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.

ARC REVIEW: The Membranes

Thank you to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for providing me with a copy of the eARC

I’ve always had a love of Asian novels, but the translated works I’ve read over the years have been primarily (if not entirely) originally written in Japanese. I’ve wanted to expand my reading consumption to other Asian countries, and when I stumbled upon this novella on NetGalley, I figured, “What the hell.”

Note: trigger warnings for non-consensual gender reassignment and child molestation

Originally published in China back in 1995, Chi Ta-Wei’s novella The Membranes is a complicated story about what it is to be alive, to be human, and to what the freedom to live as one wants truly means. The dystopian world created almost 30 years ago touches on a lot of what is happening today and translator Ari Larissa Heinrich did an incredible job bringing this complex story to English readers.

I know very little about what the queer cultures (or lack there of in some cases) are like in the majority of Asian countries, but I know that it tends to be frowned upon at the very least and criminalised at the most. The fact that this was published in 1995 was so mind blowing to me given what little I’ve heard about censorship rules. Books have been criminalised and banned for far less than the blatantly queer content that fills the pages of this novella. Topics such as lesbian/wlw relationships and gender reassignment surprised me but it was fascinating to read them knowing it came from a Taiwanese writer.

I want to discuss the gender reassignment aspect of this novella, but as this English translation isn’t out until June, I plan on writing a deeper blog post about it closer to the official release.

While slightly triggering to me as a trans person, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to picking up a finished copy upon release.

ARC REVIEW: In The Wild Light

Thank you to Penguin Teen Canada for providing me with the eARC.

If you know me, you know how excited I was for this book. If you’re new here, let me tell you about just how wonderful Jeff Zenter’s books are. The Serpent King changed my life in ways I never thought a book could and Rayne & Delilah reminded me there is validity in anger while peace in move on. Goodbye Days is a story to help grieve. Jeff’s books will shape and change you for the better. So, yes, being able to review this book months in advance means the world to me.

Note: trigger warnings for drug abuse, drug-related death, and attempted assault

In The Wild Light follows Cash as he is rushed into a difficult choice to follow his best friend to an intimidatingly prestigious private school miles away from home, or stay with his terminally ill grandfather and therefore rob his friend of her chance to become the world-changing scientist she is sure to be with the help of this academy. When both of their lives have been ravaged by parental drug abuse, it’s not easy for Cash to accept what he considers a “hand-out” from his genius friend, Delaney.

Since this book doesn’t come out until August (can you say, “Happy birthday to Lucien”?!), I won’t go into too many details about the contents of this book, but I will say it will break you just as much as Jeff’s other books have (or will if you’re yet to read them). As I usually do with books that make me cry, please allow for a vulnerable moment here. 2020 was rough with pandemic life, and 2021 is proving to still be tough on many of us. One thing that In The Wild Light really struck a chord with me on was Cash’s feelings of “leaving his grandpa behind”. Pep has cancer and while Cash is given the chance of a lifetime to really become someone, that means leaving the only father he’s ever known mostly on his own.

So what does that have to do with pandemic life?

My 98-year-old grandmother means the world to me. She’s a cheery, church going Welsh woman who doesn’t have a bone in her body not full to the brim with love. Pep reminded me of her a lot with his wit and his compassion for others of all sorts even being in the deep south. I haven’t seen my grandmother in almost a full year and I used to see her three times a week growing up, and even as an adult, I’d have dinner with her at least once or twice a month. I miss her a lot even when we can talk on the phone, so Cash’s feelings hit home for sure.

In a funny way, I think this is the perfect book for these times, even with the tinges of loss. People are losing their loved ones right now, but as long as we express our love towards those people we’re missing, it’s better than nothing. Right? This is a book about doing what’s best for yourself, pushing past the impostor syndrome and the fear of failure and allowing the room for growth to breathe.

I miss my friends right now. I miss my family. But if I just keep moving forward and doing my best, I’ll get to see them again. In The Wild Light reminded me of that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve made myself cry once again.

You’re the worst best, Jeff Zentner.

ARC REVIEW: Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Thank you NetGalley and Tor Nightfire for providing me with the eARC

The second I saw this book’s cover floating around on social media, I just knew that I needed to get my hands on it. Not to mention that I’m a sucker for Japanese horror, so a haunted house thrill ride in Japan? Count me in.

Note: trigger warnings for intense gore

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is the story of a group of five “friends” (I use the term very loosely here) as two of them are getting married. Faiz and Nadia are set on having a borderline sacrilegious wedding ceremony in a haunted house so when the trust-fund friend, Phillip, fronts the money for everyone to go to a decrepit old mansion in the middle of nowhere, Japan, it’s all perfect. When the story’s narrator, Cat, presents a main source of tension and her friend, Lin, as well, things go from zero to one hundred really fast. This is a house that yearns for blood.

After reading this novella in a single sitting, though, I found myself a touch disappointed. Perhaps I went in with my expectations set to high but the weirdest thing about my mixed feelings is that I want both more and less out of it.

Cassandra Khaw has a meticulous style that is flowery and explicit simultaneously. In some places, she has the most on-point descriptions of yokai, ghosts, and gore. In other’s the wordiness detracts from the story, the terms requiring google definitions (and this from someone who thought he had a pretty large vocabulary…) to understand what was being said. I loved the descriptions of the house itself and of the ghost, but what was majorly lacking was context. What happened to Cat that locked her away? Why is Nadia so hateful towards her? Why does no one like Lin if he seems just as successful as Phillip? How are any of these horrible people friends?

I’m all for messy people being messy, but the depth was lacking and the book turned into more of an 88-minute horror film one watches with friends while drunk and everyone tries to guess who dies first simply to move things along.

Will I read more of Khaw’s work? Absolutely. Sadly this one was just most of a miss from me.

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.

(EARLY) REVIEW: Docile

Thank you to Tor Books and my friend, Ash, for a copy of this gorgeous ARC.

Please note that this book does contain trigger warnings for the following: dubious consent, sexual assault, mental and physical abuse, and also contains some BDSM content.


Docile is a story about voluntary slavery as the debt crisis of the world has reached a tipping point. Everyone inherits their entire family’s line of debt, putting some people multiple millions of dollars behind in the world. Their choices are to risk being thrown in prison for avoiding payments or sell their debt to the highest bidder in exchange for a few years of their lives. As a Docile, people have the choice to inject a memory-wiping formula or to be entirely aware of what is happening to them, and the work is not always something pleasant.

Four years ago, Elisha’s mother sold a million dollars of her debt in exchange for 10 years of her life, and she has never been the same. With three million in cumulative debt from his parents, Elisha makes the decision to sell himself in his sister’s place to make her future a better one. He also makes the decision to refuse Dociline, the “medicine” that took his mother away from him.

And this is how Elisha become a private, off-med Docile for the heir to the Dociline empire, Dr. Alexander Bishop the Third.

Set to be released in March of this year, K.M. Szpara’s Docile is a lot. When I first heard about it, heard that it was being referred to as a “gay Handmaid’s Tale“, I knew I just needed to get my hands on it. What I got was more than that. If Handmaid’s Tale was mashed into the forefront of My Fair Lady, then the comparison would be a little more accurate and it gave me life. It has been a long time since a new book has hitched my breath, pained my heart, and brought me to tears. It has been even longer since a book has overwhelmed me to the point of a mild panic attack, but that’s a more personal side of things.

I loved this book from start to finish and revelled in the characters of both Elisha and Alex. Seeing both of their POVs throughout the story gave both of them so much depth and really expressed their growth over the course of the narrative. The world-building is perfection for a low-sci-fi novel set in the real world and Szpara’s writing really sets in the feeling of dread that stuff like this is entirely capable of happening within the next few years.

Given we’re still a little over a full month away from the release of this book, I don’t want to say too much about it just yet, but I will say this:

Please pre-order this book from your local bookstore. Whether that means Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, or even Amazon, please pre-order this book.

DNF Review: Infinity Son

So my first fresh read of 2020 (meaning I didn’t start it in 2019) was meant to be Infinity Son by Adam Silvera. I’m a big fan of Adam’s contemporary work, so when he said he was releasing a fantasy novel I was so excited! However, I’m sad to say that this was not what I was hoping for at all and it’s also become my first DNF of the year.

Over the last several months I kept seeing tweets referring to it as an “epic fantasy novel” which I took to mean high fantasy (think Lord of the Rings) when it turns out the use of the word “epic” was meant to be used as a word for “cool” and in reference to the book rather than the genre. Part of this is my own fault for not looking more closely at the back of the ARC, but I’ve got to say I was disappointed at the “urban” level of the genre.

On a good day, I’m not a fan of urban fantasy. It takes a lot for me to be interested in a fantasy novel that is set in the real world, so that was already a mark against this novel. Strike two was that not only was it urban fantasy, it was a superhero story; yet another subgenre element that I’m not interested in. Had I known that’s what this book was going to be I wouldn’t have requested the ARC in the first place.

To me, the biggest problems were in the first two chapters. And by problems, I mean the entire plot of the book is so easily guessable. In this world, it seems that people have until their 18th birthdays to discover if they have superpowers or not. It is also mentioned that there are “villain” characters who do something with phoenix blood to force superpowers on themselves. Now, this is a decent enough concept (with more PG-rated Vicious vibes) but quickly becomes boring when you consider that the main characters are twin boys, one of which just wants to be a normal boy and the other who wants to be a hero. I didn’t even make it past 13 or so pages but I can basically guess that Normal Boy Twin gets powers on their birthday while Other Twin goes after phoenix blood to become a hero.

I’m so sad that this book is miles away from what I was hoping for, but as a result, I will be hosting a giveaway on my Instagram for this ARC. I’d really love if it went to a good home with a reader who would actually enjoy a book like this.


Giveaway post
(Giveaway open to North American residents only, see post for details)