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.

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 ….

 

Love in the Time of Global Warming

Image result for love in the time of global warmingTitle: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Genre: retelling;
Synopsis: Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
Review: This Odyssey pairing is an interesting YA version of the text. A modern setting and some cool queer characters make this classic tale seem fresh and inviting for a new generation of readers. Pen is an interesting protagonist, thrown into the apocalypse without warning or preparation.  While Block doesn’t have the sweeping power that Homer does, it would be a good pairing for lower-level readers so that they understand the mile markers of the epic. Pen is a heroine in her own right, but she is no Odysseus.

In the end, the book felt a little one-dimensional for me. I am very well versed in Homer, so I think I went into it with really high expectations and hopes, but was instead kind of left wanting more. The characters didn’t get enough backstory and the drama felt a little rushed. I’d still recommend it to the students I teach though, so….

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Image result for erotic stories for punjabi widowsTitle: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genre: contemporary; mystery; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community. Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind. As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.
Review: Recommended to me by a friend, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is definitely a departure from my regularly scheduled reading. This is no YA Fantasy, that’s for sure. But! I LOVED IT. It was fast paced and fun to read. The storylines are pieced together in a really beautiful way. I especially loved Nikki – a die-hard feminist looking to make a difference in the world – in her world. I laughed out right at some of the Punjabi stories, just as I imagine Nikki would have. The mystery element, at first threw me, but again, I was surprised at how well it was woven into the contemporary story of a woman finding her place in the world.