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.

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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!

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)

Continue reading

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!

Mala’s September 2017 Hot Reads

I feel like I didn’t read enough last month, but I think I always feel like that. So many books, so little time!

My favorite read for September was, hands down, Take the Lead by debut author Alexis Daria. I could not put it down. This electric, sexy, Dancing With the Stars-meets-Alaskan Bush People contemporary is one of the best romances of the year. I can’t wait for the next in the series!

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria (contemporary romance)
Sinful Distraction by London Hale (erotic romance)
Corrupting Chris by Santino Hassell (erotic romance, short story/bonus scene)
Sightlines by Santino Hassell (out 10/9, LGBT paranormal romance)
The Shift of the Tide by Jeffe Kennedy (fantasy romance)
My Last Love Story by Falguni Kothari (out 1/23/18, women’s fiction)
North to You by Tif Marcelo (contemporary romance)
Mischief by Tiffany Reisz (erotic BDSM romance, novella/short)
Winner Take All by Mary B. Rodgers (contemporary romance)
Acting on Impulse by Mia Sosa (contemporary romance)
Not Safe For Work by Charlotte Stein (erotic romance, ménage, novella)

In backlist adventures, I reread North and South by John Jakes after a 15 to 20-year gap, which proved to be an incredibly haunting experience given what’s going on in our country right now. I also read The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale, which featured a thoroughly unlikable heroine — and not in the fun way — and sex on horseback. Gotta love those questionable old-school romances…