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.

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: All Together Now

In April 2020 I was supposed to see Alan Doyle at Copps Coliseum (I guess people nowadays call it the 1st Ontario Center though) here in Hamilton, Ontario. The last time I saw him live was back in 2013 for a Great Big Sea anniversary tour, and while that night ended up horribly, the time I spent in the plush theatre seat singing The Night Pat Murphy Died at the top of my lungs while a drunk couple next to me did a jig in the aisle was one of the best concert experiences I’ve had.

I grew up on his music and on Great Big Sea.

And then the pandemic hit.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 2020 was a hard year for a lot of us. It was – and still is in 2021 – isolating and hopeless and just hard… So when I heard that Alan Doyle had a new book meant to be full of silly stories he’d tell at the pub I thought maybe that would cheer me up. Seeing it was called All Together Now: A Newfoundlander’s Light Tales for Heavy Times had me hitting “purchase” immediately.

Right off the bat, this book had me smirking and it wasn’t long before I was actively laughing while reading along with the audiobook narrated by Alan himself playing through my headphones. Not even a full story in and all I could think about what how aggressively and heartwarmingly Canadian this book is. I’ve never been the most patriotic of people but I do love my country and many of these shorts reminded me why. Right now our government is failing us and while there are more regular people that are also failing us than I’d like to count, a lot of what Alan wrote about reminded me of the good in Canada. The people that come together to help one another, the strangers who ask if you’re okay on the street or in a store, the people in a pub who chat over a pint or something stronger like they’ve known you for years.

I miss a lot of my friends. I miss my family. I want to be there for the people in my life who are not only struggling mentally to keep going but the handful who are at their physical limits, too.

These silly shorts by a goofy Canadian folk-rock star lifted my spirits when I was reading. It reminded me of the pleasant things in the world after so much of it is dark and sad.

Maybe one day I’ll get to see Alan Doyle in concert again and maybe I’ll be one of those lucky fans who meets him at the pub. If that ever comes around, I want to thank him for this book. It truly was light tales for heavy times and if you’re a Canadian like me who’s having a rough go of things, I highly recommend picking it up.

Cheers.

REVIEW: The Lonely Hearts Hotel

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to audiobooks, but after deciding I needed a bit of a break from my usual podcasts, I downloaded OverDrive and got some good stuff to listen to while commuting. The first book I chose to get was The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill, and wow that was a bit of a trip.

Based on the little I knew of the book (and since I’m not usually one to read the synopsis before diving into a book), I was expected a sweet French Canadian story of first loves between both people and art. However, I got a book full of harsh abuse, sex work, drug addiction, and painful mistakes.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel follows the lives of two orphans, Rose and Pierrot, as they grow up together in a nasty orphanage where Rose is constantly beaten, and Pierrot is taken advantage of by a cruel nun. As they children grow older, their lives take very different paths while still crossing paths at varying moments.

As I just mentioned, this book was far darker and full of many intensely horrible instances of injustice, but it was still a great read. Heather O’Neill’s characters are all vividly real people in very real situations, bringing an intense level of empathy for young women forced into sex work by their hunger and for lost young men who turn to drugs in an attempt to forget their hardships and feel something other than hopelessness even if only for a little while. She also goes into great detail regarding the intelligence of all of these lost souls and how the more affluent people around them take them for granted.

Despite how difficult some part of the story were to get through (especially the sexual abuse and exploitation of children), it was a really solid story that was incredibly read by Julia Whelan. It may be far darker than I was looking for, but at the end of the day this is a story about love and family and accepting the good along with the bad. I truly enjoyed this.


28219095

Author: Heather O’Neill
Published: February 7, 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9781443435864

Synopsis: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. One is a girl named Rose; the other, a boy named Pierrot. Each display rare gifts that bring them adoration and hatred. As they are made to travel around the city performing clown routines to raise funds for the orphanage, they make plans for a sensational future. They are separated as teenagers and sent off to work as menial servants, but both soon find themselves escaping into the criminal world, participating in the vicious and absurd and perverted underbelly of Montreal and New York City between the wars. They search for each other, and one night, under the snowflakes, they reunite, and the underworld will never look quite the same. With all the storytelling skill and magical language for which she is known, Heather O’Neill dazzles us with a new tale of motherless gangsters, drug addicted pianists, radicalized chorus girls and a city whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss.

REVIEW: Foe

Thank you to Iain Reid and Ben McNally Books for providing me with a signed copy as a part of their Book-a-Month service.


Years ago I read I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid and was – for lack of a better term – scared shitless. Reid is a master of atmosphere and I was so excited to get my hands on this new book that I didn’t even know was coming out.

Foe is the story of a quiet couple whose lives get shaken up when a stranger comes to prepare Junior for an intergalactic trip he never signed up for to begin with. Tension builds as Junior’s wife Henrietta becomes more distant and angry without much reason.

It’s hard to go into this one without giving anything way but I’m going to do my best.

loved this book. Think Slaughterhouse 5 meets old school sci-fi movies with chilling atmospheric tension to rival that of Stephen King. I do want to be clear and say that this is not a science fiction novel. It’s a thriller. It’s a character study. It’s brilliant. I honestly can’t think of any other book like this. It’s truly so bizarre it’s brilliant.

Please read this book.


37796953Author: Iain Reid
Published: August 7, 2018
Pages: 261
Publisher: Simon & Shuster
ISBN: 9781501103476

Synopsis: Junior and Hen are a quiet married couple. They live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with surprising news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm…very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Hen won’t have a chance to miss him at all, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Hen will have company. Familiar company.

REVIEW: Fire Song

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Based on the movie of the same name, author and director Adam Garnet Jones’s novel Fire Song is a story of loss, grief, and bad decisions. Tackling some prominent issues with the Native communities in Canada, Fire Song is an intense novel if only a touch disjointed. Trigger warning: This book contains suicide, attempted suicide, sexual assault, homophobia and underage drug use.

The Story

Shane’s younger sister Destiny has died. On top of that he is in love with his best friend, David, despite being in a committed relationship with a girl named Tara. And the cherry on top? Shane has been accepted into university in Toronto but is too broke to be able to make it while the band won’t help him because of legal complications caused by the death of his father years previous.

Shane is at his breaking point between wanting to come out to his friends and family about his relationship with David and wanting to get the hell off of the res. Meanwhile, their area is plagued by underage drinking and drug use thanks to dealer, Debbie, and the constant threat of teenage suicide.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this story as we get more and more into the characters’ lives and at times, this felt distracting while my mind kept thinking of the loose ends. Not only that, but the third person perspective was interrupted at times by journal entries from Tara that often felt unnecessary to the story and off-pace for sure.

The Characters

Shane seems like a nice enough kid who just wants a better future for himself than being just another “Indian stereotype”. However, he makes some pretty terrible decisions when it comes to his girlfriend, Tara, his choice of friends, and thinking becoming a drug dealer is a great way to pay for school. The latter of which bugged me because Shane is rather against Debbie selling her products to kids.

David is a traditional kid. He strongly believes in his tribe’s old ways and seems to struggle with his sexuality as he wants to keep hiding what he has with Shane from everyone he can. He also has a little bit of a selfish streak as he wants Shane in his life, but is rather reluctant to leave the res and have a good life together.

Tara, Ashley, and Kyle are the main-player side characters that sadly feel under-developed. Tara secretly writes poetry and has a rather abusive father who – it is heavily implied – get’s a little too hands-y with his daughter while he’s drunk. Ashley is the friend and her main purpose is really just to get mad at Shane. Kyle is Debbie’s nephew and is a typical douche bag who thinks he can be inappropriate with any girl who crosses his path regardless of his relationship with Ashley or if the girl in question is in a relationship herself.

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

I have several large issues with this novel, but I’m only going to list a few. First off, the journal entries from Tara felt out of place in a third-person present narrative. She writes in the first person past-tense and these chapters didn’t really move the story forward.

Next are the selfish behaviours of David and Shane. Shane continues to go out with Tara despite that he’s cheating on her with David. It’s one thing to have “a beard” when the girl is privy to the situation – still unfair but at least everyone is on the same page – but this is blatant cheating that is encouraged by David to the point where Shane doesn’t even mind because he is also convinced he loves Tara as well. They fight all the time and say hurtful things to each other constantly. It’s a form of internalized homophobia that hurts everyone. Even readers.

Third of all, the sexual assault seemed unnecessary and Tara’s suicide seemed like overkill. Not only that but even if the moments weren’t out of place, it made very little sense for Kyle to be the rapist that pushed Tara over the edge. It’s mentioned several times that Tara’s father is a pervert, even more so when he’s drunk, and implied that he has groped her at the very least in the past. Shane even mentions that she keeps a chair in her room to barricade the door and prevent her father from coming into her room at night. He’s the more obvious villain at this point and would be more of a reason for Tara to feel the need to end her life rather than Kyle – who she could have just reported to the police.

Lastly, there is no real villain. Debbie isn’t a villain until Shane robs her. Kyle isn’t a villain until it’s revealed he raped Tara. There’s no motivation in this story and nothing to fight against other than “the system” for the majority of the novel. It’s lack luster in a character driven story to introduce these “bad guys” until the very end of the book.

Conclusion ★★★

Fire Song is a well-written narrative, but is missing elements that should be necessary and including elements that shouldn’t. I feel it would have been a much stronger novel should it have focused more on the injustices First Nations people face in Canada rather than on the very poor decision making of a young man who has lost his sister to suicide and his mother to grief. Not my favourite novel, but not a terrible one either.


Fire Song

Author: Adam Garnet Jones
Published:  March 13th, 2018
Pages: 232
Publisher: Annick Press
ISBN: 9781554519774

Synopsis: Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she’s too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves—his friend, David.

Things go from bad to worse as Shane’s dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.