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

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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.

Mala’s March 2018 Hot Reads

After ending February on a discordant note — the disappointment of the exoticizing elements in Hello Stranger — I kicked off March with a wonderful book that wholeheartedly embraces the realistic diversity of the past. Beverly Jenkins has been doing the work for years, celebrating how black men and women lived and loved in the Civil War era, the Old West, etc. And Tempest is glorious, featuring an independent heroine who accidentally shoots the doctor hero, a thread of mystery, family strife, and even issues involving Chinese railroad workers. There’s just SO much to this beautiful novel, and I came away from it ‘shipping at least three sets of characters and wanting their stories, too!

After my trip back in time, I hurtled forward — returning to the Sectors, as my fave Kit Rocha released their latest Gideon’s Riders book, Ivan, and discovering new-to-me author Vivien Jackson’s futuristic cyberpunk-ish Wanted & Wired series. Give me allll the queer-friendly multiracial future scenarios, please!

The reading rundown:

Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane (romantic suspense)
The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran (historical romance)
Bad for the Boss by Talia Hibbert (erotic romance, contemporary romance)
Wanted and Wired by Vivien Jackson (dystopian/sci-fi romantic suspense)
Perfect Gravity by Vivien Jackson (dystopian/sci-fi romantic suspense)
Tempest by Beverly Jenkins (historical romance)
On the Brink of Passion by Tamsen Parker (erotic romance, contemporary romance)
Ivan by Kit Rocha (dystopian romantic suspense)
Lady Rogue by Theresa Romain (out 4/24, historical romance)
Sinner by Sierra Simone (erotic romance)

I also reread Meredith Duran’s stunning debut Duke of Shadows (which interlaces perfectly with The Sins of Lord Lockwood) and finished Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. Am I embarking on my own year of yessing? Only time will tell!

Mala’s January and February 2018 Hot Reads

January was a little slim, reading-wise, but I more than made it up for it in February! I really stumbled upon some gems these past few months — like Kate Clayborn’s charming contemporary Luck of the Draw — and The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, which is a lush, evocative YA fantasy about the ugliness lurking beneath a veneer of beauty.

I also got to some books I’d been sleeping on — Charlotte Stein’s Never Sweeter and Deanna Raybourn’s first Veronica Speedwell mystery — and devoured new stories from Tamsen Parker and Shelly Ellis/Shelly Stratton.

Here’s the full list of what I enjoyed at the beginning of 2018:

Luck of the Draw by Kate Clayborn (out 4/24, contemporary romance)
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (young adult fantasy)
The Devil’s Submission by Nicola Davidson (erotic historical romance)
On Pointe by Shelly Ellis (contemporary romance, novella)
Mister McHottie by Pippa Grant (contemporary romance, romantic comedy)
Twice in a Lifetime by Jodie Griffin (contemporary LGBT romance)
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (young adult, mystery-ish)
Wintersong by S. Jae Jones (young adult fantasy, paranormal romance)
Rogue Acts by Molly O’Keefe, Ainsley Booth, et al (anthology, contemporary romance)
Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (contemporary romance)
Love on the Tracks by Tamsen Parker (contemporary sports romance)
On the Edge of Scandal by Tamsen Parker (contemporary sports romance)
Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai (out 3/27, contemporary romance)
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (historical mystery)
Flow by Kennedy Ryan (new adult contemporary romance, novella)
Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein (new adult contemporary romance)
Half Past by Victoria Helen Stone (women’s fiction, mystery)
The House on Harbor Hill by Shelly Stratton (out 3/27, women’s fiction, mystery)

Unfortunately, I had some really problematic reads, too. Like The Master, by Kresley Cole, which featured truly egregious “fiery Latina” stereotypes and Boris-and-Natasha Russian representation that almost had me flinging my Kindle across the room. And Lisa Kleypas’ latest, Hello Stranger, which would’ve been an enjoyable historical read from a longtime favorite author had it not been for completely unnecessary — and, frankly, hurtful — use of India to inform the white hero’s fighting and sexual prowess.

These are things you can expect from older books and somewhat reconcile as a sign of the times. In books coming out in the last five years and being greenlit now…? Nope.

I talk about it in a few threads on my author Twitter here and here, and Elyse at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great review that addresses the issue as well — and that, remarkably, led to Lisa Kleypas responding and promising to revise the book for future editions. Change CAN happen, folks.

 

Mala’s November and December 2017 Hot Reads

I forgot to do an individual November round-up, so you get this year-end post of everything I liked in both November and December! I made it through approximately 135 books this year (not counting books I DNFed or forgot to log because I didn’t like them), which is a pretty respectable haul! You can see what made the cut for my “Best of 2017” here.

And I already have two books to add to the “Best of 2018” — A Princess in Theory, which is Alyssa Cole’s hilarious and heartfelt spin on Coming to America, and Santino Hassell’s Down By Contact, in which rival football players who are nursing more than a grudge are forced to do community service together.

Betrayals by Kelley Armstrong (urban fantasy)
King’s Captive by Amber Bardan (dark romance)
Killman Creek by Rachel Caine (thriller)
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (out 2/27/18, contemporary romance)
The Pretender by HelenKay Dimon (romantic suspense)
Bloodline by Claudia Gray (science fiction, Star Wars)
Citywide by Santino Hassell (contemporary LGBT romance, anthology)
Down By Contact by Santino Hassell (out 1/16/18, contemporary LGBT romance)
Infamous by Jenny Holiday (contemporary LGBT romance)
Thirsty by Mia Hopkins (out 3/13/18, contemporary romance)
Dissident by Cecilia London (romantic suspense)
Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai (contemporary romance)
Single Malt by Layla Reyne (LGBT romantic suspense)
It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian (historical LGBT romance)
Leslie’s Curl & Dye by DL White (contemporary romance)
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (young adult romance, coming of age)

Back list: I devoured Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas, remembered why I love Julie James with Something About You, and immersed myself in the wonderfully non-fetish-y sheikh romance The Last Prince of Dahaar by Tara Pammi. I also read the utterly bananas Cinderman by Anne Stuart. I can’t say it was a great book, but the hero turns invisible and has pyrokinetic abilities and the heroine can read minds and it’s one of those, “WTF did I just read?” kind of situations. Sometimes you need that!

40 Things To Do When I Turn 40

Forty. Damn. I can honestly say that I didn’t think I’d ever get to this milestone. (And it’s still more than a month away, so maybe I need to knock on some wood!) I’ve been trying to think of how to celebrate the Big 4-O and discarding plans at every turn. International travel? Who has money for that? Vegas? Moooney. Disney World? Yeah, you get the picture. So, in lieu of making my friends go on some splashy, expensive, trip with me in the middle of winter, I’ve decided to make a list of 40 things I want to do throughout the course of my 40th year. I don’t expect to get them all done, but you never know!

1. Go axe-throwing.
2. Get a massage. (I’ve never, ever, had one! Can you believe it?)
3. Book a staycation night at the Library Hotel or some other shmancy place. DONE!
4. Get some soul food.
5. Go to an arcade or hit up Dave & Buster’s for Skee-Ball.
6. Get a famous chocolate chip cookie from Levain Bakery DONE!

You’re so Levain, you probably think this bite is about you. Yum!

7. Visit the Museum of Sex. DONE!
8. Vacation some place warm!
9. Hit up Tea & Sympathy again. DONE!
10. Say “yes” to more things. ONGOING!
11. Do the boozy-snacky movie experience at the Nitehawk or Alamo Drafthouse. DONE!
12. Try a regional cuisine I’ve never had before. DONE! (I tried kimchi and Korean BBQ!)
13. Start or finish another book. DONE! Started a new book and started and finished a short story!
14. Get purple highlights/streaks.
15. Get another tattoo! DONE!
16. See Black Panther multiple times. DONE!
17. Make out with somebody.
18. Eat a churro. (Yes, I’ve never had a churro. IDK why!) DONE!
19. See more theater! ONGOING!
20. Win the Hamilton lottery (hahahahahahahahahaha)
21. Go on a date! (A good date, not a bad date!)
22. Visit more museums, zoos, and aquariums. ONGOING!
23. Try an egg cream! DONE!
24. Learn how to make an Old Fashioned.
25. Have dosai and sambar in Manhattan or Queens. DONE!
26. See Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom. DONE!
27. See Love, Simon. DONE!
28.
29.
30. Go to D.C. for a weekend and hit up the museums.
31. Level up in Indian cooking and learn how to make an appetizer or a dessert!
32. Take a boxing class.
33. Plan that Scotland whiskey trip I’ve been wanting to do for years.
34. Do karaoke.
35. Do pub trivia.
36. Have a chocolate martini. DONE!
37. Try an author I’ve never read before. DONE!
38. Figure out where I’m moving next! DONE!
39. Splurge and buy myself a nice bottle of peaty single-malt scotch. DONE!
40. Pick a nice/favorite restaurant to have dinner on my actual birthday. No spending that day alone! DONE!