ARC REVIEW: Iron Widow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ARC REVIEW: 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!

REVIEW: The Boys From Brazil

This is probably the most random book discovery I’ve ever made. I’m a big fan of the adult cartoonArcher and when first watching the show back when it started, I was always curious about the jokes being made towards the scientist character, Kreiger, about his being “a boy from Brazil” and the other strange Nazi-related digs directed at him. Back then when I googled what they meant, I learned that while most of the jokes are related to the monstrosities committed by Dr. Josef Mengele – the Nazi known as The Angel of Death – the “boy from Brazil” references are from this book written in the 70s by author Ira Levin (best known to the world as the author being Rosemary’s Baby that was later adapted into an incredibly success horror film directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow).

It’s been years since I’ve thought of the existence of this book but while re-watchingArcher on Netflix, I figured maybe it was time to change it up a little and give The Boys from Brazil a read.

Levin’s book is set in the 70s as the trials of Nazi war criminals are mostly coming to a close in Germany and Austria. Meanwhile in Brazil, Mengele and several of his SS collegues have formed an Organization to carry out a secret plan that will re-introduce the Reich: kill 94 seemingly random men across the globe that are in civil servant professions and are approximately 65-years-old. When “Nazi hunter” Yakov Liebermann gets wind of what is happening, he is determined to learn what Mengele is up to, no matter what.

Despite the content, this is a fairly easy book to get through and I enjoyed the sci-fi twist in the events that explain who “the boys from Brazil” are. I was invested in the story from the start and the way Levin combines fiction with reality was very well done. The only thing that got to me was his depiction of Mengele. The man was made of cruelty and evil, one of the most terrifying and dangerous people to come out of WWII, and yet there were moments of him talking to portraits or photos of Hitler (and at one point, the sky) in a way that honestly felt like a child confessing their undying love to a poster of their favourite celebrity. It made me laugh and roll my eyes every time it happened because it just felt like such a caricature. That aside though, I did appreciate that the content wasn’t too heavy in regards to the things Mengele actually did, as even in 2021, his “research” gives me the chills. 

If you’re a fan of spy-like thrillers and are looking for a WWII twist, I definitely recommend this book. I’ve yet to see the film adaptation, but I have also heard that is worth watching.

The only other thing I will say – as it is hard not to spoil what happens – is that I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I wish this book was how Mengele actually died. His real-life drowning was too good for him and he should have been taken out like he was in this book.

REVIEW: Vampire Hunter D #1

The last few days I had a reader’s craving for vampires but no love story. I was also hoping for something with a darker aesthetic while still being light. Despite how overly specific that want is, I was able to check all of the boxes with the Japanese classic, Vampire Hunter D by Kikuchi Hideyuki with illustrations by Final Fantasy‘s own, Amano Yoshitaka.

Originally published in the 80s, Vampire Hunter D is a sci-fi western featuring the ever classic story of humanity against the creatures of the night. Ten thousand years have passed since the human race destroyed itself in a nuclear arms race and regressed to Frontier times. But vampires and artificially created other monsters are trying to regain control so it is up to the various classifications of Hunters to wipe them out by the request of their employeers.

This first book follows the plight of Doris Lang and her brother, Dan, who hire the mysterious D to act as protector after Doris is attacked by the local Count Lee. But there’s more to the job than a simple vampire slaying as Doris is also plagued by the ruffians of her town and D has unknowingly attracted some negative attention from a gang of especially skills bandits. With a lot of strangeness on the line, both D and Doris may be in over their heads. Or are they?

I loved the ol’ fashion Western vibe of this first book and the way it combines the classic aesthetic of the traditional vampire story just made me so happy. The story is action packed but still light enough to get through without having to think too hard about what’s going on. Doris was a sweetheart and the mystery surrounding D is too intriguing to stop here. The translation was so incredibly smooth, I would have thought it was originally written in English so a major shout out to translator Kevin Leahy. I loved the combination of traditional vampire lore with new additions due to the crazy world building. The idea that the vampires are scientific geniuses who can create their own servants through genetic engineering as well as robotics, was super cool to me and I look forward to hearing more about that side of the story as the series continues.

Needless to say, it was just what I wanted right now and I’m so happy to have found something that fit my incredibly niche reading wants.

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.

REVIEW: Dune Messiah

After closing 2020 by re-reading Dune for the second time in the year, I opened 2021 by jumping right into Dune Messiah.

Set 12 years after the war with the Harkonenns, Paul as very much unwillingly followed the path of the Jihad he feared and is struggling with the aftermath as well as the consequences. This second book is heavily about the fate of the those who are stuck on the path of a future they don’t want and the pain that comes with power. It’s also about humanity; losing it, struggling with it, finding it again. It’s about sacrifices and love. It is not a happy book.

At the same time it makes a lot of really strong point about blindly following along with fate and the important of knowledge.

You can’t stop a mental epidemic. It leaps from person to person across parsecs. IT’s overwhelmingly contagious. It strikes at the unprotecte sie, in the place where we lodge the fragments of other such plagues. […] The thing has roots in chaos.

Syctale the Face Dancer in Dune Messiah

In this book having knowledge is useless unless the one who possesses it knows what to do with the information. And even then, will doing anything change the outcome? Does knowing the future mean it can be changed or will the attempts to change it only lead to greater suffering? As Paul struggles with the losses he has faced and the ones yet to come, the reader is forced into his position. The ending of the book – which I will not give away – is an ending that is easily predicted but as unchangeable to the reader as it is to Paul. It needs to end the way that it does, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

This book made me sad. It made me angry. It thrust forward a lot of very complicated thoughts and feelings and I appreciate a book written in the 60s still being capable of eliciting such strong emotions. I also enjoyed seeing possible inspiration points used by more recent series such as Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and a handful of others.

With four books left in the series I look forward to what is to come for everyone involved, especially Alia and the children.

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.

Facing the Mind Killer: a review of DUNE

As I previously wrote, this month I decided to tackle a book that I’ve been afraid of reading for as long as I can remember, Frank Herbert’s DUNE.

It took me a week to get through it and I reveled in every page. It’s taken me longer to get to this review because I wasn’t sure how to go about it. There is so much to this book that I haven’t been able to find in any other book I’ve read or loved. It has set a new standard for epic fiction and I don’t think I’ll be able to find in anything else what I found in DUNE.

The story is Paul’s, though it strongly features the goings on that surround him and dictate his every action. The long and short of it is that the Great Houses are warring over the spice planet known as Arrakis. Spice is highly addictive and mind-altering natural drug that can only be found on this one planet, making it worth more than worth it’s weight in profits. Along with this political turmoil, there is religious turmoil as a group of women known as the Bene Gesserit see a male of legend capable of the “witchery” that they are. But in their search, the Freeman of Arrakis have their own legend of this same person. Paul is believed to be this man of legend by more than one group of people and he needs to fight not only in this war for the planet, but the war inside of him as he discovers what his true destiny is… or if he even wants it.

The way the book is written, third person narrative, we get to see inside of everyone’s head. We know what Paul is thinking at the exact same time we learn what his mother is thinking in the same moment. For too long the “single character” POV, as made popular by George R.R. Martin in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, has been the way of writing genre fiction and I’m going to be honest: I hate it. It adds nothing to the stories and creates moments of boredom if there’s an unlikeable character. Herbert’s way of putting all of the cards on the table makes the chess match of the politics game within the book not only more manageable, but creates some incredible tension. We, as the readers, know who is double crossing who, but the characters themselves do not. The screaming match I had with this book over Duke Leto is laughable because of how invested this way of story telling got me. 

The ideas behind tackling the mind and conquering emotions through strict mental training were fascinating and I really got a lot of insight into myself because of it. Fear is the mind killer, as Jessica says. 

As thrilled as I am at how much I loved this story, I will be honest and say that my fears are now directed at the new movie. I’ll keep my opinions to myself on that matter until we have a trailer, so stay tuned, but I do also plan on reading the rest of the series within the coming months, so stay tuned.