Wicked Masquerade

36001795Title: Wicked Masquerade
Author: Diana Rose Wilson
Genre: romance; erotica; fantasy
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Ursa is unassuming and practical. She never craved glamorous things until she accepted an invitation to the Halloween Masquerade, a carefully arranged erotic event featuring voyeurism, public sex, kinky games, and role-play. She is captivated by a handsome man—a chocolate-skinned, winged archer in a Cupid mask—who awakens hunger she never realized possible. He provokes her Domme, teases her senses, satisfies her body, and even introduces Ursa to pony-play. Hidden behind her mask, she becomes the person she craves to be, but never dared.
Ursa’s mysterious lover fulfills her every dark desire, and beyond. She embraces her secret pleasures to the fullest during their wild fantasy weekend. When it ends and her mask is removed the Domme disappears and normal life returns, but the yearning for Cupid and her new passions remain.

Review: When I received this book, I wasn’t quite sure about it because it wasn’t exactly something that I normally pick up but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved it. I felt a little like protagonist Ursa walking into her first Masquerade. As she walked up to the limo, her mask on, nervous and shaky, so too was I, nervous about what was to come. But Wilson’s writing style seemed effortless and instantly I began to enjoy the tension. Overall, I loved this book, so much so that I am happy to learn that it’s a series, one I cannot WAIT to jump back into.

I have two issues – the first is how quickly Ursa goes from shy and “oh my god, I’m going home” to “I’m a Domme now, let’s do this.” I don’t think it felt natural. I know, obviously, very little about these situations and scenes, but there was such (well written) build up about her nerves and her anxieties and then they’re just instantly dissolved. I would have liked them to be chipped away a bit more. I mean, it didn’t stop me from reading the entire novel, and loving the entire novel, but still.

The second were the wings. Like. Maybe there will be more about them later, but it felt like a plot device poorly used. And then forgotten about. I like a little fantasy in the real world, just like any other girl who hopes all those paranormal romances could be real, but like, don’t forget about them?

What I loved was Wilson’s attention to detail. Every single scene was intimately scripted out from the feel of fingers on skin to the emotions in Ursa’s head. I loved the extravagance of it all. I loved how there were those who loved the drama and those who just loved the scene. I loved how Diana Rose Wilson wrote a love story in the middle of a weekend long Masquerade and it felt real and authentic and oh so yummy. I’d read many, many more books from her.

*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Transformed

38262542.jpgTitle: Transformed
Editor: Charlie Watson
Genre: anthology; romance; erotica; shapeshifter; lgbt; folklore
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Nothing is quite so deliciously freeing as caving to your instincts. For centuries, shapeshifters have personified our impulse to bow to our animalistic nature. From lycans to skin-walkers and everything in between, shapeshifters give us a chance to connect with our inner-selves and celebrate our intriguing differences, our passions, and ultimately our humanity through their necessity of striking a balance between their human selves and supernatural selves.

Review: Transformed was a really interesting read. From selkies to cobras, this anthology had every type of shifter you could imagine. Transformed is categorized on Netgalley as Erotica, and for the latter half, I understand why, but the first half is pretty tame. Some of the stories are sweet stories of finding yourself or a dormant part of yourself and embracing that.

I liked the diversity of voices and characters represented in this anthology. There were a plethora of shifters and their stories were so unique it made the reading of each one an experience. I especially enjoyed the story entitled “Thwarting the Spirits” about a mongoose and a cobra and when it ended, I wished there was more. Jones’ writing was beautiful and magical and left me wanting more. The same can be said for Liz McAdams’ “For the Love of the Hunt” and her story of a shifter who’d forgotten a primal part of herself.

Overall, this anthology was fun, sexy, and thrilling. I enjoyed the compilation for what it was!

*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Cade

pro_pbid_1190099Title: Cade
Author: V.A. Dold
Genre: fantasy; romance; paranormal; series; shifter
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Anna James is single again, finally. In her opinion, men are self-centered and will never love her for who she is, a beautiful, plus sized woman. All except the fantasy man that she’s been meeting in her dreams for five years. She just never expected her fantasy to be a real live alpha shifter… Cade Le Beau isn’t what he seems. He’s a billionaire wolf. A Shifter. He laments his missed chance six months ago to meet his fantasy woman in the flesh. Just as his second chance presents itself, his fantasy woman, his mate, is threatened by the local mob boss and her ex-husband. Now, he has forty eight hours to deal with this threat once and for all or chance losing her again. Is it Anna who’s in danger, or the humans who unwittingly threaten her? The heat is on the moment they lay eyes on each other. Neither, age, children, horrid ex-husbands, nor mob bosses will stop this love affair.
Review: Thanks to a weekly BookBub email, this was recommended to me as a free Kindle download. I loved the pace of this read. I read it in one sitting. I liked the story overall, but in terms of development, there wasn’t much, that’s why I’ve given it a 3/5. That being said, here are my general thoughts on Cade: Le Beau Brothers #1:
As far as paranormal romance novels go, this one ticks all the boxes of things I’m looking for in them. It had a strong family unit, which I’ve come to associate with wolf/shifter novels in the paranormal realm of writing. I liked the family unit as a whole, although I would have enjoyed more development of these secondary characters — there were many openings for Dold to give Stefan more than just charm, or for the more and father to be more than static, but, I guess as this is just book one of the Le Beau Brothers, perhaps their development comes later.

Cade as a male lead was everything you expect from a romance novel. Strong, built, emotionally open, protective. Couple that with his wolf instincts, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide prince, right? Well, exactly. Anna gets her dream man, literally. I enjoy that. In some romance novels — too many, if we’re being honest — the dream man has some skeleton in his closet that brings the whole relationship into question. This, thankfully, was not the case here. Cade’s devotion to Anna was well written, and although I did find him to be a bit overprotective, Anna’s ability to be more than a wilting flower helped me get past it.

Pacing — At some points in the story it felt like too much was being revealed too soon, and then repeated later, almost like an editing error. Like, when Cade begins to reveal parts of the mating process, some of these aspects come back later, where they seem more natural.

While I’m not sure I’ll pick up the rest of the series, this first book was a fun, fast summer read.

Vampire Academy

Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: fantasy; young adult; paranormal romance; urban fiction
Synopsis: (from Amazon) St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . . Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.
Review: I picked this up for $1 at a used book store in Northampton, MA, and am kinda glad I didn’t pay much more than that. For a vacation read, it was entertaining, but it was predictable and the characters felt flat to me. I would definitely recommend this to the girls I teach who still think Team Alice / Team Bella is fun. Rose and Lissa are much stronger women than anyone In the Twilight franchise.

Here are my general thoughts.

1. It was okay. I liked that it had a definitive end, because I don’t think I’ll continue with it. But, I can see where a sequel and subsequent series will pick up.

2. Rose was too juvenile for me. But I think she’s just not what I’m looking for in a protagonist anymore. She’s reckless and snarky in a way that seems foolish, not necessary, if that makes sense.

3. Mead’s dealing with depression was delicate and sensitive in my opinion. I think she wrote in two teenagers who were going through some heavy stuff and didn’t know how to deal, and then handled it well.

The predictability of the book is what really got me. I mean, it’s gotta have some tropes to be YA paranormal romance, but does it have to have ALL of them? The forbidden love, the love triangle, the scandal, the social classes, the miscommunications, the rebellion, the snarky loser reject, the Miss Frizzle, the mean teacher that reads all the notes. If you made a list of all the high school / paranormal tropes, they’d be in this book.

I like a good trope. We all like a good trope. But having them all, I just felt like I was checking boxes rather than reading a story. At the end of the day though, I picked it up knowing what I was getting myself into, and bought it anyway. Like I said up top… it was okay.

Labyrinth Lost

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Genre: fantasy; young adult; LGBT; paranormal; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation… And she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.
Review: While reading this, the first thing that came to mind was, “heck yes, a Latinx bruja story!” I legit haven’t seen many of these on the market and with paranormal fantasy as big as it is, that’s a tragedy. That said, I am happy to report that Córdova has opened up this niche market to the wider audience with her first book of her Brooklyn Brujas series. Authors like Isabel Allende and Cristina Garcia have been bringing powerful Latinx women to the written page for decades and with Labyrinth Lost, Córdova puts herself on that list of authors too — for a young adult audience.

Alex is an interesting narrator for this first installment. She is written like a perfect middle child — I am one, I know what it feels like, okay! — Somewhere between knowing everything and getting away with everything, Alex is just looking for ordinary in a family that is anything but. Like any true YA heroine, doubt and panic lead to major second guessing which leads to a major lack of communication between mother / daughter. (Really, between the whole family.) This is my only gripe with this book. Had ONE of the 400 years of brujas and brujos in Alex’s family told her what she needed to hear, many of the conflicts would have resolved themselves. But as I continue to think about this, I think, what sixteen-year-old girl talks to their parents about the stuff that matters? And there are a few instances where she tries and gets brushed off, so I take away this gripe. But I don’t erase it. Because it was there.

That said, the storyline was beautifully written. Woven like an Ancient Greek tapestry by Penelope herself, Córdova takes you into Los Lagos, the In Between as it were, and writes three dimensional characters all the way through. The villain is interesting. The plot is too. Alex’s character development is both realistic and touching. I like Nova as a character. I like Rishi, but less than I like Nova. Alex does something really impulsive for Rishi that I think is counterintuitive to her character’s whole motivation. In fact, when this particular scene happened, chapter 33, I was riding on a train from Cavaillon to Salon in Provence and I slammed my book down in my lap in a most dramatic fashion. My fellow French passengers were not amused. Je suis désolé. Like my earlier gripe that I took back because she’s sixteen, I think I have to use that same card here too. What do you think?

I’ve already put in an order for the second book and can’t wait for it to arrive.

Toil & Trouble

Image result for toil and trouble tessaTitle: Toil & Trouble
Editors: Tessa Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood
Genre: short stories; fantasy; anthology
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)  A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era. Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth. History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations. Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.
ReviewToil & Trouble is a brilliant collection of short stories about powerful women that bend and break the traditional chains that bind them. From a series of varied perspectives, the power of women comes through in ways that are soft and easy as well as hard hitting and intense. Each author tells the story of the witch or bruja as if magic itself coiled around the words. The prose is beautiful and poetic, and yes, sometimes heartbreaking. I enjoyed every single short in this collection and will be buying it the moment it is released.

*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

A Court of Frost and Starlight

Image result for a court of frost and starlightTitle: A Court of Frost and Starlight
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; faerie; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Winter Solstice. In a week. I was still new enough to being High Lady that I had no idea what my formal role was to be. If we’d have a High Priestess do some odious ceremony, as lanthe had done the year before. A year. Gods, nearly a year since Rhys had called in his bargain, desperate to get me away from the poison of the Spring Court to save me from my despair. Had he been only a minute later, the Mother knew what would have happened. Where I’d now be. Snow swirled and eddied in the garden, catching in the brown fibers of the burlap covering the shrubs My mate who had worked so hard and so selflessly, all without hope that I would ever be with him We had both fought for that love, bled for it. Rhys had died for it.
Review:  I preordered this book and anticipated this release so so heavily. I thought I was getting the next full installment of the series, not a 3.1 “day in the life” kind of novella. Maybe that’s my fault. I loved getting back into the characters and their lives, and I am glad I spent the time to preorder it, but it was not everything I hoped for. Some people really enjoy these types of books, the kinds that give their characters a semblance of normalcy after a long battle or a hard heartbreak, and typically, I am those readers. But this time, I was just expecting more.

I wanted this to be the fallout of the Battle of Hybern, and instead, I got the story of recovery after trauma. The varied POV changes also threw me a little. I wonder if this is to set up a series of spin offs from the characters in the future? Anyway. I’m still going to be ordering the next one, so ….