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

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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.

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.