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.

 

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.

 

Nocturne by Heather McKenzie

“The only way I can protect the ones I love…is to disappear.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 363 pages.
Read from March 13, 2018 to March 19, 2018.

I was thrilled when Heather reached out to me again to review an ARC edition of her latest novel in the Nightmusic Trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in her series, Serenade, and am thankful I have had the privilege of continuing to read and review the series.

Nocturne picks up right where it left off in Serenade so I would recommend starting with Serenade if you are interested in the series or you will not have a clue what is going on in Nocturne. If you have read Serenade then you are in for a treat as all of the best characters make a come back in this novel as well as few stellar new ones.

Kaya feels free. Finally. Well, as free as you can feel being away from an oppressive and murderous father who wants you dead to ensure he gets full control of his billion-dollar pharmaceutical company. But she has Luke and that is all she needs. Despite her good fortune with the help of her friends in her initial escape she is still being hunted and is constantly be on the run. She soon learns that she is being hunted by more than just her father which has brought a few unwanted people back into her life. This knowledge came with a violent scene in which Kaya tragically learns that if she truly wants to protect the ones she loves she must leave them. Kaya heart-wrenchingly lies to those close to her and then sets off on her own, something she has never been allowed to do before. She is picked up by a cowboy named Ben who invites her to work on his ranch for room and board. Kaya is gutted with the loss of Luke and tries her best to maintain herself but will she be able to stay hidden? Is this what her life is now going to be like? No longer a sheltered princess living in a castle, Kaya grows and learns about her own capabilities and is finally free to make her own decisions. Luke and the ones who love her are not so easily deterred from protecting her, and as the story climaxes, Kaya will be thankful for their persistence.

Nocturne definitely keeps the same intense pace as its predecessor! This is the kind of action that needs to be in more YA novels with female leads. The novel is exciting, action-packed and suspenseful. The story is constantly moving and changing, creating nail-biting anticipation as Kaya and her friends literally fight their way away from those wanting to harm her. The story does not shy away from gun violence, blood, gore or from the characters getting a little frisky! The characters emotional reactions are visceral and the scenes invoke fantastic imagery. It is also nice to see a plot set in Saskatchewan, Canada. While it isn’t the most glamorous place, it is nice to see real rural Canadian settings in a YA book and I think that will speak to a lot of local readers.

Fun Fact:
Heather McKenzie decided to write a book because her own daughter wanted to read a story that did not have vampires, werewolves etc. but rather something set in real life.

As with a lot of YA novels, I struggled with the romance aspects of the plot and this book is sappier than Serenade. The massive love triangle was not as appealing to me as the extreme in which the characters cared and lusted for each other seemed like a stretch, but then again, I am not a teenager. I have not forgotten the fierceness I felt with my first love or how all-encompassing it felt so I think that the romance in this story would be very engaging for most teens. The other new characters in the story, like Thomas and Marlene, are fierce, smart and funny and are fantastic additions to the story.

There is one character and aspect of this story that I question and that is how the new character, Ben, was handled. Without spoiling the story, Ben makes some reprehensible choices under the guise that he was drunk and didn’t mean it. Just because someone is drunk does mean that they are not in control or not responsible for their actions. Ben also had a track record of the behaviour. However, Ben is a complicated and dynamic character, which is not always seen in YA, and he really added some depth to the story. I don’t think you’re supposed to like Ben or even feel sorry for him and thankfully the other supporting characters reactions and fortitude make up for his failings. Some of the novel’s focus is on Kaya’s desire and her desirability, which, of course, every teen girl wants to feel! So as a teen reader these plot nuances are a way to build on that and for the reader to play into a fantasy of desirability, which is completely understandable. So perhaps I think I just need to turn my adult-brain off and just enjoy the story for what it is, and it is one that I actually really enjoyed.

In fact, I demolished it over the last few days and bemoaned when I had to put it down. I feel really lucky to be one of the first to get my hands on this book. If you are a teen, a lover of YA fiction, action and romance then you are going to love this book. It is a great follow-up to Serenade and I can’t wait to see what the final book has in store for Kaya. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait too long for the final addition in this series!