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The Mother Code

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The year is 2049 and a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare is spreading out of control. Scientists are scrambling to create a solution, but as more and more people become sick it seems a cure is impossible. These scientists begin working on a way to ensure the survival of the human race by putting a plan into place to genetically engineer children inside cocoons of large-scale robots. A future awaits where these children will be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. These robots are unique in that they contain an intelligence program that renders them to have individual personalities based on the women who have provided their embryos to the future of mankind. This is the Mother Code.

Carole Stivers dives into a eerily possible future with THE MOTHER CODE. This story follows a dystopian future where the human race is facing extinction and the only way to keep hope alive is to rely on machines. I absolutely loved the premise and the execution of this story! 

The book kicks off with the start of the epidemic and weaves in sections from the future. The buildup to the climax of the epidemic coupled with the future passages were a great complement for each other and left me feeling an intense sense of anticipation, which ultimately made me want to read more and more. I felt a need to know what was going to happen and how things progressed to where we were reading about in the future. From there I also wanted to know what would come next for our characters, which is exactly what the reader is given once part two kicks off.

There are so many characters to learn about and bond with throughout THE MOTHER CODE that it can seem a little overwhelming when you’re first starting out. Stivers does a great job of fully forming these characters into unique individuals who truly shine throughout the story. I had some troubles with a few of the character’s decisions, but they were all valid based off of the personalities they had, so I never truly disliked anyone in this book.

If you’re not a typical science fiction reader, I will warn you that the first handful of chapters are going to hit you hard with a lot of jargon you won’t understand right away. Power through! It’s so worth getting over this hump and once you settle into the story those sciencey items will start to make sense. 

THE MOTHER CODE is a great read for fans of science fiction, dystopian reads, or even just those looking to change up what they read!
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Thanks to netgalle y and the publisher for an eARC of this book.
Interesting exploration in this time of pandemic of a way the human race might survive. Thought provoking and frightening.
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The human race is nearly wiped out by a virus. The story slowly builds- scientists work towards a solution- building robotic mothers. What will that look like? Will this be enough for the children or do they need more human interaction? A unique story line and enjoyable read. Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley for an ARC copy.
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What if—we fight terrorists holed up in a network of caves, where troops are at a disadvantage, with a bioweapon that will wipe them out instead? What if—that virus is man-made? What if—we discover we can’t control it? This is the setting for The Mother Code where the fictional IC-NAN coronavirus has already escaped its expected parameters. Coronaviruses are not new, we’ve been studying them for a long time. So it’s not surprising to see one as the subject of a science fiction book where we fans of the genre like to play the “what if” game.

I was attracted by the mental gymnastics of the concept. We know from current research that COVID-19 is not affecting children as readily as adults. Star Trek has a famous episode written by Adrian Spies in its first season where a pandemic only affects the “gr-ups” (grownups.) The children are the “onlies” or only ones left. Of course eventually, there will be no one left to take care of them as the older children age and die off. Unlike the pandemic afflicting the grups on Star Trek which would eventually kill everyone, The Mother Code asks if it is possible in the near future to develop an artificial intelligence capable of bonding with and rearing a genetically altered and immune biological child, in the face of a worldwide pandemic—a world with no mothers, adults, no other people—individual arks if you will.



Set just twenty-nine years in the future, this book is all about “Plan B” when the best minds in the world realize they don’t have time to find a cure for IC-NAN before succumbing to it. Younger readers will relate it to the computer game Plague Inc. If you’ve structured your virus correctly, you can’t pop all the blue balloons fast enough to save the planet. With her background as an actual biochemist, Stivers takes us vividly through how the virus spreads, attacks, and kills its victims, especially amid government protocols for secrecy. The story is slow to unfold, told from multiple points of view with a full cast of characters, each responsible for a small portion of the project. There are code writers, geneticists, engineers, psychologists, etc. We get a great deal of background information that felt irrelevant to the story except to elicit an emotion whenever that particular character finally went down. Unfortunately, I never felt very connected to any one of them in particular. I felt the story should have had a tighter focus on the children and their robotic mothers since that’s where the real story was to me. That’s where the fun of fictional speculation lives. My final criticism is the addition of an immune race of people that pops up near the end to help the story along with some adults who are not incapacitated. I didn’t appreciate the addition of new characters with some, but very little foreshadowing. In my opinion, it was a convenience for the author that wouldn’t have been necessary if she’d kept the focus on the relationship between the children and their AI mothers.

Aerial view of San Fransisco Bay Area

As a native San Francisco Bay Area girl, I appreciated the history refresher on the Presidio and that much of the last half the book is set in that location. People not familiar the area will be able to follow, but it’s more fun if you’ve even just driven up Highway 101 and across the Golden Gate Bridge. 

This particular book has been getting a lot of buzz even though Stivers is a new author and this is her debut full-length book.  It’s even coming out in the coveted hardback form first, something usually reserved for very well-established writers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this get the greenlight to be made into a movie. Speilberg’s Amblin Entertainment already has the rights. You would think that is because of the current crisis, but that is purely serendipitous timing and no doubt Hollywood will capitalize on it as soon as California lifts its lockdown. It takes a long time for a book to be written, edited, and finally distributed to beta readers and reviewers. It’s purely coincidental that the ARC of The Mother Code came to me just weeks before COVID-19 happened.  It also made me feel the book much more deeply than it would have before shelter-in-place orders were in effect. By the time The Mother Code is actually released, Stivers’ readers will receive it very differently and read it through different eyes than when she wrote it.

My Rating:  B+ Liked It A Lot
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A deadly virus wipes out most of humanity. As the story unfolds, scientists race to create robotic mothers to protect and raise newborns that have been engineered to be immune. Are the robots human enough? Will they finish in time? An interesting and strange adventure awaits.

**I received an electronic ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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Carole Stivers’ The Mother Code is a frightening cautionary tale about what can happen when government officials think they know more than scientific experts.  When the story opens, the U.S. government has deployed a lethal bioweapon without waiting for their team of experts to give final approval for its use.  As they quickly realize, there are serious flaws with the bioweapon and it should not have been deployed.  It begins to spread well beyond the area it was unleashed in and increasing numbers of people start dying, to the point that the government fears they may have just doomed the human race to extinction.

An elite team of scientists is handpicked to try to find a way to stop the bioweapon, or if it can’t be stopped, come up with Plan B, a way to ensure the survival of the human race.  Plan B is to create genetically engineered babies who can withstand the effects of the bioweapon and to have robots nurture and educate them that have been programmed with a computer code they’ve designed called the “Mother Code.”  Their frantic efforts to save mankind become an intense race against the clock that had me riveted the entire time I was reading.

I did struggle with the story a couple of times along the way, mainly because it’s more plot-driven than character-driven.  Since the characters took a backseat to the action of the story, I didn’t really connect with them all that much.  I really like to connect with the characters I’m reading about so this was kind of a bummer.  Also, this is science fiction that is very heavy on the science.  That’s not a bad thing and thankfully the author explains the bioweapon and its fatal flaw in a very accessible way, but it definitely slowed me down as I absorbed and made sense of what I was reading.

Finally, I have to admit that I almost decided against reading Carole Stivers’ The Mother Code.  Since I like to read to escape reality, reading a book about a manmade pandemic while we are actually going through a pandemic seemed counter-intuitive.  I’m glad I decided to go ahead and read it though because The Mother Code is both a riveting story of survival as well as a thought-provoking read about science and ethics.
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Starts out as very technical sci-fi with a lot of scientific gobbledygook but slowly warms its way into a loving, human story. A man-made bioweapon goes out of control and destroys most human life on Earth. A handful of scientists attempt to save the human race by instilling embryos into large robotic beings to nurture, protect and raise the infants. Human/machine bonds are formed and the question of what makes a mother or human is explored. A far fetched, enjoyable tale.
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4.25 stars--THE MOTHER CODE by Carole Stivers is a sci-fi, futuristic, apocalyptic story line focusing on a biological weapon that spread out of control.

In the year 2049, the US military secretly deployed a weapon of biological warfare ( a synthetic nucleic acid nanostructure NAN) in a remote region of Afghanistan. Although immediately deemed a success, the virus quickly mutated, and with the help of mother nature, would eventually engulf the entire world. Knowing that the end of mankind was near, researchers, scientists and bio-engineers built and programmed fifty ‘Mothers’ to incubate and raise the only children expected to survive. 

Told from several third person perspectives following three different time lines THE MOTHER CODE focuses on the possibility of a manmade cataclysmic virus; a biological weapon of war that once introduced is unable to be controlled. Years would pass wherein the US military and all of their power found themselves incapable of finding a vaccine, and in the ensuing time, would become the target of revenge.  In an effort to ensure some of humanity survived, fifty embryos would be placed in robotic cocoons, where the implanted ‘Mother Code’ would ensure their survival at all costs.  Ten years would pass, the children who thrived, along with their ‘Mothers’, would search for any remaining survivors, but in doing so would catch the attention of the few forsaken remnants of mankind, men and women who are hoping to bring home the children who survived.

THE MOTHER CODE is a haunting and thought provoking story of power and control; of possibilities and probabilities; of what ifs and whys; of motherhood, acceptance and love. The stupidity of man to presume he can control that which he does not know, and the betrayal by those in power believing they have the ability and authority to control the world. THE MOTHER CODE looks at what it is to be a mother; the evolution of technology and cybernetics;  sentience, self awareness, consciousness; and the ability to evolve, accept, love and protect. 

The story line is awash in technical jargon, military lingo, science fact and fiction, as well as futuristic terminology that may be overwhelming to some readers but such is the nature of science fiction and fantasy.

Released during the COVID19 pandemic, the story line may hit too close to home for more sensitive readers.


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Dr. Rose McBride spends her life in the pursuit of excellence. With degrees in both psychology and computer science from the top Ivy League schools, she rises through the ranks of the military with a singular determination. Her name is mentioned with respect and awe in the halls of the Pentagon. She’s the one that they call when they need a sharp analytical mind with a refined approach.  And it’s the very reason that she’s assigned to a project known only as New Dawn.

 “She called it the Mother Code, a computer code meant to embody the very essence of motherhood. The challenge of the code had lifted her from her moorings, plunged her headlong into uncharted waters. She herself had never been a mother. She didn’t know the first thing about caring for a child, let alone a newborn. She was dogged by fear—fear that if it ever had to be used, her Mother Code would fail the ones who needed it, defenseless children in a new world. But she knew that she would never give up.”

Years later, a young boy named Kai and his Mother, Rho-Z are searching the desert landscape for other children that might have survived The Epidemic. Hope is running out as fast as the water supply and food is becoming harder to find. But miraculously, they discover another kindred pair in Sela and Alpha-C.

Sela is very different than Kai.  She’s reckless when he’s cautious and brave when he is careful. Together, they endure the frightening unknown to locate the others and ensure the survival of mankind. 
 
But what will become of them when the very Mothers that have ensured their survival for so long now seem to stand in the way of it?

“The gentle touch of his own mother’s hands—the certainty of that first, unconditional love… The wonder. 	
There lay the power.”

In The Mother Code, Carole Stivers gives us a chilling and yet inspiring glimpse into the possible future. A future where science can destroy and the love of a mother can resurrect.  It’s a story about connection and sacrifice, bravery and overwhelming sorrow.  

She shines the brightest of lights on what it means to be human in a world completely out of control. And proves that even surrounded by unimaginable loss, you can still find a bit of grace…
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The Mother Code by  Carole Stivers

Pros: the relationship between the robots and kids was interesting

Cons: I intensely disliked the government personnel, the book made me feel angry and anxious

After a biological attack in Afghanistan goes wrong, a team of scientists is assembled to both find a cure and - if that fails - ensure the continuation of human life.

Reading this while in social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic was… not ideal and definitely coloured my reception of the story. The novel has 2 halves and two narratives, that of the scientists and military personnel trying to get a handle on the manufactured virus starting in 2049, and that of some of the kids from the plan B of the scientists, starting when the kids are 6 years old, in 2060. As a Canadian, the US characters’ decision to kept the knowledge of the plague from the rest of the world, deciding in their arrogance that they and they alone could solve the problem, rather than asking for help from scientists around the world, was infuriating to read. I found myself really hating the US scientists despite the author’s attempts to humanize them with love stories and heartbreak. Even at the end it seemed they were hellbent on compounding their errors.

The kids’ story in the first part of the book wasn’t that interesting and really cut down on tension for the other storyline, as the reader knows from the start of the book that at least some of the mother robots succeed. I found their story more compelling and interesting in the second part of the book. The author nails the tension in this half and I was worried about what was going to happen to the kids.

In terms of characters, I did like learning more about the kids and their bonds with the mother robots. I was impressed at how capable the kids all were in terms of caring for themselves, despite their youth.

I felt conflicted by the Hopi inclusion. On the one hand it was neat seeing them, on the other it made them feel like ‘mystical natives’, only there to help the scientists survive. Aside from Nova, we never see them from their own point of view, living their lives. We only see how they help the scientists with medicine, scouting, and food, which made them feel like servants.

I was also unsure what the end goal of the scientists was. Even if all 50 kids survived, that doesn’t seem like enough genetic diversity to repopulate the world.

In better times I think I’d have enjoyed the story more. As it was, I found the book made me feel a mix of anxiety and anger.
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Good science fiction always ends with hope for the human race, in some form or another. Beginning with a man-made pandemic apocalypse that kills nearly all humans, this story tackles topics as diverse as bio-warfare, technology, and motherhood. Tho a few parts are very technical, it is not necessary to totally understand the science to enjoy the book. As usual, I was left feeling both despair and hope about how we humans react to each other.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the ARC to read and review.
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While this could have been a typical bio warfare gone bad and oops we've created the apocalypse in the end it was more the tenaciousness of humanity.  A release of a bio warfare agent in Afghanistan was supposed to take out the remaining terrorists and then go dormant.  However, like most novels about bio warfare, the best laid plans went awry and the agent adapted and began taking out most of humanity.  There are two different story lines taking place in this book, the scrambling by scientists to both come up with a cure for the bio agent that is killing everyone while creating a post-apocalyptic game plan.  This game plan is to come up with a way to create infants who are resistant to the bio agent and have them birthed and raised by highly advanced robots.  The story switches back and forth between those trying to save the world and the children as they grow and discover each other.  This book was fascinating and less dismal as most post apocalyptic novels as there is a small grain of hope at the end.  I received a free ebook from NetGalley.
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All I can say about Carole Stivers' The Mother Code is a truly heartfelt WOW!
This book is an amazing and somewhat mind-binding look into what could very well be our not to distant future.
The bio-weapon.
The mistakes.
The cover-up
The solution
So many parts of a very complex human puzzle.
That of the continuation of the human species.  Against all odds. And in the face of sure extinction.
If not for one key factor.  The technology of a mother. Programmed into machines.  Machines built to protect.  Machines built to nurture.  Machines built to endure.

The the seamless blending of  technology and the human experience is the key to this story.  Gone are the days when technology is simply there to make the human experience convenient.  This book speaks of a time when technology combined with the capacity to learn, adapt and understand.  Serves as the saving grace for the continuation of human life.

Told in points of view that shift from pre-epidemic to post.  Readers come to understand both the reasons that precipitated the creation of the Mothers.  As well as the motives, lives, failings and successes of the small group of people bearing that knowledge and responsibility.

But the key element that really serves to bring all of the others together.  And give the story is purpose is.  The children.
Each as unique in his or her personhoood as the robot mother programmed to rear them.
They are the ones through whom the world after the pandemic is realized.  Both for the reader and for themselves.
They become everything.
Their experiences, hope, dreams fears, more precious to the reader than gold.
This book serves as a modern day Noah's Ark.
A most harrowing, yet hopeful glimpse at what it could really mean to begin again.
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Overall, I thought the story was rather interesting which had some deep philosophical and ethical questions that arise for both the characters and the readers, but fell short with the action scenes, and a few instances where I felt the pacing was a little off. Definitely thought-provoking and a little technical in the beginning. I still feel this title is valuable in analyzing the use of technology in child-reading and provides some interesting ideas for what pathways of motherhood look like in the future.  Overall I give this a 3.5/5. I believe that public libraries should really consider purchasing this. Native American representation was a welcome sign.
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3.5 stars

When the United States releases a "deadly non-viral agent" in Afghanistan intended to take out a cell of terrorists, they soon realize that they don't have the control they thought they had over it. Things quickly spiral out of control, and a pandemic threatens to wipe out the world's population... sound slightly familiar? While the rest of the world wonders where this "mystery flu" came from, the U.S. creates a highly classified mission in an effort to preserve the human race. A small team is assembled to 1) develop and produce a prophylactic for this illness and 2) create robots (the Mothers) to incubate, birth, and raise babies who will be immune. This book goes back in forth in time- from the perspectives of various people involved in the mission, all the way through to ten years after the pandemic, as the immune children begin to find each other.      

Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for the eARC!
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The Mother Code by Carole Stivers | Aug 25, 2020 | Berkley

Rick Blevins has one job: to decide which bio-weapons are too dangerous to develop and which ones aren’t. It would have been nice if somebody had listened to him. Now a non-viral DNA-changing virus is making its way across the globe and the fate of humanity is in the hands of the team of scientists Rick is leading in a top-secret Los Alamos lab.

The virus can’t be stopped by a vaccine, but there’s a chance that a counter hack could make future generations immune, but it’s a future that’s  “…not the kind of place to raise your, kids….and there’s no one there to raise them if you did.”

So they take a bunch of nuclear-powered bots intended for exploring other worlds and turn them into incubators, caregivers, and guardians for the handful of tweaked fetuses. As the global crisis peaks, the robots and their onboard incubators are released into the southwest desert, with orders to evade hostile forces and nurture the infants. Of course, the programming and development weren’t quite complete. So things don’t go as planned.

The story is told in two parts, one as the scientists struggle to deal with the coming extinction-level-event, and the other from the viewpoint of a six-year-old child, Kai, raised and nurtured by his Mother-bot, Rho-Z. Kai and Rho-Z search for other Gen-5 children, unaware of the desperate efforts of the few remaining scientists to find them and get them to a safe haven. As both children and bots evolve, The Mother Code asks if the machines can transcend their origins and give the survivors the connection that they need to thrive.

This is Carole Stivers’s debut novel, and though there’s a pandemic story at its heart, that’s just Karma.  It was optioned for a movie over a year ago and is in development with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment (Variety: Mar 8, 2019) with a screenplay being written by Amy Louise Johnson (Nghtflyers).
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I love science fiction and know it can tend to have a lot of info dumps but this was way too much right from the beginning. This wasn't quite the book that I thought it was going to be.
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As a computing scientist, I love reading about Artificial Intelligence in fiction, whether it is the science behind it, the coding, or the ethical aspects and perceptions of humans. The Mother Code was a fantastic read that made me shed many tears. Going back and forth in time for Part 1 and then unifying the narrative of all the characters in Part 2, The Mother Code is the story about the dire situation in which intelligent robots were created to not only give successful birth to humans but also to keep them safe. It speaks to the struggles of creating such intelligent machines, while at the same time, exposing how much we really trust them. I loved how much thought went into this book and the care with which this delicate future was approached. If COVID-19 was as deadly as the virus in this book, this might be our near future.

Content Notes: Depictions of miscarriage, death, and long term illness.

Themes for Thought

The Mother Code begins with the birth of a child. Kai is born to Rho-Z and her instinct is to keep him safe. From there, we journey back in time, about fifteen years prior, and learn about the failed biological warfare experiment by the United States that caused a widespread epidemic. Bringing together expertise from numerous areas such as military, biology, immunology, programming, robotics, and psychology, a covert operation is launched with the intent to alter the human DNA in a way that humans may become immune to this disease.

However, as lethal as it is, there isn’t enough time to make a cure for everyone and people in charge of this operation decide to execute their last plan: Mothers that will give birth to children who will be immune, a whole new generation that will surely survive. Apart from Kai, we meet some other kids as well. The unique one is Misha, a girl born from one of the Mothers but saved by the humans when her mother bot is damaged beyond repair. There is so much to think about in this book and I want to focus on three main ideas.

On The Mother Code

Can we get machines to think? There are numerous algorithms out there, neural nets being the most prevalent ones used in deep learning, and truth be told, few people understand what they are and what they do. I find books with Artificial Intelligence fascinating because they take away the heavy mathematical side of these technologies and just imagine if we could use them, what would we do with them? It is in times of adversity when we are most creative and The Mother Code adequately represents the leaps and bonds of advances that happen with a looming epidemic.

The Mother Code is the code that represents each of the Mothers. It was created to preserve the essence of the true biological mothers of the children. We are not talking about one AI here - we are talking about a unique AI for each of the Mothers. The author, Carole Stivers, did a commendable job in my mind of explaining the reasoning behind doing that.

The Characteristics of The Mothers

Our family instils values in us, they teach us what is right and wrong, how to approach problems, and how to approach this world. Without my roots, I do not know where I would be. Rose McBride, the scientist who designed The Mother Code, realised this importance of heritage, stories, history, human connection, and bonds. She ensured that  the Mothers are based on the true biological mothers of the children that they protect and these values are imparted to the children through the Mothers. For example, it was from his Mother (executed by robot and willed by the biological) that Kamal learned how to meditate.

“Her memories, her people and places she once knew, would be gone. But her beliefs, her way of seeing the world around her, would remain.” - The Mother Code

The Mother’s journey in this book with their child, the disconnection that they faced as well as the bond that existed between them has evolved from not just the original database they had access to but also with being with the kids and learning from them. I loved the representation of how the Mothers protected the children and there were times that they felt disconnected but were trying so hard to come and be in touch again, much like our own teenage years when we are busy figuring ourselves out and our parents can’t always reach us.

On The Choices We Make As Humans

The surviving humans were an integral part of the covert operation and got access to the medication to slow down the effects of the epidemic. They searched tirelessly for the kids. However, the Mothers prevented them from getting close for the longest time. Later, they made decisions without understanding the bond that the Mother and child shared, treating the eleven year old's as having no say in the destiny of their single parent. This attitude speaks to what happens when we are under stress and operating under fear. Don’t worry, things will turn out okay, and just like the Mothers learn from their children, the humans will learn too.

Conclusion

This is a book I will go back to in the future. The ominous situation that the world was facing, the hard choices that people had to make to ensure that the children survived and were born with immunity formed an interesting narrative. I highly recommend it for readers who love reading about AI, advances in science and motherhood.

This is a standalone novel and I genuinely enjoyed the journey from the start to the end. It wrapped up nicely addressing all main points while shedding light on a future that is yet to come. Will it be in 2049? We will see...
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This book features a lot: hard biochem science, pandemic science, nature vs nurture philosophizing, and some children creating their own society stuff mixed in. I struggled a bit with the plot at points but overall the book was enjoyable and I found the story unique and interesting enough to hang in there. I will say, if you're not a fan of heavy science mixed in with the plot, you may find yourself distracted.
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The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

The Mother Code is such a unique and creative story that I enjoyed immensely. Its themes are powerful and deep - as it explores the role of a mother. This may be a dystopian read which is outside of my usual genre but enjoyed this nonetheless. Stiver is a new author to me but this book really got my attention to her brilliant storytelling. I really enjoyed this one and look forward to her future novels.
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