(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: 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.

The Matchmaker’s List Blog Tour!

dityjorvqaa1mmcSonya Lalli’s debut novel, The Matchmaker’s List, follows Raina as she struggles with the pressures of her family and her culture in regards to getting married. Her best friend is set to be married on Raina’s 30th birthday and with her ex-boyfriend still looming in her mind, Raina is having a hard time handling the stress of her crazy busy investment job on top of all the blind dates her grandmother is setting her up with. I was lucky enough to have a chance to ask Sonya a few questions regarding her amazing book!


Lucien: Congratulations on the North American release of The Matchmaker’s List! Have there been many new experiences between the UK release of The Arrangement back in 2017 and now releasing over here?

 Sonya: Thank you so much! Both experiences have been incredible and I’m so thankful to the wonderful people who have made it happen, and the writing and book bloggers community who have been so supportive. The big difference has been that my book is now being released in my home country. Walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf for the first time was priceless — it was at the WH Smith in Liverpool Street Station, by the way! — but it’s going to be absolutely overwhelming when I go home to Saskatoon and see it on shelves there.

You have such a strong writing voice. Was pursuing writing always a goal of yours?

 That’s really nice of you to say. And I think so, even though it wavered in terms of priority. During law school for example, I don’t think I wrote at all. I actually don’t think I even read anything that wasn’t a textbook.

What drew you to writing romance?

I don’t think I intended to write in a certain genre. Before, I didn’t even think about genre when I wrote. But in retrospect the fact that I ended up here makes perfect sense. I am a complete sucker for romance.

What’s harder, law school or writing a novel?

Writing a novel. One hundred percent. Yes, law school was hard but everything was concrete. You had the text books, the classes, the exams — you knew what you needed to study and when the tests would be scheduled for and what the passing mark was. Writing a novel… everything is up in the air. There is no set path or right or wrong. You just have to go for it, stick at it, and hope for the best.

From Canada to the States to England and back again, which was your favourite city to live in?

Hmmm. I absolutely loved London, but part of the reason I loved it so much was that I knew being there was temporary. So I think my answer is Toronto. It’s diverse and buzzing and vibrant, and it also is where I see myself spending the rest of my life. Saskatoon will always be home to me, but now Toronto is too.

In the novel I loved the comparison of “modern arranged marriage” to online dating and dating apps. When did that idea come to you in terms of explaining how things work?

While I was writing the book. Some of my friends use dating apps where you can be matched with people who are similar to you, and I thought: well, that’s just like if one of their auntie’s set them up with a guy they thought was similar.

You tackle the social issue of coming out to an unwelcoming community. What drew you to that plot line? Have you ever witnessed something so polarizing in your own social/family circle?

A good thing about my culture is the importance of family, but that also means that our choices in that respect — relationships, marriage, children — can be heavily scrutinized. It can be difficult for the older generations especially to come to terms with choices that don’t meet their family values. As the book shows, these values are changing and modernizing, but the process is slow and every family and community is different.

There have been instances in my community where somebody does something ‘different’ for the first time — and it draws attention, sometimes negative attention– but then eventually it stops being a big deal. Often, no one bats an eyelid the next time that same thing happens.

You also get into the sexism issues of more tradition Indian culture. Do you think that sexism is an issue that is getting better or worse?

I think it depends on the family and community. In my experience, yes, it has gotten a lot better. (A tiny example: thirty-five years ago when my mom didn’t give up her maiden name, people talked; when I didn’t change my name after my wedding, nobody cared.) But I can’t speak for everyone. I know that in general we still have a long way to go.

I loved Raina’s friendship with Shay, even when they were fighting. You’ve said that Nani was inspired by your own grandmother. Was Shay drawn from any real-life friendships?

Shay is a composite of a few of the strong, funny, amazing women in my life: my cousin, who is like a sister to me, and a few of my closest friends.

At its core, The Matchmaker’s List seems to be about finding your place in the world. Whether that’s fitting in with expectations or demolishing them entirely. What kind of advice would you give someone struggling with finding themselves?

Thank you. Even though this is a romance, you’re right, it’s also about Raina’s journey to becoming who she is, and respecting herself enough to be in the ‘right’ romance. I can’t remember who said this — it’s probably been said in a number of iterations — but we first need to love and know our true selves before we can allow another person to love us. That’s easier said than done. So I guess I would say don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t try and stick to some timeline.  Believe in yourself and your choices, and you’ll come out the other end stronger.

I’ve got to ask, what’s next for you?

I have another book coming out with Berkley in 2020. It’s not a sequel, but another standalone rom com. I hope there will be more after that. I will continue to work in publishing by day, and write by night!

Thank you, Sonya, for taking the time for the interview. I’m sure I’m not the only one looking forward to your future work and wish you all the best!


And now it’s time for the review!

What I loved about this book was that it wasn’t what I was expecting. I went in looking for a girl going on dates as she’s told to do and finding the perfect guy. Very Hallmark. Cute and simple.

What I got was a story about not just finding love with someone else, but with yourself and your community. It’s about breaking down expectations within Raina and her community as she struggles with her life, as Shay fights against a traditional marriage rituals, as others within their community struggle against homophobic views.

Raina’s character really grows across the year the novel takes place and it was a touching story. Inner strength is powerful, and a lot of us are far stronger than we believe. That’s the reminder The Matchmaker’s List brings to us. Definitely worth picking up under either of it’s publication titles!


I would like to thank Penguin Random House Canada, Berkley Publishing, and Sonya Lalli, herself, for providing me with a copy of this book and for talking the time to allow this blog tour post to happen. 

REVIEW: Moon of Crusted Snow

Ever since I was a kid I have loved learning about the different cultures of Indigenous people across Canada and as I’ve grown up, I’ve become more and more heartbroken by the hardships those who live on the rez have had to deal with. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an interview with author Waubgeshig Rice about his new release, Moon of Crusted Snow. In the article, Rice describes how he “wanted to offer up the perspective of people who had experienced apocalypse already” and pay “an homage to the everyday people on reserves across Canada”.

Right from the get-go this book had me hooked. The Anishinaabe community of the novel is full of a wide range of characters, both likeable and not, prepping for the coming winter when all of their utilities go out. No electricity, no satellite, no cell service. Having never had reliable services from the get go, no one thinks twice… until two of their own return from the city and tell them what’s really going on.

On it’s own, the story is a terrifying concept alone, but the stakes are truly raised when an intimidating, survivalist, white man manages to make his way to the community and kicks them all when they’re down.

What I enjoyed most about this story is that not only is it an incredibly atmospheric end-of-the-world story, but it is a great framing of how hard life is for those in Native reserves as well as the racism First Nations peoples still face. The character, Justin Scott, even goes as far to say “the white man saves the day” as he is clearly taking advantage of the hospitality of the community.

Mixed into the everyday narrative are dream sequences and stories from the elders of the community that bring in warnings and foreshadowing from the tribe’s folklore adding an extra layer of intensity and knowledge.

This is definitely an incredible story with so many layers behind each sentence that I truly hope people pick it up and learn something from it. I look forward to the movie deal that Rice should definitely be offered for this novel.

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: Fire Song

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


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

The Story

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

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

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

The Characters

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

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

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

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

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

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

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

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

Conclusion ★★★

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


Fire Song

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

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

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

 

REVIEW: Emergency Contact

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


Mary H.K. Choi’s debut novel Emergency Contact is a story of friendship and love, and overcoming grief through the deep connects formed even over short periods of times. A touching novel about self-realization and forgiveness, it’s a very strong story and I am extremely happy that I was lucky enough to get the ARC. NOTE: This book contains an example of sexual assault, consider this a trigger warning.

The Story

The story is told in the third person perspective from the points of view of Sam Becker and Penny Lee, switching back and forth every chapter. Penny’s side of the story revolves around her going away to college and continually struggling to cope with the people are her who are not like her along with fighting against past grudges against her mom. Sam’s side is he is a recovering alcoholic dealing with the aftermath of the end of a toxic relationship he yearns to have back among an abundance of other problems.

The two of them are brought together in a swirl of events that lead Sam and Penny to be each other’s “emergency contact”. Not really sure what that exactly entails, the two grow closer with a goofy text-only friendship.

The Characters

I love Penny. There are times where she comes across as very “I’m not like the other girls” but, you know what? Girls like that exist. At one point even was one of those girls. She’s brilliant and therefore tends to hold herself and possible friends at impossibly high standards, thus ostracizing herself without necessarily meaning to. Her mom is very much a 25-year-old in the body of a 40-year-old and Penny struggles with how different they are as well. As far as this trope goes, Penny is one of the best written and nothing about her detracted from the story at all.

Sam is a dream. In any other story he would be the manic pixie dream boy looking for his manic pixie dream girl, but refuses to be “that guy” and therefore is even more likable. Sam is anti-toxic masculinity, baking and making “girly” drinks at the coffee shop he works in. He honestly is just a really sweet guy who was truly dealt a shitty hand in his childhood. He also has a lot of baggage to deal with and he does his best to handle.

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

I have no issues with this novel. Honestly, I can’t even think of a single problem. The only moment that made me uncomfortable was when Penny was recounting her sexual assault. It was a very well written moment in the book, especially since it deals with Penny wondering if it truly counts as an assault. Sam reassures her and is very cautious when physically near her, not wanting to do anything to trigger her or make her uncomfortable. I was impressed with Choi’s ability to write this scene and appreciated the care that was very clearly taken to write this scene without making it overtly obscene or triggering to anyone who has gone through a similar situation.

Conclusion ★★★★★

I loved Emergency Contact. The characters were full of depth and very relatable. The story was heartfelt and touching but also made me laugh out loud at some of the nonsensical text conversations Sam and Penny had with each other. I’ve read several ARCs so far this year, but this is first one I can confidently say I will be buy several copies of to throw at my friends. I hope that Mary H.K. Choi sees great success off of this novel and continues to write more.


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Author: Mary H.K. Choi
Published:  March 27th 2018
Pages: 400
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9781534408968

Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.