ARC REVIEW: The Keeper of Night

Thank you to HCC Frenzy for sending my a physical ARC of this amazing book!

Kylie Lee Baker’s The Keeper of Night is a story of finding where you belong and learning that no one can tell you what you are except for yourself. Ren is a mixed raced Reaper-Shinigami living in London where she is belittled and bullied for her heritage by everyone, including her father and step-mother. Her only friend is her overly gentle half-brother, Neven, and after Ren loses control of her untrained Shinigami abilities while fighting against her bullies, the two hurry away to Japan so Ren can find a place where she could truly belong. Of course, the culture shock is more than either of them expected and it takes lowly fishing god to show them the ropes as Ren begins her journey to being a true Shinigami.

Dripping with the lush vibrancy of Japanese mythology, I loved the winding route this novel went in. It kept a steady pace and the transition from Ren being in London to Ren being in Japan was smooth and even managed to avoid the “travelling slump” that I find can slow things down considerably in books like this. I liked Ren instantly really empathised with the identity struggles she went through. While I will never understand her specific struggles with racial identity, being a trans person I’ve definitely dealt with the issue of only being seen as part of who I am. Her anger and frustration is such a valid expression of emotion and Neven being her brother but not understanding her struggles created an excellent commentary displaying how there isn’t another side when people of colour voice a point about the racism they have dealt with.

I adore so much about Japanese myths and legends and folklore, so I absolutely adored how Baker showed us the even darker sides of some of the already dark stories. It was such an original novel and when it came to last 50 or so pages, I was losing my mind over the intensity of everything that was happening. I thought I knew where things were going, but oh boy I had no idea at all. Available as of tomorrow, I highly recommend picking up this amazing novel. And then join me in my wait for the second book that will conclude this duology.

ARC REVIEW: Iron Widow

Thank you to Penguin Teen Canada for sending me a copy of the ARC. Iron Widow is on sale as of September 21st!

One of my most hyped releases of the year is Iron Widow by the absolutely flawless Xiran Jay Zhou. After bothering Penguin for several weeks (I love you, Penguin~) I was able to get my hands on a beautiful physical copy of the ARC. Now, believe me when I tell you that you are not ready for Iron Widow.

In a world overrun by large parasitic creatures called Hunduns, Zetian has lost her big sister to the military and her death has only brought pain to her and her family, resulting in increasingly horrible treatment towards her. Making the decision to enact her revenge on the pilot who murdered her sister, Zetian signs herself off to the same fate as a concubine used as fodder to pilot the Chyralises against the Hunduns. What Zetian doesn’t know is that her abilities far outweigh that of what the Sages of the army have told her. 

I can honestly say that this book was perfection from start to finish.

Iron Widow is a permission slip for people to be angry, to be unforgiving, and to say “No, fuck you.” As Zetian is used and belittled and controlled over and over again, she begins to learn that the only person who can shame her is herself. The only person who can tell her what to do is herself. She is absolutely a badass to look up to as she refuses to be anything other than her powerful self and will subdue anyone who gets in her way. Her rage is so raw and visceral that it made my blood sing especially considering the reasons she is mad. The injustice is rampantin this book and I have never seen a lead in a YA novel – or potentially any novel really – who seeks to change the world as much as Zetian does. 

Meanwhile, this book also has one of the greatest romance subplots I have ever read in my life. Bad ass bad boy with a sunshine heart? Check. Wholesome sunshine study boy who is ruthless on in the inside? Check. A female lead that doesn’t want to need to choose between the two and instead and truly wholesome and functioning polycule forms? CHECK! Iron Widowis one again the first example I’ve read of a truly healthy relationship in YA and it’s actually between three people!

So I truly want to say thank you to Xiran. Thank you for this beautiful book that is a permission slip to be angry. A permission slip to take your life by the goddamn horns and take what is yours. To love how you want to and be who you are. Thank you for giving the reminder that we don’t owe forgiveness or compassion to those who have genuinely abused us and that found family is no less legitimate than blood relatives.

Thank you for this incredible book that is going to mean so much to so many people who have been put down and stuffed into boxes of expectations. For fans of Pacific Rim and Darling in the FRAXXwith the feminist anger of Handmaid’s Tale, please pick it up when it hit shelves tomorrow if you haven’t already pre-ordered it.


TRIGGER WARNING NOTE: Please be aware that this book does contain instances of foot binding, abuse, sexual harassment, alcoholism, and extreme withdrawal.

ARC REVIEW: Bofuri #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this light novel

Bofuri – I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defence! is probably one of the most adorable and wholesome light novels I have read in a long time and having seen the first two episodes of the anime prior to reading, I’m so happy with how wonderful it was.

The series primarily follows Kaede as she assumes her in-game persona, Maple, in a new VRMMORPG after her best friend Riza (Sally) talks her into playing. Afraid of getting hurt in-game, Maple chooses to main as a great shielder and throw all of her skill points into her defence. Stumbling her way through the game as someone who doesn’t play many video games at all, Maple gains bizarre skill after bizarre skill thanks to her strange build and starts to gain a lot of attention from the other players. Of course, being the sweet girl that she is, Maple has no clue just how many people are noticing her.

Maple is honestly the sweetest most innocent gaming-isekai character I have ever come to adore. She’s kind to everyone and so thankful when others are kind to her. As she stumbles around in her naive way, the other gamers around her can’t help but want to give her a hand. And honestly, it’s the other gamers that make me so happy while reading this. An element of the novel is told through a forum chat between some anonymous players who have made it their goal to keep an eye on Maple so people don’t take advantage of her. Even though these players are mostly at a distance, Chrome – another great shield player who is a part of the chat – has a few moments on page that show what a caring person he is. The way he mentions how much he instantly connected with Maple is so sweet. Gaming IRL and gaming as shown in anime are always so competitive and focused on PK (player-killing) story lines, it’s so incredibly nice to have a light novel set in a gaming world that has a little more joy to it.

Maple’s best friend Sally is also a total sweetheart, she’s also more of a gamer than Maple is so the two of them work together to level up and learn all about the weird world they’re playing in. She’s just as cute as Maple is and just as happy with things. What really made me love Sally is a single moment that – to me – felt like a pure homage to Sword Art Online (arguably the best gaming-isekai in the world, I will die on this hill). While watching a floating castle in the sky, Maple asks Sally if she thinks they’ll ever get to look around a place like that. Sally gets quiet, saying that she once played in a floating castle in a different game. Whether intentional or not, a reference to Sally being an SAO survivor tugged at me. Even if I’m projecting haha.

If you’re looking to get into light novels but want a “beginner” series to start with, I high recommend picking up this one. I can’t wait to see what’s to come from the series and I look forward to Maple forming a proper guild party of her own and being a cool, happy-go-lucky gamer with all of her friends.

Bofuri #1 (the light novel) is now available to purchase online and in stores. The anime adaptation is also currently available on Funimation!

ARC REVIEW: Aetherbound

Thank you to Penguin Teen Canada for providing me with an eARC via NetGalley.

I’m a big fan of E.K. Johnston’s work in the Star Wars universe, so I was very excited to receive and ARC of her newest stand-alone sci-fi YA novel, AetherboundI was even more excited to learn that the incredible Ashley Eckstein was going to be narrating the audiobook – what kindStar Wars fan doesn’t love Ashley?!

Aetherbound is an interesting foray into worldbuilding. Society has been seemingly reduced to live aboard space stations and cargo ships, everyone having a place and a use to the rest of the collective or else they are placed elsewhere (or even killed for being a waste of supplies). A certain kind of magic exists as well, in tune with a force called the Aether. Pendt Harland is in tune with the Aether but in a way not useful to the crew, but of potentially high value to others and is at risk of being sold to another ship or station upon her 18th birthday. When she decides it’s time to escape her life and her family, Pendt meets the Brannick twins and the three of them work together to make their lives their own.

The worldbuilding in this novel is intense. I loved all the concepts introduced and the complexity of the essentially closed societies that have been formed on the stations as well as the ships. That being said, a lot of it was told through massive info-dumping rather than being teased out by the characters. It made the novel feel like it wasn’t quite formed in its entirety at times and read more like a planning guide rather than a finished story. I would have liked it to have been explained more through dialogue or character actions rather than informative narration as I feel that would have built a closer connection to the characters and been a more immersive story. I liked the characters enough, Pendt is a sweet and perseverant girl and I loved the Brannick twins immediately, but I wanted more from them. I wanted more of a reason to cheer them on than just the upsetting circumstances this world has put them in.

Said “upsetting circumstances” definitely did make me uncomfortable at several moments, so I did appreciate the trigger warnings for medical trauma and calorie counting (not eating disorder based for anyone wondering, it’s more of a portion control thing) that were listed at the beginning. Selling off young girls (yes, 18 is young) for the sake of them being able to have children is really uncomfortable and the insemination moments had such an intense air of violation that I skimmed over the scene as fast as I could. I almost think that this novel would have been better has it been longer, with more time to tease out the world building, and marketed as more of a new adult or even straight up adult science fiction novel.

I still love E.K. Johnston and I will still continue to support her work, but I won’t like and say my 3-star rating for this one is mostly based on Ashley Eckstein doing an amazing job with the audiobook….


Aetherbound is now available in stores and online.

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

ARC REVIEW: Yokohama Station SF

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for an eARC of this light novel.

When it comes to finding new light novels to read I go for two things: title and cover. I find that much like starting a new anime, it’s fun to dive in blind and be taken along for the ride and light novels are much the same way for me. I picked up Yokohama Station SF on the basis that it had “Yokohama” in the title – one of the main places I have a deep-seated desire to visit when I eventually make it to Japan – and the stand-alone science fiction aspect.

Yokohama Station SF is a futuristic dystopian novel akin to something like Space Odyssey 2001 (which is funnily enough referenced several times throughout the novel) as it involves a self-functioning station that has taken over the majority of Japan after starting out as a system meant to be used to assist with the efficiency of subways stations constantly under construction for upgrades and the likes. The station has gotten out of control and people unable to afford the special chip implants needed in order to stay within the station are dying of starvation or otherwise forced out of their homes by the ever-expanding station. A young boy from one of these settlements end up entering the station with a special limited pass, on a mission of someone else’s to see to stopping the expansion once and for all.

Right away, I loved the concept of this station going haywire, and appreciated the author’s note in the back of the book that mentioned it was inspired by constant construction in large cities, referencing Yokohama subway station specifically. Being from Southern Ontario, it reminded me of the horrors that are the construction closures constantly effecting the Gardener Expressway as well as Union Station in Toronto. As much as I loved the concept, I felt something was lacking at times. It is a slow burn of a story that follows a few different characters but I felt each of them lacked the depth needed to create a sense of caring for them. I was more interested in the rest of the world building rather than the mission at hand for the cast or the stakes they were facing. 

Once the climax of the book was done with, it was a bit of a dull ending. Again, though, I still enjoyed reading this book and loved the concept overall. What I will suggest though to North American readers, if you are unfamiliar with the geography of Japan, the map in the cover of the finished copies or having Google Maps open on another device will make understanding the layout of the Station a lot easier to follow.

Yokohama Station SF by Isukari Yuba is available now!

ARC REVIEW: Solo Leveling #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the eARC

For the last few months, I have been following closely along with YenPress and their marketing for the official translation for the incredibly popular manhwa for South Korean series Solo Leveling. Based on the best selling webnovel by Chugong, I’ve been very excited for both.

Solo Leveling follows Sung Jin Woo in an alternate reality where “gates” full of monsters are opening up around the world and people have awakened as hunters to clear and close them. The ranking system goes from E (the bottom rung where hunters are little more than regular citizens) to S class and Jin Woo is at the bottom, known around his city as “the worst hunter ever” for his habit of constantly getting himself into trouble. When a raid goes wrong, Jin Woo awakens with unmatched abilities right out of a video game – leveling system included.

Japanese light novels have been my jam lately, so the chance to review a Korean light novel was definitely something I was excited to do. It took me a brief second to adjust to the name format (it always throws me off when I try to figure out if translations put the names in traditional order or adjust for English readers) but I was sucked into the story right away.

I love the characters and the way Jin Woo stumbles his way through figuring out the new leveling system is so original. I do find it interesting how light novel fantasy (whether isekai or otherwise) seem to be very focused on video game like levels and the way those levels are incorporated into a story is always neat to compare. Having never read the manhwa I had visions of this being similar to Sword Art Online, but believe me when I say this is entirely a brilliant original story. I love Jin Woo, a protagonist who is equal parts sweet and cocky, and Jin Ho is so adorable I just want to give him a hug for trying his best.

With an ending that is the calm before the coming storm, I can’t wait for volume 2 of the novel. At least in the meantime, I have YenPress’s edition of the translation for the manhwa to look forward to reading.

Volume 1 of both the light novel and the manhwa are available now!

ARC REVIEW: Date a Live – Tohka Dead End

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the ARC

Despite this series being around for several years now, the first I heard about it was when Sword Art Online author, Kawahara Reiki, was tweeting about the mobile game in Japan. Knowing he enjoyed it, I requested to review this light novel that’s being translated into English at long last.

Going in completely blind like I did, I can’t exactly say that it wasn’t what I was expecting, but… Date-a-Live was definitely not what I expected.

The series – as described by the author, Tachibana Koushi – is a big “what if a dating sim was the key to saving the world from an unearthly power?” In the future, there are tears in reality that cause mass destruction and chaos and death. These tears, known as “spacequakes” are caused by Spirits, beautiful girls with massive amounts of power, and an elite team of warriors are equipped with special gear to try and take them down. However, these warriors aren’t making much progress and a special team has decided to take matters into their own hands and having a high school-aged civilian seduce the Spirits into peace.

Shindo is a ridiculous protagonist who cares a lot for his younger sister and is absolutely useless with girls. So naturally he is tasked with seducing the Spirits. In the first third of the book, he reminded me a lot of Rentaro from Black Bullet, especially with his relationship with his adorable younger sister (whose appearance even reminds me of Enju from Black Bullet). And then the dating sim (for anyone unfamiliar with the term, it is like a choose-your-own-adventure video game where you date a cast of characters) aspect happened and I wasn’t buying it. At first it came off as very “this is just another gimmick to use towards the harem trope”, but then it continued on to when Shindo meets with the Spirit, Tohka for the first time and it got me intrigued.

It’s my own fault for expecting an all-out action story, but the comedy aspect of the novel was an unexpected bit of fun. I’m iffy on where the story is going since I’m not the biggest fan of the harem trope, but I think this is definitely a series worth giving a chance to. It’s goofy, the art for the illustrations is cute, and it’s a finished series over in Japan.

ARC REVIEW: Reign of the Seven Spellblades #1

Thank you so much to YenPress and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this (now available) incredible light novel!

When this series was announced to be licensed by YenPress, I had it on my TBR instantly. The cover was so beautiful I was here for the character designs immediately and the little blurb that was shared alongside the reveal had me interested for sure. So when I received the email from NetGalley that I was approved for a copy, I was so excited!

Right away, this light novel wasn’t what I was expecting. Really cute and funny right off the bat, it gave me Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya vibes with how ditzy but determined Nanao was and Oliver’s exasperation with all of his new friends was very much like Kyon. However, the comparison is more of a personal one, and each of the characters is honestly so much fun and I loved all of them right away. Then we get to Kimberly Academy, a magical school where death is damn near imminent at all times and the risk of losing your mind to the darkness of magical studies is a constant threat. As fun and light-hearted as the first half of this book is, it does get dark around the half-way mark as the true dangers of Kimberly begin to show themselves and hidden traits are revealed in the students themselves.

I got entirely sucked into this light novel and, again, I loved everything about it. The ending was such a drastic 180° flip from the rest of the story but that only makes me more desperate to get my hands on volume two. I can’t wait to see what Oliver does and how his relationship with Nanao develops! Someone give this series an anime deal immediately.

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.