Mala’s November 2018 Hot Reads

I am ending the year on a fairly strong note, folks! I’m kind of proud of myself! From a slew of strong contemporary romances to mainlining three of Rosie Claverton’s Amy Lane mysteries in one weekend, I really made some good choices—and I’m even excited about what I’ll be reading in December!

The Reading Rundown:
Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews (urban fantasy, novella)
Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett (young adult romance)
Captcha Thief by Rosie Claverton (mystery, romantic suspense)
Terror 404 by Rosie Claverton (mystery, romantic suspense)
Hard Return by Rosie Claverton (mystery, romantic suspense)
Against All Odds by Jezz de Silva (contemporary romance)
The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo (young adult romance)
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (contemporary romance)
The One You Fight For by Roni Loren (out 1/1/19, contemporary romance)
Captive Desire by Robin Lovett (erotic romance, sci-fi romance)
Personal Geography by Tamsen Parker (erotic BDSM romance, contemporary romance)

Currently reading: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri; Rogue Nights by Talia Hibbert, Annabeth Albert, Rebecca Crowley, et al.

On the TBR/wish list:
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)

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Becoming, Part Two

Angelus: No weapons… no friends… no hope. Take all that away and what’s left?
Buffy: Me.
-Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Figuring out who we’re meant to be can be a lifelong process. I’ve spent years propelling myself around like a pinball, batted between this gig and that gig. A few months ago, I considered getting back into entertainment journalism somehow—frantically DMing someone who works for a media site for advice and unwittingly bungling the whole thing. I also got turned down for a part-time gig at another outlet—with one of those form letters that tells you they looked at your experience and didn’t find it a good fit. Ten years covering TV and books and it’s not a good fit? Whew. It made me realize that it’s not my field anymore. It’s…a younger person’s game. A gig for people who started out in digital, not the people scrambling to find their place after print began its slow crawl to death.

But bigger that that is the fact that I don’t have a hustle. I don’t self-market. I’m terrible at networking. I’m an introvert, so I hate being out there around people, staking my claim and carving a place for myself. I don’t know how to be a go-getter, at least not anymore. More and more, over the years, I’ve pulled inward. I can hardly reconcile the person I am now with the one who used to interview strangers on a daily basis. The person who went to pre-Emmy parties and even stood behind barricades on the Emmys’ Red Carpet. That gutsy 26-year-old who interviewed for a job in New York City in 2004 and moved there within a month. Where is she?

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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)

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