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: 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.

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.

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.

Mrs. Dalloway Double Feature

With wanting to go back to school this fall, something I decided to do over my two-month leave from my day job for quarantine was to try and read at least a handful of books listed on the English course reading lists I was looking at. With my mother being an English Major, she decided to join in and we read Mrs. Dalloway together with the intention of watching the film The Hours (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2003) when we finished it.

Mrs. Dalloway was a tough read for me. It’s a really dense story that follows several characters over the course of a single day with flashbacks to various points in time throughout. As someone who has never really had to do a close reading before, I found it difficult looking for things that I don’t even think were there to begin with (like a point), and it made for a very long time spent pushing through the dense prose. While Virigina Woolf has some seriously great quotes in the book, and an interesting look at female independence in that time period, I found the number of characters and the muddled paragraphs very difficult to follow. I get that it’s “stream of consciousness” writing, but I found myself re-reading things several times and – at moments – entirely giving up and just continuing on with the book whether or not I understood what I was reading. When I finally finished the book I was more annoyed than anything else because I seriously felt like I missed something.

While waiting for my mom to finish reading, I learned that The Hours film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham. Having read one of Cunningham’s books in the past and enjoying it, I jumped on trying to read The Hours.

In three days, I finished reading one of the most beautiful books I’ve come across this year. The Hours follows three women over a single day: Virginia Woolf as she plans on writing Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown as she fights depression while planning her husband’s birthday, and Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a celebratory party for her friend that has won a significant literary award. The storyline that I loved best was Clarissa’s as the involvement of the AIDs pandemic fallout of the 90s and the harsh reality of the suffering AIDs patients went through… It’s heartbreaking and raw and beautiful. With so many context cues to the source material that is Mrs. Dalloway, adding AIDs on top of the tragedy of the adaptation of Septimus’s life makes so a heartbreaking and layered reason for the horrible end.

I definitely enjoyed The Hours and I feel like I picked up on a lot more nuances having read Mrs. Dalloway first. Of course, the film was a different story (for a different day but… how do you ruin a movie that stars Meryl freaking Streep?!) and I honestly hated it, but I’m so pleased to have picked up Michael Cunningham’s novel. It was an interesting exercise reading both of these books with my mom as well and really reminded me how much I enjoy talking about books with people.

REVIEW: A Little Life [ part one* ]

This month I decided to tackle one of the bigger books on my shelves. At 800-ish pages, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life seemed like what I wanted. Contemporary, set in New York, I heard it was gay and came highly recommended by someone I was close to.

But then I got 400-ish pages in and was in such a horrible mental state because of it, it’s not even funny. This is not a fun book. If anything, it’s a horrible book. So to start off this review, let’s get to the list of trigger/content warnings, shall we?

This book contains:

  • child abuse
  • sexual assault of a child
  • child abandonment (a baby literally in a dumpster)
  • child death
  • sexual assault
  • domestic abuse (that has the potential to lead to a possible murder)
  • gross dismissal of chronic pain
  • gaslighting
  • manipulation
  • graphic depictions of self-harm
  • suicidal ideation with mild intent
  • drug abuse

And that’s just the part of the book that I managed to get through.

As someone who is constantly battled chronic depression, this book actively made me want to jump in front of a train. Things only get worse and worse as the story progresses, even when you think things might turn around, the punch in the stomach is only a few paragraphs down the page.

The story itself follows four friends – JB, Jude, Willem, and Malcolm – in New York as they navigate their lives as artists, actors, lawyers, architects. Moving from post-college life into the real world is a struggle as they all fight for dream jobs with terrible pay and discover routes to where they feel their purpose is. Bouncing around in time, the narrative goes over the histories of each of them, talking about their privileged to not-so-privileged to terrible lives before they met each other.

The sad thing about this book is that all of the friends are incredibly likeable, even when they’re making asses of themselves (cough, JB, cough cough). Their histories really make you want to keep reading and find out what happened to them just as much as wanting to know where they’re all headed. It’s so beautifully prose-y and I absolutely adore the way with words that Yanagihara has, but I just couldn’t continue after the half-way mark of this book.

But this book very quickly reached torture porn levels of terrible as one of the characters gets sucked into a beyond incredibly abusive relationship. The character in question doesn’t believe he deserves a truly rewarding relationship and allows the most gruesome things to happen to him. After something of a “cliffhanger” of a chapter at what I hope was the climax of the abuse, I had to stop reading. I couldn’t take it anymore. A Little Life is literally like walking down stairs coated in broken glass barefoot into the vast depths of hell with no end or light or hope in sight.

This is not a book to read if you have any kind of major depressive issues.

I would not recommend this book to a single human being.

Ever.


* I’ve marked this as “part one” in case I do decide to go back to this book at a later date in order to try and finish it

 

REVIEW: The Love Song of Sawyer Bell

Given the state of the world right now, I wanted to do what I could when I was still working to support small businesses. Seeing that The Ripped Bodice was putting together care packages of books and goodies for customers even in Canada, I jumped on it (and you can see my full unboxing here) immediately.

One of the books in the box was a queer f/f romance by Avon Gale called The Love Song of Sawyer Bell. It followed Vix and Sawyer as they toured cross-country with Vix’s band and navigated the complexity of being in the professional music business while being in a relationship. Not to mention Sawyer has only recently put the pieces together that she’s a lesbian. Jealousy, queer educating, and more ensue in this incredible love story.

I devoured this book in 24 hours (less if you subtract the breaks I took to like…eat) and have never loved a romance novel more while also feeling so personally attacked by one. Sawyer is a senior in Julliard and is miserable there. The stress and the pressure is too much, hence her desire to “run away” with Vix’s band for the summer. Her feelings about school are so close to my own experiences in college that I wish that I had read this in my first year. It may have given me the courage to walk away. For me, film school was great in the sense that it made me a better writer and a better photographer, but it destroyed my mental health and general self-worth, and even now I wonder if what I gained is worth how much I lost. I stuck to it though and graduated, but not for me. I stuck to it to try and prove I hadn’t let the pressure or the drama get to me, and that’s not a reason to fork over $30k in tuition fees.

Sawyer is such a real character and I fell for her instantly. Vix, as well. Vix’s demeanour, her temperament, and her drive are all so magically dimensional. Her struggles with commitment and the fear of failure are real and wonderfully described. Even when the tension comes between her and Sawyer, the issues feel like more than “mandatory romance novel plot points”.

I can’t thank the team at The Ripped Bodice enough for this book and I am desperate for the sequel to be re-released by Carina Press. Because to say I need the second book now is an understatement.

If you’re looking for a wonderful, sexy, beautiful book featuring queer ladies and rock music, I implore you to pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.

(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.

REVIEW: Pulp

Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin TEEN (now Inkyard Press) for providing me with the ARC.


Sometimes my impulse requests on NetGalley are interesting. I don’t always look at the author of the books I’m requesting but skip right now to the synopsis to see if a book appeals to me. This is one of those cases where not looking at the author both made me laugh and blew me away.

A few years ago, I read As I Descended by Robin Talley and I’m sorry to say I was beyond disappointed with that book. Because of how let down I felt, I gave up on Talley’s work instantly… until now.

Pulp tells the story of Abby Zimet as she falls in love with 50s lesbian pulp fiction author, Mirian Love, and is determined not only to track down the author but also write a novel of her own. Meanwhile, back in 1955, Janet Jones is also obsessed with lesbian pulp novels and also writing one of her own while also struggling to figure out her own sexuality in an era where that could get her and everyone she has ever cared about into dangerously deep trouble.

I was instantly in love with both characters and the way the story unfolds to reflect how similar and yet how different the lives of these two lesbian girls are over 60 years apart. Abby is such a realized character and so rounded as she struggles with her home life, her love life, and her school work in a whirlwind of emotional stress while Janet struggles with what too many people still struggle with today: acceptance for who she is.

But what really hit me the hardest was how real this story is. Robin Talley goes to great lengths to show that love is hard, love is cruel, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. She shows how change can be good and that the end of something once held so dear doesn’t mean it was never there. Love is love both in the moment and after it which is so important for people to know. The importance of friendship and doing what makes you happiest are key even if that means letting people go.

This novel hit incredibly close to home in terms of how it tackles being forced to stay in the closet or letting people choose to ignore part of themselves because they believe it’s for the better. For lack of articulation’s sake: the heartbreak is real. I’ve had to let go of people in my life because they wanted to be “normal” and it was one of the hardest things I had to do. Even now it hurts and staying closeted in certain spaces hurts, but I did and do those things because it keeps me safe and it keeps those people safe, too.

I feel incredibly lucky having been able to read this novel and want to formally apologize to Robin Talley for disregarding her other works simply because one of her novels was not in my taste. I am sorry for that and truly hope that any queer person struggling is able to read this book and find a little bit of hope that things can still turn out okay in the end.

This book is available online and in stores November 13th, 2018.

REVIEW: Never Anyone But You

I have a rather intense weakness for books set during World War II, especially when it focuses on the people fighting the good fight at home rather in a battle field setting. I also have an even bigger weakness for WLW stories.

Never Anyone But You is the fictional retelling of the very real lives of two artists, Suzanne Malherbe (aka. Marcel Moore) and Lucie Schwob (aka. Claude Cahun), as they fall in love and end up fighting against the Nazi occupation of Jersey Island through art and wordplay, risking their lives every second they remain together.

Told from Suzanne’s perspective we see how her life changes and her intense dedication to her partner, Claude as they transcend the gender norms of the early to mid 20th century both in their work and even in how they present themselves to the world. I have, personally, always enjoyed obscure photography from war times and earlier and had heard Claude’s name in passing, but have never known of their work or what they mean to the surrealist and queer communities. Having died shortly after the war, it’s hard to tell if Claude was non-binary or transgender, but this novel has sparked an intense appreciation of their work and their legacy in art, fashion, and writing.

This book broke my heart in a very real way as I felt incredibly connected to Claude both in terms of gender identity as well as mental illness. Rupert Thomson does an absolutely stunning job of capturing the intense love between these two people and their surreal lives spent with the likes of Hemingway and Dalí. I felt like I really got to know Suzanne and Claude through this book and will certainly be looking into Thomson’s other novels.