Mala’s October 2018 Hot Reads

Last month was a little light on romance reading for me, but a goldmine for my other go-to genres! I read some great YA, really compelling litfic-y fantasy rooted in Indian mythology, and some awesome urban fantasy. Rebecca Roanhorse’s UF debut, Trail of Lightning, rooted in Navajo culture and lore, is just brilliant–reinvigorating a subgenre that, at least for me, had begun to feel kind of samey-samey. Her heroine, Maggie, is SUCH a badass. I cannot wait for the next book, Storm of Locusts, which is set to come out April 23, 2019. And I finally got around to Anne Bishop’s Lake Silence, the latest visit to her Others universe. It’s so weird to say this, because Bishop’s books are really violent, but I always feel warm and fuzzy after I’m done with one of her titles. There’s a real softness and kindness woven throughout despite the frequently bloodthirsty content. I hope she’s not done with the terra indigene yet!

The reading rundown:
From a Certain Point of View by Renée Ahdieh, Zoraida Córdova, Nnedi Okorafor, et al (anthology, science fiction, Star Wars tie-in)
Otherworld Chills by Kelley Armstrong (anthology, urban fantasy)
Lake Silence by Anne Bishop (urban fantasy)
The Devourers by Indra Das (literary fiction, fantasy)
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (literary fiction, Mahabharata retelling)
Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert (paranormal romance, urban fantasy, novella)
It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday (contemporary romance)
Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Lau (contemporary romance)
Last Shot by Daniel José Older (science fiction, Star Wars tie-in)
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic)
Sadie by Courtney Summers (young adult thriller/suspense)
Pride by Ibi Zoboi (young adult romance, coming-of-age, Pride and Prejudice retelling)

On the TBR:
Hired by Zoey Castile (out 2/26/19)
An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole (out 2/26/19)
Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (out 6/19)
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik (out 2/5/19)
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (out 11/13/18)

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Mala’s September 2018 Hot Reads

September gifted me with a great mix of YA fiction and adult contemporary romance. The former included the immensely satisfying Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu, about a girl pushing back at the sexist bullshit pervading her high school and Julie Murphy’s utterly charming Dumplin’, which will soon be debuting in movie form on Netflix. Both books are set in Texas—-resulting in what’s probably the most productive amount of time I’ve spent in Lone Star State!

In the romance realm, I traveled up to Kentucky for Tiffany Reisz’s hilarious and sweet BDSM romance, Picture Perfect Cowboy. The story features characters from her Original Sinners universe in a much lighter context, and it really whet my appetite for BDSM romcom. More funny kink, please! Then I left the States entirely, stopping in South Africa for my first Christmas romance of 2018 —- Therese Beharrie’s adorable Her Festive Flirtation —- and immersing myself in New Zealand’s desi community via Nalini Singh’s steamy arranged-marriage plot, Rebel Hard. Both of these romances feature women of color navigating family expectations and weddings, and they really hit home while also warming my embittered soul!

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Mala’s August 2018 Hot Reads

I sort of threw myself head-first into reading in August. It was a rough month for various reasons, and books turned out to be a great place to hide. I was able to channel a lot of rage and frustration into Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone, an incredibly timely (and entertaining!) thriller about a sociopathic woman getting revenge on a man who definitely deserves it. Meanwhile, the Obama-Biden bromance mystery Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer was a wonderful and funny reminder of when we had kindness and competence in the White House. Despite its noir tone and hints of melancholy, it was basically like a hug from “Uncle Joe” Biden. And historical romances by KJ Charles are always a good bet, because they reflect England as it was, not as most white Regency and Victorian authors imagine it to be. Unfit to Print features a British Indian lawyer as a protagonist and deals with Victorian pornography and sex work—and it’s just a damn good romantic mystery!

The reading rundown:
Like Never And Always by Ann Aguirre (young adult, mystery/thriller)
Unfit to Print by KJ Charles (historical LGBT romance, mystery)
Ararat by Christopher Golden (horror)
A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert (contemporary romance)
Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan (new adult contemporary romance, TW for extensive scenes of domestic violence)
Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer (mystery/thriller)
Only For a Night by Naima Simone (erotic romance)
Only For You by Naima Simone (erotic romance)
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (mystery, gothic horror)
Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone (thriller, suspense)
Viking Flame by Holley Trent (paranormal romance, erotic romance)

On the TBR:
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday
The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli
Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Lau
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Always and Forever: Why The Originals is Great Vampire Drama

Forever Knight. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel. Moonlight. True Blood. The Vampire Diaries. There’s been a lot of beloved vampire content on TV over the years. I’m here to tell you that The CW’s The Originals, which took its final bow on Aug. 1, ranks at the top.

This is actually a bit funny, considering I had little use for this ancient clan of vampires when they were introduced on The Vampire Diaries. Klaus, who was quite the fearsome Big Bad in the books by L.J. Smith was kind of underwhelming. Though actor Joseph Morgan’s theatrical scenery chewing was mesmerizing, as a character Klaus felt like a Napoleonic manbaby whose slaughter of people was rooted in temper tantrums. I did like his stern older brother Elijah (the delicious Daniel Gillies) and his perfect combo of sociopathy + suit porn, and their inexplicably Australian sister Rebekah (Claire Holt), but I really didn’t root for them in any meaningful way. Not with the established core cast of Salvatore brothers, Elena, and Bonnie right there! In fact, my reaction to them getting their own show was, and I quote, “Tell me again why Klaus needs his own spin-off? Isn’t it bad enough that he ate #TheVampireDiaries with a giant, whiny spoon?”

Marcel and Freya each got to shine.

I was soon eating crow with that same spoon. Because remarkably, on their own series—on their own turf of New Orleans—the Mikaelsons blossomed. The one-note vampires stirring up trouble in small-town Virginia turned into a gothic family saga of Shakespearean proportions. Klaus’ temper and constant posturing—baffling on The Vampire Diaries—made so much more sense amidst familial power struggles going back thousands of years! And each of his siblings and loved ones, imbued with their own goals, their own responsibilities to this loose cannon, got a chance to shine. We got to meet Klaus’ adopted son (and Rebekah’s long-time love), Marcel Gerard, played by the staggeringly hot and charismatic Charles Michael Davies. And the eldest Mikaelson sibling, Freya, who was long-thought dead. Awakened from a curse and brought back to her family, Freya (Riley Voelkel) quickly became the fiercest champion of their safety—almost at the cost of herself, until she realized she was allowed to have her own life. Indeed, the Mikaelson family motto— “always and forever”—often proved as dysfunctional as it was devotional…and provided the core thrust of the series. No matter what transpired over the course of five seasons, everything came back to those three little words.

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Mala’s July 2018 Hot Reads

Is it weird that I feel guilty if I haven’t read 10 books in a month? I feel like I’m slacking! Fortunately, it’s really about quality, not quantity—and July had no shortage of quality reads! In fact, I met two of my favorite heroines of the year so far: Portia Hobbs, in Alyssa Cole’s A Duke By Default, and Cherry Neita, in Talia Hibbert’s The Princess Trap. Two amazingly relatable women, written by two amazingly talented women! Portia, who is trying to get her life together and eventually discovers that she has ADHD, really spoke to me. I felt so seen as I recognized my own mess in hers. As for Cherry…? Man, I wish I had her take-no-shit attitude!

I also can’t rave enough about what’s coming out of the young adult sector these days. Zoraida Córdova’s Bruja Born and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation were both excellent. I really would love to see the latter as a big-budget blockbuster film, subverting all the usual tired tropes of most zombie flicks.

The reading rundown:
A Taste of Pleasure by Chloe Blake (contemporary romance)
A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (contemporary romance)
Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova (young adult, urban fantasy)
My Lord, Lady, and Gentleman by Nicola Davidson (erotic historical romance)
The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert (contemporary romance)
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (young adult, speculative fiction)
Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (mainstream fiction)
The Tycoon by Molly O’Keefe (contemporary romance)

On the TBR:
Unfit to Print by KJ Charles
It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday
Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Lau
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone
Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Mala’s May and June 2018 Hot Reads

So, I feel like 15 books in two months is kind of a sad showing for me —  but, in my defense, I moved from New York City to Chicago so I had a lot going on! The ARC of Stripped, by Zoey Castile, was probably the last book to go in my packing boxes! If you loved Magic Mike XXL, this delightful, sexy, summer romance definitely needs to go on your list! (And you’ll never look at the Coney Island Wonder Wheel the same.) Meanwhile, Sarah MacLean and Tiffany Reisz are at the top of their game with Wicked and the Wallflower and The Chateau, respectively, and Tessa Dare’s hilarious The Governess Game threw me a lifeline when I was drowning in doubt post-move.

My favorite read of the month, though, was probably The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty — a  gorgeously immersive Middle East-set fantasy. Yes, there’s romance in it, but you’ll also fall in love with the mythology and the world-building and all of the twists and turns. I can’t wait for book two, The Kingdom of Copper.

The reading rundown:
Stripped by Zoey Castile (out 8/28, contemporary romance)
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (fantasy)
The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (out 8/28, historical romance)
The King of Bourbon Street by Thea de Salle (erotic romance)
Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray (young adult fiction, Star Wars tie-in)
One and Only by Jenny Holiday (contemporary romance)
The Snows of Windroven by Jeffe Kennedy (fantasy romance)
A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo (YA LGBT thriller/psychological suspense)
Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean (historical romance)
A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn (historical mystery)
The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz (BDSM, erotic fiction)
My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma (young adult romance)
Erstwhile by H.E. (Holley) Trent (sci-fi erotic romance)
Pas De Deux by Lynn Turner (contemporary romance)
Her New Groove by Shelly Ellis (contemporary romance)

On the TBR:
Duke By Default by Alyssa Cole
Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova
It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday
Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Mala’s April 2018 Hot Reads

April was a great month in reading, mostly because I finally got around to Samira Ahmed’s New York Times best-selling YA novel, Love, Hate and Other Filters. In turns relatable and harrowing, it’s a story about growing up Muslim and American while trying to embrace your own path, your own destiny. (And Samira’s author’s note at the end almost made me burst into tears.) Then there was Sayantani DasGupta’s The Serpent’s Secret, which is based on Bengali folktales. It totally sent me back to my childhood! I wish I’d had this book, and a heroine like Kiranmala, when I was 10 or 11 years old.

I also really loved V.S. McGrath’s fantasy western, The Devil’s Revolver, and need to pick up sequel The Devil’s Standoff for May! If you like TV shows like SyFy’s Wynonna Earp, this is definitely a series for you! It’s got adventure, a diverse cast, magic, a kickass female lead, and a really interesting world.

The reading rundown:
Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (young adult fiction, YA romance)
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta (middle grade fantasy)
To Tame a Wicked Widow by Nicola Davidson (erotic historical romance)
Bad Assassin by S. Doyle (erotic suspense/romantic suspense)
The One You Can’t Forget by Roni Loren (out 6/5, contemporary romance)
The Devil’s Revolver by V.S. McGrath (western, fantasy, speculative fiction)
Seduced By the Badge by Deborah Fletcher Mello (out 6/1, romantic suspense)
Pretending He’s Mine by Mia Sosa (contemporary romance)
The Viking Queen’s Men by Holley Trent (erotic paranormal romance)
The Chieftain’s Daughter by Holley Trent (erotic paranormal romance)
Escort by Skye Warren (dark romance, erotic romance)
High Lonesome Sound by Jaye Wells (horror)

In backlist adventures, I picked up Lea Griffith’s 2013 release Bullet to the Heart, because it was free on Amazon. Dark romance before dark romance really became a thing, it’s superviolent and bananas and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I definitely want to skip the second book, as the protags are Asian and Native American and the author seems to think that naturally makes them more woo-woo than her white characters. No thank you! Still, the concept of embittered lady assassins is kind of my catnip, so I’d love to find less problematic books with similar themes.