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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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…

Will Game of Thrones Season 8 Sink the Jon and Daenerys Ship?

With season seven of HBO’s Game of Thrones wrapped and season eight denied us until 2019, I would just like to say one thing: I told you so! Sort of. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) took their fraught political alliance to a very naked level in the season finale — but a romantic endgame isn’t necessarily in the cards! And despite the giant relationship anvils dropped over the course of a few frenetically paced episodes — with advisors Tyrion and Davos basically dragging out their ‘shipper pom-poms — many viewers are still reeling from Jon and Dany taking this highly incesty step. There’s a lot to process!

First, there’s the storyline implications of the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North doing the Westerosi Watusi. Neither has any idea they’re related, and their seafaring sexcapade was set, ominously and ickily, to Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly talking about their shared DNA. Ew. Jon, the guys revealed, is actually Aegon Targaryen, rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Yes, that throne that Dany has had her eye on for years. You think she’s going to let some cute curly-haired upstart steal that throne just because he bent the knee to her and then rocked her boat? These two can’t possibly have much of a honeymoon phase in their relationship with that truth-bomb ticking away — and their allies and enemies are going to be rocked to the core as well. (Except the Whitewalkers. I’m pretty sure they have no horse in this race.) Tyrion, who had the misfortune to overhear Jon and Dany’s game of moans, certainly didn’t look thrilled. Despite all of his teasing from the weeks before, he’s no doubt worried about what the hookup means for his beloved queen and the Iron Throne — and that’s without knowing that Jon Snow is Rhaegar Targaryen’s heir!

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Mala’s August 2017 Hot Reads

A month involving new books by Joanna Bourne, Tessa Dare and Kit Rocha is definitely a good one! I also really enjoyed Santino Hassell’s first football romance for Berkley InterMix and Tracey Livesay’s soapy amnesia love story from Avon Impulse!

Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne (historical romance)
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (historical romance)
Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell (contemporary LGBT romance)
The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson (contemporary romance)
Completely by Ruthie Knox (contemporary romance)
The House by Christina Lauren (young adult horror)
Love Will Always Remember by Tracey Livesay (contemporary romance)
His Perfect Partner by Priscilla Oliveras (contemporary romance)
Deacon by Kit Rocha (dystopian erotic romance*)

 

My backlist adventures were highly problematic this month. Both Sandra Brown’s French Silk and Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor proved to be really hard to get through due to the former’s racism and homophobia and the latter’s fat-shaming. Things that flew as progressive in 1989 are often woefully regressive when you look at them with older and wiser eyes. The books may be “classic” and the authors beloved, but some things just don’t stand the test of time.

*I have the toughest time categorizing these books. They’re not really erotic romance anymore, but Gideon’s Riders is the spin-off of an erotic series…and it’s almost romantic suspense? IDK! Just read them all!