paced. All in all, this is a gripping, well told story with a good climax and strong ending. Highly recommended for fans of gripping romance fantasy stories. While I obtained an arc of The Song of Blood and Stone from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook #The Hyena and the Hawk – Book 3 of the #Echoes of the Fall series by #Adrian Tchaikovsky #bookreview #Brainfluffbookreview

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I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this fascinating, shape-shifting fantasy series and was looking forward to reading the final slice of this adventure – see my review of The Tiger and Wolf .

The Hyena and the Hawk is the third book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s epic fantasy trilogy, Echoes of the Fall, following The Bear and the Serpent. From the depths of the darkest myths, the soulless Plague People have returned. Their pale-walled camps obliterate villages, just as the terror they bring with them destroys minds. In their wake, nothing is left of the true people: not their places, not their ways. The Plague People will remake the world as though they had never been. The heroes and leaders of the true people – Maniye, Loud Thunder, Hesprec and Asman – will each fight the Plague People in their own ways. They will seek allies, gather armies and lead the charge. But a thousand swords or ten thousand spears will not suffice to turn back this enemy. The end is at hand for everything the true people know.

Anyone who has read my reviews for any length of time will know that I am a fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing, and this one did not disappoint. Once he has written a really good character, he doesn’t let them slip through his fingers. One of my problems with some epic fantasy stories is that a character I have strongly bonded to in the earlier books simply fades away or is dismissed in a couple of hasty paragraphs within the final instalment. Not so with Tchaikovsky. I loved Maniye, Loud Thunder, along with a number of other strong, nuanced characters who had powered the previous two books in this engrossing story, so I was delighted that all these characters took precedence in this desperate struggle against an overwhelming enemy.

While the action rolls forward in multiple viewpoint, Tchaikovsky manages to transition between the characters without any sense of jarring. This is harder than he makes it look. I am regularly slightly aggravated when been forced to pull away from a character, or find myself skimming one protagonist in favour of another. This simply doesn’t happen to me in a Tchaikovsky novel.

As for the story – as this is the third book in a tightly written series. I am not in a position to write much about the action, except to say that throughout this series, I kept waiting for the impetus and narrative to drop away slightly, as so often happens in epic fantasy stories – and it simply didn’t happen. This excellent series deserves to be far more widely read and is highly recommended for fans of gripping epic fantasy tales.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook #Before Mars – Book 3 of the #Planetfall series by #Emma Newman #bookreview #Brainfluffbookblog

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When done well, there is no genre I love more than science fiction – I’m not sure why except there is something about a cracking well-told tale out in the stars that speaks uniquely to my soul… I loved Planetfall and After Atlas – so would this final instalment live up to the astonishing standard Newman has set so far?

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team. But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.

Once again what hooked and then held me, is Newman’s nuanced and layered characterisation. I found Anna a deeply poignant character, who ends up on Mars as much because she is escaping her former life, rather than due to the fact that joining the tiny colony has been a lifetime’s achievement. Her struggles to come to terms with her post-natal depression, which prevented her from fully bonding with her baby really held me – it is an issue which isn’t written about nearly enough in SFF. Kudos to Newman for providing such a sympathetic, poignant insight into the struggles some women encounter in the weeks, months and years after having a baby.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound like it’s all about a rather broken woman wandering around and agonising about the baby she has left behind on Earth. While that is a minor story strand – actually, this book is a tense thriller whereby the newest visitor to a small scientific community cannot shake the sense that something is very badly wrong… I had figured out some of what is going on – but as ever, Newman has a number of other twists I didn’t see coming.

In addition, there is a strong supporting cast featuring the other characters who are also on the Mars base alongside Anna. I really appreciate the fact that there are no out and out villains – and the one character who has not behaved particularly well comes across as weak and out of their depth, rather than evil. As ever, after I put this one down, I found myself constantly thinking about it – and wondering how I’d feel in the same situation.

Like the other two books, this one can comfortably be read as a standalone. In fact, I’m not sure it wouldn’t be more satisfactory to do so – after that amazing cliff-hanger ending of After Atlas I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. I generally don’t reread anything – there are too many other fabulous books out there waiting for me. But this is the first time in a long while I’ve been strongly tempted to read through the whole trilogy, one after the other… Highly recommended for anyone who loves a gripping adventure featuring a well written, complex protagonist.
10/10

Guest Post – #Lindsey Duncan discussing how she developed entertainment in her sci fi novel #Scylla and Charybdis

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I have great pleasure in handing over today’s post to one of my fellow Kristell Ink authors, Lindsey Duncan, whose science fiction novel Scylla and Charybdis has recently been released. Lindsey Duncan is a chef / pastry chef, professional Celtic harp performer and life-long writer, with short fiction and poetry in numerous speculative fiction publications. Besides her forthcoming novel with Kristell Ink, her contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, is available from Double Dragon Publishing. She feels that music and language are inextricably linked. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and can be found on the web at http://www.LindseyDuncan.com.

Thank you for agreeing to pop in and chat about an aspect of your book that will interest prospective readers, Linsdey.

In creating the world for my science fiction novel, Scylla and Charybdis, one of the areas I developed was what people did for fun – spectator sports, entertainment and games. I used it as an opportunity to highlight the differences and the similarities between the two governments in the book: the Galactive Collective and the Pinnacle Empire.

In the Empire, games are fiercely competitive and often physical, even those based in a mental component. (There’s a sequence that was in the novel which ended up on the cutting room floor where Anaea joins a word game tournament which is attended / cheered on like a hockey game. It uses virtual reality to transport players onto a rapidfire three dimensional board. It was fun to write, but it was a lengthy digression from the plot and ultimately didn’t belong. ) The tournaments are global and even cross-planet. Another popular sport? Gladiator chess, with blunted weapons incorporated into the matches.

In the Collective, gaming is more cooperative. Planetwide broadcasting is used more to coordinate the communal aspects, bringing gamers together. It doesn’t come up much in the novel, but I had it in my mind that the Collective is more interested in the newest and brightest, whatever fad game has just come into fashion. They also use virtual reality simulation for immersive play, and many of the game boards are three-dimensional.

There are competitive sports in the Collective, of course, but the upper classes consider them to be gauche. That doesn’t prevent Anaea from getting a crash course (literally) in women’s soccer. Indeed, among the ruling echelons of the Collective, the appearance of competition – if not necessarily the reality – is considered a social gaffe, and that stretches beyond games into displays of wealth, generosity and courtesy.

The Empire takes spectator sports to another extreme with raptorhound runs. Raptorhounds are a pack-hunting species native to one of the planets; before humans arrived, they were apex predators, and since have been neither tamed nor cowed. Instead, they are pitted against humans for amusement, and sometimes as a form of legal punishment. Escape a raptorhound run, and your crimes might be forgiven. But it’s not just bloodthirst: that whole idea of being able to fight your way to freedom is integral to their society.

As a writer, I really enjoyed thinking up what people would do for fun in these far-future societies, and what it said about the participants. Anaea’s travels through the universe of Scylla and Charybdis are in search of a place to call home, and the games people play are part of that, whether the literal games played in virtual reality or on an athletic court, or the figurative games of social manipulation and battle tactics.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc #Head On – Book 2 of the Lock In series by #John Scalzi #bookreview #bookblogger #Brainfluffbookreview

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I enjoy Scalzi’s books, but the one that blew me away was Lock In – see my review here – his futuristic murder mystery featuring Haden-sufferer, Chris Shane, as his investigative protagonist. It has stayed with me where so many other books have faded into the furniture. Would I enjoy Head On as much?

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it. Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth—and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

So there you have the blurb. This book is designed to be read as a standalone and as it is a fairly complicated setup, where the role of Haden’s Syndrome and how it has impacted on the sufferers and US society in general has to be explained, it takes a while for the story to really get going.

The game of Hilketa initially had me cringing, but I’m not used to watching massively armoured American football players charging at each other with the force of a small truck. Once I factored in the US national sport, this next step of ripping apart the robot avatars didn’t seem so extreme.

As with Lock In, for me, the joy of this book is the worldbuilding. Scalzi’s take on how this terrible syndrome has impacted on society, as well as the individuals who have contracted the illness, is beautifully nuanced. Throughout the book, there is the on-going discussion about the initial, very generous financial support package for Haden’s sufferers – and the effects now that has been drastically scaled back. I love the unforeseen consequences of both the government handouts and what happens to a number of the characters once those payments are suddenly withdrawn.

Chris Shane is an engaging, sympathetic protagonist, with an extra edge. His famous, wealthy father was in vanguard of finding new therapies and road-testing the threeps – the robot bodies that Haden’s patients use in daily life while their biological bodies remain bedbound and apparently unresponsive. So Chris became a posterchild in the political fight for recognition of the Haden’s Syndrome – and even now, he is moderately famous. I’m aware that I’ve been discussing the world rather than commenting on the murder mystery. I enjoyed that every bit as much as the futuristic setting and I particularly appreciated reading about a crime that wouldn’t be able to take place now, because we simply don’t have the technology or those circumstances.

Scalzi’s plotting and pacing is skilful, the mystery is suitably twisty with a satisfying number of suspects and I also liked the denouement and the reasons for the crime. Once again, they are all too plausible. There is plenty of drama with several memorable action scenes featuring these tough robots – I could see this world making a wonderful TV series. Once again, Scalzi has nailed this one and it is highly recommended for fans of futuristic murder mystery adventures.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ashes of London – Book 1 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor

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I requested this one after being attracted by the eye-catching cover and reading the premise, which was very intriguing.

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer. In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters

So did this live up to my expectations? Oh yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As to be expected with a story that starts in the middle of the Great Fire of London, this one starts with a bang. James Marwood watches the destruction of St Pauls Cathedral, with a vivid description of the heat and violence as the fire ripped through the interior and then destroyed the quantities of stationery and books that was stored in the crypt, in the belief that they would be safe.

Taylor has clearly done his research – there is a wealth of historical detail here woven into the everyday lives of the people caught up in the drama and terror. I was interested to learn that the official version – that there was a surprisingly small loss of life, given the ferocity and speed of the flames – is contradicted in this book. As the fire storms across tenements at a speed faster than a man can run, there is a general acceptance that whole families and communities were immolated. The reason why there is no official recognition of this loss of life is simply that the destruction was so thorough, nothing is left of the poor souls caught up in the conflagration but ashes.

That said, most of the action takes place in the days, weeks and months after the fire. I really liked this. That single event has caused havoc in the capital, which is nicely reflected in the political turbulence that is still being played out after the Civil War. Once Charles II regains his throne, one of his missions is to track down the handful of people responsible for executing his father. The young protagonist is caught up in this business – as are a number of other people in the story, even though they were either children or not yet born when the execution occurred.

I am conscious that I have managed to make this book sound as if it is some sort of historical account of the aftermath of both the Civil War and the great Fire of London, when of course, it’s nothing of the sort – it is a murder mystery adventure. That said, after the initial drama, the pace necessarily slows down. We are not in an era of fast car chases, or fast anything for that matter. This mystery reflects the fact that most people walk everywhere and the majority of tasks are still done by hand. So this mystery spools out over a period of time, which gives the denouement an extra kick as it takes place among the shattered remains of St Paul’s Cathedral. There were a number of intriguing twists, with one in particular I certainly didn’t see coming. I am delighted that this is the start of a series featuring James Marwell and I shall certainly be getting hold of the next book. Recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Ashes of London from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Blood Book 3 of the Jem Flockhart series by E.S. Thomson

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For once, it wasn’t the cover that caught my eye with this one – it was the premise. I recall reading about these hospital ships with horror and reading a murder mystery that was based on one of these floating hulks seemed quirkily original.

Summoned to the riverside by the desperate, scribbled note of an old friend, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain find themselves on board the seamen’s floating hospital, an old hulk known only as The Blood, where prejudice, ambition and murder seethe beneath a veneer of medical respectability.

Thomson does a marvellous job of vividly recreating the grim and effluvia of this stinking corner of London. At this point, the poor old Thames is little more than an open cesspit and London is generally draped in sooty smoke, with far more mists and fogs than you’d normally expect, caused by the runaway air pollution. Unsurprisingly, there is a high rate of illness, though The Blood specialises in the ailments brought into London from sailors and passengers who have returned from the Empire with all sorts of nasty complaints.

Jem Flockhart is an interesting protagonist – he is a young apothecary, continuing his father’s business and producing herbal remedies and medicines for the physicians coping with the high rate of illnesses. The team working on The Blood are mostly young medical practitioners without any money or support behind them, seeking to make a reputation by either publishing a brilliant paper on one of these new diseases, or catching the eye of an established medical man. However, the likes of Dr Proudlove, a black doctor whose mother ran a brothel, is highly unlikely to gain the reputation he wishes, despite being both clever and hard-working.
Jem teams up Will Quartermain, a young architect, when investigating this entangled case that lays open the seamiest side of London life, after they discover the body of a young woman in a derelict boatyard. While it’s evident she was drowned, the water in her lungs is clear, whereas she was discovered floating in a vile-smelling thick soup that could scarcely be described as water…

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jem is a wary character who despite his obvious youth, clearly knows his way around this lawless, blighted area – and has an almighty secret of his own. This means that he is relatively free of many of the prejudices of the time – which also rings true. While there is clearly a rich backstory to his and Will’s current relationship, I had no difficulty in working out exactly what was going on and this book works well as a standalone, despite being the third in the series.

As for the mystery itself, it is one of those very twisty affairs, where one apparently solitary murder triggers a string of other incidents so that more people die, pulling in a wider circle of potential suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle and the vivid world unflinchingly on display – though I’m humbly grateful that I don’t live in that time and place. I’ve thought about this one a lot since I finished reading it and will be looking out for the other books in this series. Recommended for fans of vividly depicted historical fiction, especially Victorian noir.
9/10

 

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc School for Psychics – Book 1 of the School for Psychics series by K.C. Archer

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And yes – true to form, it was the cover that sold this one. I loved that gold on black effect, which worked really well. And after reading Kristen’s review on her blog, Metaphor and Moonlight, I went ahead and requested it…

Teddy Cannon isn’t your typical twenty-something woman. She’s resourceful. She’s bright. She’s scrappy. She can also read people with uncanny precision. What she doesn’t realize: she’s actually psychic. When a series of bad decisions leads Teddy to a run-in with the police, a mysterious stranger intervenes. He invites her to apply to the School for Psychics, a facility hidden off the coast of San Francisco where students are trained like Delta Force operatives: it’s competitive, cutthroat, and highly secretive. They’ll learn telepathy, telekinesis, investigative skills, and SWAT tactics. And if students survive their training, they go on to serve at the highest levels of government, using their skills to protect America, and the world.

This is part of the rather chatty blurb, but gives you a good idea of Teddy at the start of the story. She is definitely rather scattered, but what you don’t immediately appreciate at the beginning of the book, is the fear underlying her bolshie attitude. She could immediately sense when anyone was lying, right from when she was a small child – and that terrified her. I liked the flaws and her apparent flakiness, which we discover has a solid cause. As a result, the book does take some time before the story gathers momentum and really hits its stride.

While the story is told from first person viewpoint via Teddy’s character, we also get to know a number of the other students, though because she has a tendency to hold them at arm’s length, we don’t perhaps know them quite as well as we would like. But it also means that when the twists come, it is a surprise.

Himself, being the paranoid sort, immediately worried about who would be monitoring such a potentially powerful tool as an establishment where people with psychic powers can be trained and moulded into law enforcement officers. I was pleased to see this aspect is addressed as the book progresses and this bodes well for the second book in the series, which should give us more of the political landscape and open up the whole issue of psychic warfare as a wider subject.

This is an enjoyable start to a series that promises to continue gaining traction as it progresses and I look forward to the next book. Recommended for fans of mental powers and school-based stories. While I obtained an arc of School for Psychics from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10