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: 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.

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.