(EARLY) REVIEW: Docile

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DNF Review: Infinity Son

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

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

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

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

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


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

REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbour

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada and Graydon House for providing me with a copy of the ARC.


Attention all Poe fans! Do I have a book for you!

The Widow of Pale Harbour is the second standalone novel from Hester Fox and follows Gabriel Stone – a man on the run from his past posing as a priest – and Sophronia Carver – a wealthy woman accused of murder and witchcraft – as they navigate their way through the puzzles left by a madman terrorizing Pale Harbour by way of Edgar Allan Poe’s twisted works.

I really enjoyed this topsy turvy mystery novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hester Fox’s latest novel, but it was definitely a lot of fun. The mystery itself was well thought out and even with the limited cast of characters, I still had a hard time cracking the case before the end of the book. It was the right balance between an armchair mystery and a horror-inspired thriller, with the mystery itself being on the gruesome side while very clearly knowing where the line was in terms of the descriptions.

The romance plot wasn’t exactly a slow-burn, but it moved at a good speed as the characters unfolded on the pages. We really get to know Gabriel and his dedication to those he cares for as well as Sophronia and her fear of being hurt (emotionally and physically) by those she thinks she cares for.

This is definitely a great book for the upcoming Halloween season and is a good cozy read for a chilly autumn day. If you’re an older reader who enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series by Kerri Maniscalco, this would be a title I would certainly recommend.

 

 

The Ghost Collector Blog Tour

Allison Mills’s debut novel, The Ghost Collector, is a middle-grade contemporary novel with a hint of the paranormal. Shelly’s family can catch ghosts in their hair and help them find their way to the afterlife when ready. Using this talent as something of a job, Shelly’s grandmother often takes her ghost hunting as they free the ghosts of animals from homes the owners are convinced are the spirits of horrible people. When Shelly’s mom passes away, the girl needs to come to terms with what real loss feels like and how holding on to what’s meant to be let go of can be more destructive than you may think.

The Ghost Collector is meant for younger audiences but also doesn’t hold back in hitting hard with the feels. It’s a powerful novel for anyone struggling to deal with a loss and I know that it helped give me a bit more perspective on a recent loss in my life. I definitely thank Allison for that.

I really liked Shelly and her relationship with her family. Her grandmother reminded me of mine in so many ways which warmed my heart. Not to mention that I could understand the idea of struggling to make “real friends” like Shelly did. Growing up I considered fictional characters I read about to be more real friends than my classmates or any other kids I met, so her having a hard time connecting with her classmates was incredibly relatable.

Change is so difficult, and change because of loss is even harder. This novel captured all of that so wonderfully. While sad, it was satisfying.

With all of that being said, I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask author Allison Mills herself some questions about this exciting release.


Lucien: First off, congratulations on the release of The Ghost Collector! I’ve seen in another interview you’ve given as well as in the acknowledgements of the advanced copy of the book, that this novel was the result of expanding on a short story (If a Bird Can Be a Ghost) you’ve previously written. What was it about the story that made you want to expand upon it?

AllisonThank you! I’m really happy the release date is finally here. It feels like it’s been a long time in the making, especially if you take the short story that became The Ghost Collector as the starting point. The characters and world of If A Bird Can Be A Ghost—the short story that The Ghost Collector is based on—stuck with me after I finished the story. I kept going back and trying to do something else with them. I have two or three abandoned short stories set within the same world or using some of the same characters. I knew I wanted to expand on the story somehow, and then Claire Caldwell, my editor at Annick Press, approached me about the possibility of turning the story into a novel and it was kind of like the stars aligned. I was really fortunate to get a chance to play in this space again.

How did the experience of writing the novel differ from when you were working with it as a short?

The biggest difference is that I wrote them with different audiences in mind. The short story, although it’s still about Shelly, was written for adults. In writing the novel, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to frame discussions of death and grief for a younger audience—and especially for younger Indigenous readers. As a kid, I read a lot of fantasy books that, when they had an Indigenous character in them, treated them as an archetype more than a person, and it was always really alienating for me. I didn’t want The Ghost Collector to feel like it played into stereotypes. I wanted to write a paranormal story about an Indigenous family that grounded the characters in the modern world, that framed Indigenous peoples as present. I know from experience that it’s easy for non-Indigenous people to historicize us and to romanticize some mystical version of us and our cultures. With that in mind, I tried to be deliberate about the way I wrote the ghosts in the book and to have the characters push back against stereotypes other characters try to apply to them.

Writing a novel was also a chance to spend more time with the characters. Scenes with Joseph and Shelly talking to each other were my favourite thing to write when I was working on the short story, and I got to add a lot more of that when I expanded the story into a novel. Getting to add more scenes with Shelly’s mother was also great. She didn’t get much screen time in the short story, but I wrote it knowing exactly who she was and what her relationship with Shelly was like, so putting more of it down on the page was honestly kind of cathartic.

There are several instances of music being important in describing who the characters are. Where The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees are important to Joseph, what band would you say best fits you?

This is a really hard question. I think it changes week to week, but right now, I’d say I’m alternating between Hozier and Carly Rae Jepsen as musical artists that fit me best.

Does music often play a role of its own in your writing?

It definitely does! I like writing with background noise. I’ll make playlists for certain moods I want to hit in my writing or music that I think is really emblematic of a certain character or story or moment—Joseph and his connection to post-punk/goth is a good example of that. Having music in the background helps me focus on what I’m doing, although it also means that sometimes a song becomes a symbol of a story or characters and is no longer something I can listen to for the sake of listening to it.

Throughout the book, Shelly collects ghosts of several kinds, from people to animals. If you could keep a ghost of someone (or something) would you? If so, what ghost would you keep?

I’m going to be honest, I spent a lot of my childhood really obsessed with ghost stories, but also terrified of ghosts conceptually. Even if my book didn’t focus on the importance of not letting your ghosts linger, I don’t think I’d want to keep one around. That said, there is part of me that definitely sees the appeal of a ghost pet. Cheap, with no clean up required, but you still get the companionship offered by a living pet and you never have to worry about them getting sick! It’s kind of the ideal.

The Ghost Collector is a story of learning to let go and live life the way it is meant to be lived. But it is also a story of grief, especially the grief of a young girl. Were you every concerned about the content being too much for the younger readers who may be drawn to it?

That was definitely a concern I had while I was writing. Some things changed between the short story and the novel because of the shift in audience. I talked about some of that in relation to Indigenous readers already, but more generally one of the things I tried to do when I wrote the book was balance the darkness of Shelly’s grief with moments of lightness, either through humour or by having other characters reach out to Shelly—adding in something to alleviate the tension in the book so that the grief never gets too heavy for the reader to carry.

That being said, grief is a very important emotion to learn about and even learn from when we face it. Is there a reason why you wanted to tackle that lesson by using a ghost story as the basis?

I’ve always had an affinity for ghosts and ghost stories. When I was writing the short story The Ghost Collector is based on, I liked the concept of someone who can see and interact with the dead suddenly not being able to find the one ghost they want to interact with. It seemed like an interesting way to show someone grappling with the realities of loss and grief.

You’ve said that your Ililiw/Cree and settler Canadian heritage has played a part in your love of ghosts and ghost stories, are you able to elaborate on that?

Yeah! It’s kind of a two-fold thing. Part of it is that when I think about ghosts I think about them as manifestations of the liminal—they’re not alive, but they’re not quite gone either. They occupy this boundary space that I really like exploring and am fascinated by. I’m Indigenous, but because I have settler Canadian family too, I’m white-passing and have a lot of white privilege. I spend a lot of time grappling with the complex—at least to me—reality of that so I think part of me liking ghosts so much is that I feel like I exist in a liminal space too.

Less tied to my multiple identities and thoughts about the ways I interact with the world, I also just grew up hearing stories about my great-grandmother Louisa finding bodies for the RCMP in Chapleau, where our band is from and where my grandfather grew up. And, you know, there were plenty of other stories told about her too—like, Louisa really liked the Mary Poppins movie and would watch it whenever she visited when my mom was a kid—but that’s not as sensational as an uncanny knack for discovering missing persons, so it didn’t implant itself in my brain the same way stories about the RCMP coming knocking on the door did.

If there was one thing you hope reader’s take away from The Ghost Collector, what do you hope it is?

The importance of our connections to other people. I think allowing yourself to be known by others—making yourself vulnerable by expressing your feelings instead of bottling everything up inside—can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but our relationships with one another are what get us through our darkest moments. I really hope that’s something readers of The Ghost Collector will be left with.


I would like to thank Annick Press and Allison Mills for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour and for providing me with a copy of the ARC.

The Ghost Collector is set to be available everywhere on September 10th, 2019.

REVIEW: Temper

Thank you to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC.


Layne Fargo’s debut novel, Temper, is a thrill ride of obsession, passion, and what it means to be devoted to art more than well-being. Pitched in an email from NetGalley as something fans of the Darren Aronofsky film, Black Swan, would love, I figured I would give it a try and request. For the first time in a stupidly long time, I have been presented with a book that is exactly what I was told it would and so, so much more.

For fear of giving away any good stuff, I will make a lot of this vague, but the story follows two points of view, one from Kira and the other from Joanna. Kira is an actress fighting to make ends meet while she strives for her big break. Joanna is one of he two people behind one of the larger theatre companies in Chicago looking for what she truly wants. The one thing that ties these two together is a script written by an unknown author and the man who plays the lead, Malcolm Mercer.

When I say this book is like Black Swan, I am only talking about the aspect of passion, and striving for that perfection while being allowed to feel and move through a scene, through a performance as though it could be reality. That is really where the comparison ends and it because a dance of psychological warfare between unmovable forces. This is where I would compare it to the play adaptation of Venus in Fur (my favourite show of all time).

The way every character moves around the others is so complex as they all become intertwined to the point of being knotted in each others’ faces is hypnotic. The layers so carefully worked that even the predictable is set up as though that was the purpose of the moment. I saw the ending coming a mile away – the principle of Chekhov’s Gun is very real here – but I didn’t care because that didn’t change how beautifully executed it was. It’s a cyclical story of desperation and egos and arrogance while also one of desire, love, jealousy, and what it means to be obsessed with perfection.

I almost hate the degree these characters had me obsessing over them, but it has been a long time since a character like Malcolm Mercer has had my little queer heart racing. Even Kira had me wishing I was her more than once, while I’ve felt Joanna’s pain so viscerally it almost made me want to cry. I know these people, I want to be these people, I am afraid of these people, and I love all of it.

I know I am absolutely gushing without giving much substance here but this is a book I highly recommend going into as blind as possible. Don’t read the reviews on GoodReads. Skim the synopsis on the back. Pick this up and let it eat you whole. You won’t regret it.

REVIEW: Red, White, and Royal Blue

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an eARC of the book.


One of my most anticipated reads of the year and so far my favourite read of the year, Casey McQuiston’s debut novel, Red, White & Royal Blue, follows an enemies to lovers romance plot between the son of the first female President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, and the second born Prince of England, Prince Henry of Wales. While being a romance novel first, the story also tackles some poignant socio-political issues in the US as well as the stagnant traditions of English royalty and is so much more than “a simple romance novel”.

Right from the start I loved Alex. He’s constantly moving, thinking, feeling, and being a hilariously obnoxious little prick and the way he thinks about this just felt so alive. He feels real despite the circumstances of the story. Henry came more to life the further I got into the story but it didn’t take long for him to grow on my either. Even the more secondary main characters like Nora, June, Pez, and Bea feel like good friends with how warmly they’re written.

There was a decent amount of suspension of belief in this one, but it didn’t matter. While it covered the impending doom of the GOP, it still felt hopeful. From a political view (and despite my being very much Canadian), it felt like there was still hope that humanity isn’t all terrible and there are still people fighting the good fight for those who need and deserve a better life than the one the current real-world majority is trying to deny them. There are young people and “adultier” adults who are doing their damnedest to make the world a better place and this book is a reminder of that wrapped up in a queer romance screaming to the world to chose the life you want not the one everyone is tell you to choose.

The sexual content in the book was incredibly well done, giving readers a little more than just a “fade too black” without being too explicit either. And given the content, I was really happy to be reading about characters in their 20s rather than 17- or 18-year-olds like usual. The world needs more queer stories that aren’t about barely legal high schoolers/college freshmen.

While this book may look like it is targeted towards teens, the novel is definitely more of a new adult title in terms of content and even reading level. That being said, this is definitely an important book to read and I would easily recommend it to anyone looking for a hopeful story like this that spares us the violent homophobia that often borders on sympathy/suffering porn I see in a lot of queer stories.

All in all, this is so far my top read of the year and I’m so excited for everyone to bear witness to this wild ride of a political romance.

REVIEW: Spectacle

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the ARC


I went into this one based on what I was hearing from others who were reading it (and enjoying it) so I was definitely intrigued. The Stalking Jack the Ripper vibes were strong with the description so I was excited at what the story would be like.

Spectacle takes place in the late 1800s in Paris, following Nathalie as she works as in secret as the morgue reporter for a large newspaper. While taking a look at the first of several murder victims killed by The Dark Artist, Nathalie touches the glass separating the viewing room from the display room and sees a glimmer of the girl’s murder as it happens in reverse. Her visions get clearer and more disturbing as the murders themselves violently escalate.

For the most part, I really liked the writing style and Jodie Lynn Zdrok has a really great voice. Spending my disbelief in regards to a 16-year-old girl writing for a newspaper in the 1800s, I still really liked Nathalie (and really, she’s not much different than Audrey from SJTR) and her tenacity to write and be involved in such a grisly task and basically recapping the previously night’s murders. Her friendships seemed really natural and her fear felt real.

I loved the accuracy of her family’s relationship with each other and was also fascinated by the depiction of her aunt’s mental

But here’s where the spoilers in my opinions come in.

My issue with the book was that it had me almost 99% and then they introduced the plot point that Nathalie’s powers made her part of a group known as the “Insighters”. Many of these Insighters got their powers through blood transfusions and the whole “secret society” feel about the reveal just didn’t grab me. I’m sorry to say I cared even less.

I skimmed the next dozen chapters hoping for something good, but it just seemed to drag for the remainder of the book. The last chapter, too, was a not a well done lead-in to the next book and it didn’t feel satisfying at all. It just… ended.

I guess I just went in with my expectations too high and ended up letting myself down. What I will say though, is that even though this might not be a series for me, I’ll still be keeping an eye on Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s future releases because her writing style is definitely worth another chance.