Gina in the Floating World by Belle Brett

A stellar debut erotica novel about a young and ambitious woman in Japan in the 1980s.

4/5 stars.
ARC ebook, 328 pages.
Read from September 11, 2018 to September 14, 2018.

Erotica novels are a great pick-me-up and an escape from everyday life, that is if they’re done well. I am very selective when it comes to choosing an erotica novel; the plot either has to sound extremely interesting or the sex scenes have to sound insanely hot. What’s even better is if the two, the plot and the sex scenes, come together to create a book that completely consumes you with intrigue, which, with erotica novels, more often than not, is not the case. This book is a rare exception. Thankfully you won’t have to wait long to get a copy as you purchase this gem for yourself on September 25, 2018.

Dee Dee, or as her clients know her, Gina, has come to Japan for an internship to help her get some international banking experience so that she can get into a coveted university program. This is also how she became an escort. After her housing situation falls through she desperately needs to find income to manage the rest of her internship. Through an acquaintance, Dee Dee becomes Gina, her working nickname, and starts working at a bar in which she entertains male-clients. It’s uncomfortable for her at first but in the beginning its harmless work. She just has to look nice, deal with the crude comments from customers, flirt and sing karaoke. She then, however, starts going out on paid dinner dates in which her customers pay for her time.  Here she meets an older man, potentially a gangster, who takes extreme interest and care in her. He pays her handsomely for the time they spend together and while she is attracted to him her morals question whether or not she should engage in sexual acts with him for money. One thing leads to another and Gina finds herself with multiple clients in which she avalanches into the world of prostitution. The term ‘floating world’ or Ukiyo (浮世), was coined in the Edo period in Japan which describes a pleasure-seeking type lifestyle and popular art form.

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Source: Culture 24

Gina is definitely living life at its best in the floating world. She is taking risks and doing things she had never even dreamed of doing but her two lives, Dee Dee’s and Gina’s, are at odds and her life as Gina has begun to get dangerous. Gina needs to find a way to escape from the floating world that she is deeply entwined in before she is trapped in it forever.

The sex scenes are not as numerous as other erotica novels nor are they as long but it’s quality over quantity for this book. I wasn’t even bothered by the fact that the steamy sex scenes didn’t kick in until a little bit later because the plot was so captivating. The ending is that of an empowered and self-sufficient Dee Dee who has learned more about herself and her life with the short time she has been in Japan than she ever would have at a bank or at back at home. The unique plot setting, along with solid writing and character work make for a story that is interesting on its own, even without the sex. What also made this book a success for me is that the author did not have to stretch my reality too much to make this story interesting and sexy at the same time.

The one thing I did find disappointing in this book is that the plot did not feel like it was set in the 1980s at all but perhaps that is because I have no point of reference for what Japan would have been like in the 80s. There are a couple of music references that indicate the 80s but I found even the clothing description could have easily been applied to the present day.

This novel is a perfect place to start for any first-time erotica reader, though it may set the bar pretty high for anything afterwards. I really enjoyed reading this book and will be placed on my short list of recommendations for this genre.

 

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

“As we count up the memories from one journey, we head off on another. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 238 pages.
Read on August 17, 2018.

I tried twice to get this book from Netgalley, that is how badly I wanted to read it.  I mean, come on, most of the book is narrated by a cat! How could I not!? Thankfully I was able to a copy and absolutely devoured it one sitting. This book has been published since November 2017 but will be published in paperback on October 23, 2018.

I have noticed that I have an affinity for translated Japanese and Korean books. There is something about the style that really speaks to me. Haruki Murakami (who also likes to write about cats) and Han Kang are two of my going favourite authors at the moment and I may have to add Arikawa to the list as well. This book is translated by Philip Gabriel, the same man responsible for translating most of Murakami’s works, and I get the impression he is the best at what he does.

I am not a crier. I don’t think I have ever cried reading a book but damn, this one brought me really close. sad-cat-gif-21.gifI was on the brink of a sad but uplifting-ugly-cry with this story that will bring just about anyone to the same soppy-state.

Nana, as you come to know him, was a stray cat for most of his life and proudly so. He regularly sat on top of a silver van in suburban Japan and one day a young man greeted him. His name is Satoru. Satoru begins to leave out food for Nana, which he cautiously eats. Humans are fickle and are not to be depended on. However, one day Nana gets hit by a car and is left with injuries, that, if left untreated will kill him. He slinks over to where the van is located and screams as loud as he can for Satoru, the only human he has a remote connection with. Satoru takes care of Nana and gives him his peculiar name. Nana is similar to a cat that Satoru grew up with and was tragically separated from after the tragic accident that killed his parents. After caring for Nana for a few months, Satoru however, abruptly decides to try and rehome Nana with no explanation to the reader, despite his clear reluctance to the idea and his extreme attachment to Nana. Satoru takes Nana on a road trip to visit his old school friends in order to find a comfortable and suitable home for Nana.  None of the homes seems to fit the bill but with each visit, you learn more about Satoru’s elusive past and the tragic reason why he feels the need to find a new home for his beloved cat. Nana tries to pretend that he is fine with being rehomed but as the trip progresses he realizes that he does not want to belong to anyone else but Satoru.

Love, family, friends, and loyalty are some of the main themes in this novel all which are sure to hit you right in the feels, even if you are not a cat-lover, though ESPECIALLY if you are a cat lover. The narrative style is light and easy and the author does a great job of slowly piecing together the life of Satoru for the reader and in creating intrigue with Satoru and his mysterious troubles. By the end of the story, I will say that the majority of readers will be in some form of crying; whether withheld tears, free-flow or the all-out ugly-cry.

This story is accessible to every reader and is an easy book to recommend to nearly any family member or friend. This is actually one of those few books I will go out of my way to add to my physical library so that I can re-read and lend out again and again.

My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively…

3/5 stars.
ARC, ebook, 208 pages.
Read from July 6, 2018 to July 12, 2018.

Expected publication: September 11, 2018

WWII and holocaust survivor stories are some of my favourite reading genres so when I saw this book on Netgalley with the absolutely raving reviews I knew I just had to read it.

Set in Kwasova, Ukraine during WWII, My Real Name is Hanna is a unique coming of age story.  With the rise of Nazi Germany, Hanna and her family don’t initially suspect that that anything will happen to them in their small town.  Hanna spends her time helping her neighbour dye decorative pysanky eggs and hanging out with her friend Leon.  However, the tides quickly change with the Nazis on their doorsteps and the carefree life and childhood that Hanna has known comes to an abrupt end.  Her family is desperate to stay together and do whatever it takes to keep it that way. A few kind friends and neighbours help Hanna and her family plot their escape into the forest when the Nazis come for them.  After their first safe place comes under threat, Hanna and her family are forced underground where they have to learn to live in a cramped cave in order to avoid the horrible Nazi forces.  Finding hope in the darkness, both literally and figuratively, is all that Hanna and her family have left.

Everyone seemed to love this book and while I didn’t dislike the novel I also don’t feel the need to rave about it either. I am struggling to find the words for my indifference to this story as the plot was exciting and definitely nerve-wracking at times.  The plot and layout of this story is its best feature but I felt a disconnect between some parts of the story and with the characters. For example, the book Hanna was given as a gift, which is the focal point of the first chapter, felt absolutely unnecessary in the rest of the book and really could have been edited out.  Based on the reviews I have read, it seems that the majority readers had a strong emotional connection to the characters but I, however, found it a bit lacking. The characters struggles, as awful as they were, did not seem like they were communicated as well as they could have been.  While one of the most touching scenes of the story entails Hanna and her friend Leon but at the same time, Leon also felt like an unnecessary character. If the story had focused on just Hanna and her immediate family members, the characters might have felt a bit more robust to me.

I can see why readers have compared this story to The Book Thief as this book has successfully discussed a difficult and tragic story but has also kept it attainable for youth readers.  However, in terms of potency and character development, The Book Thief is still the clear winner for me.

While I wasn’t as enthralled with this book as other readers the content of the story is good and many others swear by its moving story so I would still recommend this book for those interested in the WWII narrative and YA readers.