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 (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 in and around February. 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?) Update: I’ve been gifted one; I just have to book it!
3. Book a staycation night at the Library Hotel or some other shmancy place. DONE!
4. Go to Red Rooster or Amy Ruth’s for lunch or brunch.
5. Go to Barcade 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.
10. Say “yes” to more things. ONGOING!
11. Do the boozy-snacky movie experience at the Nitehawk or Alamo Drafthouse.
12. Try a regional cuisine I’ve never had before.
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. Get TKTS same-day tickets for a Broadway show.
20. Win the Hamilton lottery (hahahahahahahahahaha)
21. Go on a date! (A good date, not a bad date!)
22. Finally visit the Bronx Zoo.
23. Try an egg cream! DONE!
24. See Annihilation.
25. Have a dosa at the Ganesh Temple Canteen in Flushing.
26. See Proud Mary. DONE!
27. See Love, Simon.
28. See A Wrinkle in Time.
29. See Pacific Rim: Uprising (yes, we’re into late March now; I don’t care!).
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-ish!
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!

Mala’s Best of 2017 Pop Culture Round-Up

2017 was a year where I really needed the escape into pop culture. I buried myself in books and TV as much as possible (gee, I wonder why?) — but it didn’t always work out! I tried and then tapped out of The CW’s Riverdale. Despite all of the X-Men connections, something about The Gifted on FOX just puts me to sleep. I bailed on Showtime’s highly anticipated revival of Twin Peaks after four episodes. There’s only so much self-indulgence and [ominous whooshing] a gal can take (and I don’t buy the ’18-hour movie’ defense). I changed cable packages and lost access to OWN, so I’m behind on Queen Sugar. Plus, I had to put one of my favorite soaps — The Bold and the Beautiful — on pause because it stopped being fun to watch.

But, thankfully, there was still more than enough media to keep me engaged! Check out my faves and raves.

Favorite Books
White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop
Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek by Rachel Caine
An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles
An Extraordinary Union and A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai
The Red by Tiffany Reisz
American Prince by Sierra Simone
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Favorite Shows
Days of our Lives (NBC)
The Exorcist (FOX)
The Get Down (canceled by Netflix)
Good Behavior (TNT)
The Good Place (NBC)
The Originals (The CW)
The Punisher (Netflix)
Underground (canceled by those assholes at WGN)
Wynonna Earp (SyFy)

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Netflix’s The Punisher is a Goddamn Romantic Lead

I know. It’s a weird and bold statement to make. And it might remind some people of all those ridiculous post-Fifty Shades of Grey debates about the unhealthiness of women getting off on violence. (Knock that shit off. Liking kink does not mean we want people to abuse us, folks.) But work with me here. I’m going to try to articulate why Frank Castle, the long-running Marvel Comics vigilante, is — in the capable hands of showrunner Steve Lightfoot and portrayer Jon Bernthal — the hero of a romance. It has nothing do with his capacity to hurt other people. It has everything to do with the hurt he carries within.

Let’s get the shallow part out of the way first: Jon Bernthal is ridiculously attractive. Not in that conventional Hollywood pretty-boy sense, but in a much more earthy and primal way. To paraphrase my friend Charlotte Stein, it’s like all of his features got in a fight and he came out the winner. I don’t want this devolve into X-rated musings on his nose and his ears, so let’s just say that the man radiates charisma and, in the guise of the Punisher, it’s ratcheted up to an alarming degree. The harshness of his face, the angles and curves of his body…the camera lingers on all of it lovingly and obsessively. He’s a brutally beautiful man. And his voice…? Good lord. They could bottle that rasp and sell it as an exfoliant at Sephora for $50 an ounce.

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Mala’s October 2017 Hot Reads

My favorite thing about October was probably the day I binge-read three Ilona Andrews books in a row. I reread the first Hidden Legacy novel, Burn For Me, and then promptly mainlined the second and third book. My brain felt like pudding at the end of it, but GOOD pudding! The writing team of Gordon and Ilona Andrews clearly got a huge kick out of creating this well-built, beautifully characterized, off-the-wall trilogy. It shows on the page!

I was also lucky enough to snag an ARC of Alyssa Cole’s second Loyal League book, A Hope Divided, and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say these books should be taught in schools as part of units on the Civil War. I’m an unabashed fangirl of Cole’s books, but these particular titles occupy an important space in historical fiction, educating readers about the war, about slavery, about politics, while also telling a love story about vivid, realistic characters who leap off the page.

By Her Touch by Adriana Anders (contemporary romance)
White Hot by Ilona Andrews (urban fantasy, paranormal romance)
Wildfire by Ilona Andrews (urban fantasy, paranormal romance)
A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole (out 11/28, historical romance)
Dance With Me by Alexis Daria (out 12/12, contemporary romance)
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (horror, vampires)
A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev (out 12/26, contemporary romance, romantic suspense)
Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren (contemporary romance)
The Lucky Ones by Tiffany Reisz (out 2/13/18, women’s fiction)
Beyond Forever by Kit Rocha (dystopian erotic romance)

Another book on October list is American King, by Sierra Simone. The highly anticipated closer to her erotic contemporary New Camelot series, it unfortunately didn’t live up to my expectations. I do recommend the previous books, American Queen and American Prince, which are excellent —- truly bananas, incredibly dirty, and beautifully paced!

Rock On 2 Is Just One Guy Getting His Rocks Off

Rock On!! is one of my favorite Bollywood films of all time, so when I heard a sequel was in the works I was thrilled. That elation turned to horror as I found myself watching 2016’s Rock On 2 on a cross-country flight. A piece of self-indulgent, masturbatory rot that nearly destroyed all of the warm fuzzies the first film instilled in me, Rock On 2 is glorified fan fiction, centering Farhan Akhtar’s character, Aditya Shroff, as an anguished, self-involved hero figure. Gone is the relatable human Adi from the first film, who sacrifices music to become a corporate drone and must find his way back to his dreams and his friends. In his place is a guy with so much manufactured manpain that he can’t be bothered to pay attention to his wife and child. Instead, he has to go work in a remote village in the far northeastern state of Meghalaya to atone for his perceived sins. Why is a businessman/rock musician opening schools and farm cooperatives and neglecting to wash his hair? Beats the hell out of me.

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