ARC REVIEW: Do Not Disturb

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for providing me with an ARC. I send my apologies for not getting to it sooner.

Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas is a domestic thriller set in a small, remote village in Wales. After her husband suffers a mental health crisis, Kirsty thinks it would be best to start over somewhere fresh. Uprooting her family from their life in London, Kirsty, Adrian, and their two young daughters move into a Gothic old guesthouse with Kirsty’s mother in hopes of beginning over again as the owners of a cute B&B. When estranged family brings drama with them, things take a dark turn and results in a murder that any one of them could have committed.

What I was hoping for out of this novel was a Clue-like murder mystery filled with tension and false leads. Unfortunately for more, this was actually a domestic thriller – a sub-genre that I always think I like more than I actually do. That’s not to say this book isn’t good – I mean, I read the whole thing in less than three days – but domestic thrillers just aren’t my thing.

What I liked was the pacing, the way the drama unfolds is fast paced and makes you itch for what is going on. The first-person perspective from Kirsty really adds an extra layer of suspicion regarding who can actually be trusted, making the pace seem even faster as it makes you want to keep reading. The twists were wild and for a moment, actually tricked me into thinking this was a different kind of book all together. I applaud Douglas on writing so many different red herrings and interweaving so many individual story threads. If domestic thrillers are your thing, I 100% recommend this one.

Trigger warnings: attempted suicide, mentions of completed suicide, child abuse, mentions of sexual assault, alcoholism

REVIEW: Territory of Light

I’m going to start this review right off the bat by saying that I picked this book up for the sole reason that Tsushima Yuuko is the daughter of Dazai Osamu, my favourite Japanese author in history. Had it not been for that connection I honestly doubt I would have picked it up at all.

Territory of Light is a short novella made up of serialized vignettes that look into the life of the nameless narrator as she does her best to raise her two-year-old daughter in the midsts of a separation. Dreamlike in the way these peaks into a life on the edge of losing it all, this novella drifts in and out of time as it deals with loss, longing, depression, and the hardships a young single mother faces.

From the beginning, my own childhood definitely resulted in this book inflicting a few gut punches, but then it began to shift in a way I’m not sure I can explain and instead of seeing myself in the place of the narrator’s daughter, I imagined the author and her mother overlapping within the characters. Tsushima was only a year old when Dazai was discovered dead, having drowned in a canal with his lover, Yamazaki Tomie. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma that caused for Tsushima, let alone her mother who had clearly been abandoned due to Dazai’s self destructive whims and ever changing moods. When the narrator discusses the death of her father within the story, and the way it affected the character of her mother, it read to me as an accusation – but not necessarily a negative one – directed at Dazai for not being there, for leaving them not only for another woman, but in death as well.

Knowing what I know about Dazai absolutely coloured my reading this book and I found something cathartic in reading it as well as greatly appreciating the different perspective – even if it’s a fictionalized one – regarding a man I greatly admire. I definitely plan on seeing out more of Tsushima’s work available in English and hope to one day be able to read her stories in the original Japanese. It would be curious to see if her style is similar to that of her father’s. Especially considering both were cursed with only placing second for the Akutagawa prize.

REVIEW: You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked.

In his debut novel, Sheung-King weaves a story of a dying relationship through a combination of first and second person POV. The layers created by folktales and references to classic literature make for a bubble of reality that feels like being stuck in a dream. 

As “you” and the narrator twist their way through the world, the style of the writing was reminiscent of the surrealness Murakami Haruki is most known for while reminding me specifically of the odd “real but slightly-to-the-left” unease of Murakami Ryu’s work – but without the violence, of course. This is a very arty story and I don’t know who I would ever really recommend it to while also being a book I would absolutely recommend simply for the beauty in Sheung-King’s metaphors. Similarly to the complicated comparrisons Lars von Trier makes in his film Nymph( )maniac (such as fly-fishing to nymphomania or cake forks to femininity in wealthy men), Sheung-King manages to grasp a similar method using a man who walks pigs as an antonym of corporation and national pride as a lie made by dictators and white colonizers. Even cucumber sandwiches. I live for this kind of poetry in writing, and it doesn’t hurt to mention Yozo’s antonym game from No Longer Human in order to win me over.

(If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll be more than aware of my deep-seated adoration for Dazai Osamu)

But what’s ended up leaving a true mark on me after devouring this novel in a few hours, was the section discussing anti-Asian racism. Sheung-King draws specifically at one moment on the Hollywood example of Lost in Translation. As a white person, my problems with that film have always been the age gap between Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray, not truly looking at the racism issues within the film until far more recently. The gist of the film is two lonely white people are lonely and white in Japan until they meet and bond over their mutual isolation in a country they are unfamiliar with. It reinforced that “others” are always meant to conform to white people needs – even in their own countries. In North America, immigrants and tourists alike are expected to adapt and conform to white society or else risk facing harassment and/or violence. Meanwhile, white tourists are constantly expecting to be catered to no matter where they go. It made me wonder if Lost in Translation would still be critically acclaimed and “profound” if it was about people of colour attempting to navigate the US or even Canada.

This section also made me sad as the narrator “apologizes” for growing angry and upset about the strange kind of racism he specifically faces. I cannot know this pain, I will never truly understand it, but it hurts to think of anyone feeling they need to apologize for being angry in regards to the racism they face. No one should be made to feel like that.

You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a book to think about in regards to have to simply live, to simply love. I absolutely adored how it unfolded like a collection of stories from Akutagawa Ryunosuke I read recently, layered as it was in varying formats. I loved reading the descriptions of Toronto as it really feels instead of how it’s more often discussed as if it’s the only big city in Ontario.

I may have gotten a little ramble-y with this review so I’ll end it here by saying that I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what Sheung-King comes out with next.

REVIEW: Notes of a Crocodile

『There was no one I wanted to share my thoughts with. There was nothing I could do to lessen the pain, no source that I could pinpoint. Secrectly, though, I did sort of enjoy being a fucked-up mess. Apart from that, I didn’t have a whole lot going on.』

I don’t recall how I stumbled upon Notes of a Crocodile, but I have to say that this reality bending book out of Taiwan that was written in 1994, somehow found every single one of my vulnerabilities and laid them out before me.

Qui Miaojin (as translated beautifully by Bonnie Huie) complies a novel in fragments collection from a journal-like format of a story. These fragments follow our queer narrator, nameless but for the nickname Lazi in certain fragments, as she struggles with friendships, relationships, and meaning in a life of romantic suffering and existential dread. It is a story of messy people who just want to be loved but not knowing how to reciprocate or even to love themselves due to each of their respective intimate holdups. But more than that, it is a general story of identity and longing for acceptance. The metaphor of the crocodiles in human suits is one that could be applied to many different identities, sexual orientation, gender or gender expression, anything that separates one from the “norm” of society. At first a tricky metaphor to navigate, it ads a truly beautiful and all encompassing layer to the thesis of the book.

(Although I would like to point out that the crocodile metaphor is intentionally directed as a media fascination in Taiwan in the 90s that resulted in lots of shameful “undercover” reporting that is reportedly the cause of the suicides of several girls and women who were outted as a result of the coverage.)

Now, everyone has had a messy relationship. Romantic or platonic, we all know what it feels like to be dumped, left behind, forgotten, replaced, or otherwise rejected. Sometimes it is a mutual parting but in my own experiences, it has almost always been messy or at the very least complicated. I know that it is a loss that is unique because you are mourning something that is technically still there. It is also easy to leave something you are afraid of losing through self-sabotage, forcing the other person to walk away first. It is a habit that is hard to break and the regret of such actions often weighs heavily – Qui does an amazing job of really getting across just how heavy that weight really is.

It is difficult to “review” a book like this, especially when it hits your buttons. All that’s really left to say is that if you have ever felt left behind without closure, read this book. If you feel lost and alone, read this book. If you struggled with a sense of self in the current reality, read this book. 

I am incredibly thankful to have been able to experience this writing in English.

REVIEW: The Boys From Brazil

This is probably the most random book discovery I’ve ever made. I’m a big fan of the adult cartoonArcher and when first watching the show back when it started, I was always curious about the jokes being made towards the scientist character, Kreiger, about his being “a boy from Brazil” and the other strange Nazi-related digs directed at him. Back then when I googled what they meant, I learned that while most of the jokes are related to the monstrosities committed by Dr. Josef Mengele – the Nazi known as The Angel of Death – the “boy from Brazil” references are from this book written in the 70s by author Ira Levin (best known to the world as the author being Rosemary’s Baby that was later adapted into an incredibly success horror film directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow).

It’s been years since I’ve thought of the existence of this book but while re-watchingArcher on Netflix, I figured maybe it was time to change it up a little and give The Boys from Brazil a read.

Levin’s book is set in the 70s as the trials of Nazi war criminals are mostly coming to a close in Germany and Austria. Meanwhile in Brazil, Mengele and several of his SS collegues have formed an Organization to carry out a secret plan that will re-introduce the Reich: kill 94 seemingly random men across the globe that are in civil servant professions and are approximately 65-years-old. When “Nazi hunter” Yakov Liebermann gets wind of what is happening, he is determined to learn what Mengele is up to, no matter what.

Despite the content, this is a fairly easy book to get through and I enjoyed the sci-fi twist in the events that explain who “the boys from Brazil” are. I was invested in the story from the start and the way Levin combines fiction with reality was very well done. The only thing that got to me was his depiction of Mengele. The man was made of cruelty and evil, one of the most terrifying and dangerous people to come out of WWII, and yet there were moments of him talking to portraits or photos of Hitler (and at one point, the sky) in a way that honestly felt like a child confessing their undying love to a poster of their favourite celebrity. It made me laugh and roll my eyes every time it happened because it just felt like such a caricature. That aside though, I did appreciate that the content wasn’t too heavy in regards to the things Mengele actually did, as even in 2021, his “research” gives me the chills. 

If you’re a fan of spy-like thrillers and are looking for a WWII twist, I definitely recommend this book. I’ve yet to see the film adaptation, but I have also heard that is worth watching.

The only other thing I will say – as it is hard not to spoil what happens – is that I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I wish this book was how Mengele actually died. His real-life drowning was too good for him and he should have been taken out like he was in this book.

REVIEW: Rashomon & Other Stories

I have been wanting to get a hold of some of Akutagawa’s short stories for a while now, and finally got my hands on the Tuttle collection that contains six stories. Considering I started reading this on March 1st (Akutagawa’s birthday) and finished it on the third (an important date in the final story), it seemed like fate brought this collection to me.

As much as I would have loved to have bought a larger collection, Tuttle Publishing always has really quality translations and I love supporting a company that does so much work producing educational material and language studies books (like 90% of my self-study Japanese textbooks are from Tuttle). Of course, that being said, I think this is a great edition for anyone who wants to get a taste of not just classic Japanese literature, but also a taste of Akutagawa in general. The stories in this edition include In The Grove, Rashomon, Yam Gruel, The Martyr, Kesa & Morito, and The Dragon.

I primarily wanted to read this collection for Rashomon and In The Grove as they are the most famous of his work due to the Kurosawa Akira film adaptation of the latter (although it was called Rashomon). Both stories were exactly as I expected them to be. Rashomon is a story of morals and while being short and cynical, really forced readers to question what they would do if they were starving and the choice was between your own survival or the survival of others in the same situation. In The Grove was a classic murder mystery with nothing but unrealiable narrators and the lack of closure is so interesting and unique as it leaves the decision up to the reader. The lesser known stories in the collection were are so different from each other while keeping that cynicism towards human nature and human desire that gives Akutagawa his edge.

What I found the most interesting is how, despite the difference in translators, I can see where Akutagawa influenced the works of my personal favourite, Dazai Osamu. Dazai held Akutagawa in a high regard (the two even died the same way) and I can see where their questions towards human nature crossover. That was my main reason for wanting to read these stories and I’m so happy I was finally able to. I look forward to tracking down more of Akutagawa’s work in English and – hopefully with some help from my textbooks – Japanese when translations are not available.

Happy [belated] birthday, Ryuunosuke.

Back to Back with THE MOSQUITO COAST

One of the things I’m lucky to be able to do during lockdown is still being able to spend Friday nights having dinner and watching a movie with my mom. This past Friday we sat down to watch Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren, but of course once I heard it was a book, I needed to read it first.

The Book

Mosquito Coast follows the Fox family as the father, Allie Fox, decides he has had enough with the filth, corruption, and violence of the United States and moves his family to the depths of Honduras to begin anew. As the heat and the realities of living off the grid begin to settle in and Allie’s lofty ambitions grow more and more chaotic, the Fox family is pushed to their very limits in order to survive.

Told in first-person narration from the perspective of the eldest son, 13-year-old Charlie Fox, Paul Theroux’s novel is some of the most beautiful first-person writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in my life. As Charlie watches his world – his father – falling apart around him, you truly feel like you know this young man who was forced to grow up in the blink of an eye simply because his father told him to. This book is clearly a classic you may never have heard of and Theroux just captures this young boy’s life in such a way that the depths are endless. It’s an adventure story, a family drama, and a question of how far you are willing to trust someone when that trust can get you killed just as much as walking away could.

It’s also an incredibly complex story. While everyone is very sympathetic, the Fox family is complicated. Charlie and his siblings are children so their choices cannot be judged too harshly by the readers, but when it comes to the mother – only referred to as Ma, Mom, or Mother – her dedication to Allie as he falls deeper and deeper into his own head is questionable at the very least. She’s someone I desperately want to understand but her loyalty reached a point where it could only be compared to a woman in a heavily abusive relationship that has been convinced she has nothing else but the man in her life. Allie as well. He is a lunatic who’s rantings and ravings are like that of a drunk throwing a temper tantrum or pleading for something that’s already there, but he cares about people. He wants to give better lives to those around him, whether it’s helping the immigrant workers in the states who live in squalor as if they were slaves or if it’s showing indigenous people of Honduras how to be self-sufficient without living in rags and huts that blow away with every storm.

I enjoyed how complicated of a character study this book is and how it forces you to make decisions about the world and about people as Charlie is making them. While I will say the language of this book is extremely dated, and is therefore uncomfortable at times for that reason, the points made about child labour and sweatshops as well as capitalism killing society as a whole are still incredibly relevant to today.

The Movie

Starring Harrison Ford alongside Helen Mirren, and with a young River Phoenix as Charlie, the film has a heavy hitting lead cast for the time it was released.

That being said, I felt that as solid the movie is, it misses out on a lot of Allie’s build up to complete insanity by leaving out the key moments that show just how manic he already was. Scenes where he pushes Charlie and manipulates Charlie’s faith in him we’re missing and while I know how difficult some of them would have been to film in the late 80s, I wish they had been kept.

Nitpicking aside, the cast is amazing. All of the people – actors or not – as the people of Honduras were fantastic and the children were all wonderful as well. Seeing a young Helen Mirren was neat as I’m only familiar with her more recent work, but this film makes it clear she’s always been a heavy hitter of an actress. Her love for Allie is so evident while her fears of what he’s capable of comes across even when her dialogue is limited. What I enjoyed best though was seeing Harrison Ford in a role that is entirely different from what he’s most famous for. Everyone knows smart-ass Han Solo. Everyone knows smart-ass Indiana Jones. But was anyone aware he can also be a villain? He is capable of playing a role full of manipulation and control and rage and passion and madness? Looks wise, I knew right away that Harrison Ford was the obvious choice for the role at the time, but seeing him pull it off was amazing. It was like seeing Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire and craving to see more of that evil from such an “all American action hero”.

While watching though, I found myself curious about how River Phoenix felt during filming. Not to turn this into a true crime op-ed or anything, but considering River Phoenix grew up in and was traumatized by the pedophilic cult known as The Children of God, I wonder what went through his mind playing a role of a helpless boy in the middle of nowhere, frightened by his commanding, controlling father. I can’t imagine that was easy for him.

All in all, the movie was worth watching but definitely read the book. Before, after, it doesn’t matter but it’s a phenomenal piece of writing and a fantastic piece of cinema.

ARC REVIEW: The Album of Dr. Moreau

Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the eARC

This novella was amazing. I 100% requested it because of the amazing, Warhol-style pop-art cover, but wow this book is just as wonderful inside as it is on the outside.

A douche of a music producer is dead, and the suspects are all the members of the band he managed. But this isn’t a regular boy band. Each other members is unique in an entirely different way… they’re all humanoid animals. Bobby the ocelot, Matt the megabat, Tim the pangolin, Devin the bonobo, and Tusk the elephant all make up the hit boyband known as the WyldBoyZ and now everything is at risk with Dr. M’s death. Not only that, but the investigating detective, Luce Delgado, only has 24 hours to figure it all out before the feds get involved and potentially cause even more trouble.

This novella is a fast paced, locked-room murder mystery full of twists and turns that kept me guess right up until the big reveal. Every major player is incredible sweet and fully developed, drawing you to their side with ease. Not to mention the anthro aspect of each of the boys is such a neat idea and done so wonderfully. This isn’t a “furry story”, but the furry part of my brain was on cloud nine reading about these characters. I wish there was more because I loved it so much, but it’s the perfect length for what the story was and I’ll definitely be purchasing a physical copy come May because wow. I loved this so much.

REVIEW: Dune Messiah

After closing 2020 by re-reading Dune for the second time in the year, I opened 2021 by jumping right into Dune Messiah.

Set 12 years after the war with the Harkonenns, Paul as very much unwillingly followed the path of the Jihad he feared and is struggling with the aftermath as well as the consequences. This second book is heavily about the fate of the those who are stuck on the path of a future they don’t want and the pain that comes with power. It’s also about humanity; losing it, struggling with it, finding it again. It’s about sacrifices and love. It is not a happy book.

At the same time it makes a lot of really strong point about blindly following along with fate and the important of knowledge.

You can’t stop a mental epidemic. It leaps from person to person across parsecs. IT’s overwhelmingly contagious. It strikes at the unprotecte sie, in the place where we lodge the fragments of other such plagues. […] The thing has roots in chaos.

Syctale the Face Dancer in Dune Messiah

In this book having knowledge is useless unless the one who possesses it knows what to do with the information. And even then, will doing anything change the outcome? Does knowing the future mean it can be changed or will the attempts to change it only lead to greater suffering? As Paul struggles with the losses he has faced and the ones yet to come, the reader is forced into his position. The ending of the book – which I will not give away – is an ending that is easily predicted but as unchangeable to the reader as it is to Paul. It needs to end the way that it does, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

This book made me sad. It made me angry. It thrust forward a lot of very complicated thoughts and feelings and I appreciate a book written in the 60s still being capable of eliciting such strong emotions. I also enjoyed seeing possible inspiration points used by more recent series such as Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and a handful of others.

With four books left in the series I look forward to what is to come for everyone involved, especially Alia and the children.

REVIEW: The First Sister

Thank you to Simon & Schuster as well as NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book.


When I first saw the cover for Linden A Lewis’s debut novel, The First Sister, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. The second I stated it, I fell in love with each of the characters immediately and didn’t want to put it down.

The story follows three POVs between The First Sister – a priestess aboard a starship headed to the moon Mars where the Gean people reside, Lito sol Lucius – a soldier who fought with the Icarii during the Battle of Ceres, and Hiro val Akira – Lito’s battle partner who has gone rogue and disappeared. Each of the POVs is written is first person which confused me slightly with the first few chapters, but I quickly got the hang of it and each character has such a distinct way of talking, it is easy to remember who is talking.

The comp titles for this book were Red Rising (by Pierce Brown) and Handmaid’s Tale(by Margaret Attwood), but I honestly felt it was closer to Red Rising meets Dune (by Frank Herbert) with a hint of Star Trek in there. The Sisterhood, the main religion of the Geans that also happens to run their government, strongly made me think of a more dictatorial version of the Bene Gesserit from Dune in the way that the training is strict and aggressive and the rules must be followed to a T or else there are drastic consequences. The addition of these priestesses acting as consorts or concubines in a sense just added to that and made me think of Jessica from Dune. When it came to the levels of society within the Icarii race and the advanced technologies they have, that’s really where theRed Rising aspect fits so well. The rankings of society and the commentary on how poverty works within this alternate future really reflected our current society where the poor “don’t deserve” basic things like fresh food or proper living conditions, or even medicine. The two clashing societies were also fascinating and the natural vs altered debate was a curious one especially given that the genetically altered (read as: perfected) Icarii honestly have a better way of life in a lot of ways compared to the Geans.

But what hit hardest was the characters.

The First Sister was thrust into the Sisterhood because she was housed in a Sisterhood funded orphanage. She was stripped of her voice and her dreams and her freedom to become a part of a religion she didn’t entirely understand. Lito risked it all to rise up from the lower levels and make it into the military where he met Hiro, only to be punished for the military’s failure in battle. Hiro… I have a lot of thoughts about Hiro.

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Hiro is a non-binary character. A person who has faced ridicule and abuse at the hands of his father as well as classmates and superiors. They lost their mother who couldn’t bare it all. They were shown the horrors of the world and couldn’t stand to turn away from them again. After the failure of the Battle of Ceres (set before the events of the book), Hiro was terribly wounded and instead of being allowed to rest, they were drugged and mutilated, shaped into the female warrior who had nearly killed Hiro and Lito, both. Lito was able to make Hiro feel welcomed, feel loved and cared for, and began to love themselves as a result of that, only to be forced into a gendered role by the people who dislike and/or disprove of them.

Reading these moments, as a trans person, hit so hard. It is so hard to explain to cisgendered people what it is like to be perceived as someone you are not, to be seen as something you are not. Hiro being forced into a female body for the sake of espionage and being unable to look at themselves or feel at all like themselves is something I’ve felt personally (well, maybe not the espionage part) and it is the most painful thing in the world. For these reasons, Hiro is a character I immediately grew attached to and I wish I had a friendship, a bond, with some like Lito the same way he has bonded with Hiro.

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Another thing with this book that I really appreciated was the depiction of Japanese. I am white and English is the only language I’m fluent in. However, I can understand several languages including Japanese. This was the first time I’ve read a book that didn’t romanize the Japanese dialogue and instead included hiragana, katakana, and kanji to spell out the words. The same was done for the small instances of Chinese that were in the book. I’ve read a lot of books (and even more anime fanfiction) that have romanized Japanese in them and there was always something that felt off to me about it, so seeing it this way in a sense felt more authentic and respectful to the language.

I would honestly be really curious to hear what other people think in regard to this formatting of language in books. I know that romanizing it makes in “more accessible” to those who don’t speak the language but I think it’s little things like this that can prompt avid readers to learn a few words here and there in other languages. It’s not hard to look up a character chart or to put a sentence through google translate, but even literary fiction like Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman has large sections in Italian or Latin that aren’t translated. Even Lord of the Rings or Star Wars have lengthy moments of made up languages that aren’t translated but we all get the gist. If we’ve reached a point in the world where you take university level classes in Klingon, we can all take a moment to learn a few phrases in Japanese using the proper character alphabet.

But back to the book.

As is usual with science fiction, there were lulls in this, and I did find myself wondering where the story could go in order to carry out a full trilogy, but the last handful of chapters had me majorly freaking out. With several plot twists happening all at once, It really is a thrill ride and Ineed more of it. The chess pieces are set, and a few have fallen, but the real game is only just beginning.