Monday 3 August 2020

#CBR12 Book 54: "Take a Hint, Dani Brown" by Talia Hibbert

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 5 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Yellow

Official book description:
Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his... um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

While this is the second book in the Brown Sisters series, you don't strictly speaking need to read Get a Life, Chloe Brown in order to understand or enjoy this one. It works perfectly well on its own, but the first book is also a very sweet and enjoyable romance, which I would also highly recommend. 

It's so much harder to review books that you really love, isn't it? I can't even put into words entirely why I adored this book, maybe it was just the right book at the right time for me? Nonetheless, I will try to put down some bullet points about why I am certain this book is going in my top 10 at the end of the year, and quite possibly in my top 3.

Things I loved:
  • Zaf. Zafir "Zaf" Ansari used to be a professional rugby player (not like national level or anything, but he still had a promising career ahead of him). Then his father and beloved older brother died in a car accident, and Zaf's world imploded. The press got wind of the accident and the extra attention combined with his crippling grief caused him to spiral into anxiety and depression. Now, years later, Zaf is trying to use his knowledge both of mental health issues and athletics to teach young athletes to get in touch with their softer side and combat toxic masculinity. His sports charity isn't exactly going too well though, as Zaf could be better at social media than he is, and he's also deeply reluctant to advertise his past as a professional player, worried that his tragic back story is going to be brought up again. As well as being a super guy who volunteers to work with angry youths, Zaf is a loyal friend, great son, brother-in-law and uncle (I adored the relationship he had with all of them) and he reads romance novels in his spare time! He's also tall, and strong and fit and has a gorgeous beard. How can you not love a hero like that?
  • Dani. While Danika "Dani" Brown is a much harder nut to crack, being super focused on her research, her Ph.D and her goal to becoming a professor. When she's focused on work, she can forget to sleep or eat, and certainly about things like a significant other's birthday or anniversaries and such. Due to a series of bad relationships, Dani has become convinced that she is utterly unlovable and that she has neither the time for or need of softer feelings like love and affection (despite the fact that she clearly loves and is deeply loved by her two sisters, her grandmother and her best friend Socha). She wants a no-strings-attached, purely sexual relationship with someone, but nothing involving mushy things like hand-holding, cuddling, spending the night together or the like.
  • The various friend and family relationships in this book, both on Zaf's and Dani's side. There's an amazing cast of supporting characters here. With the exception of Sorcha, Dani's best friend, I'd "met" all of the ones on Dani's side before, in Get a Life, Chloe Brown. Dani's older sister Chloe; Red, Chloe's boyfriend; Eve, Dani's younger sister and their rather eccentric grandmother all appear to lend support at one point or another. On Zaf's side, there is his lovely mother, his best friend Jamal, his sister-in-law Kiran and his snarky niece Fatima (who is also one of Dani's students). These characters felt completely real to me. There's a tiny secondary romance happening behind the scenes between Jamal and Kiran, which I would also happily read a whole book about.
  • The relationship between Dani and Zaf, even before they agree to 'fake date' and are just flirting and trading quips every morning. The way Dani is concerned about Zaf and his feelings, even when she claims not to care about anyone else. The way Zaf is utterly fascinated by all of Dani's knowledge and academic expertise and not at all threatened by the fact that she is brilliant and driven and has very clear career plans. The scenes where they are forced to play a 'newly-weds' type game on the radio, unexpected, and discover just how much they know about each other, even though they're only pretending to be a couple, is lovely and very funny.
  • The grand gesture that Dani performs in order to prove to Zaf that she actually cares about him (and the secret she reveals that she's been working on in the epilogue - such squee!)
  • Slightly spoilery - NO pregnancy epilogue, because for a lot of people, having babies is NOT the goal!
I love this book so much and while Eve, the youngest sister, sort of annoyed me in the first book (she has a tendency to use the wrong word for things and get annoyed when others try to correct her - it drove me mad), I am now really excited and hopeful about her book as well. Based on the first two books in the series, Talia Hibbert has my complete trust and I'm so glad I've discovered another contemporary romance author to enjoy.

Judging a book by its cover: While I'm normally not the greatest fan of the cartoon cover trend, for some reason I'm charmed silly by the ones on Talia Hibbert's books. The little cartoon Zaf carrying Dani, with her bright pink hair, and the little pile of books in the background, it all works for me. I also really like that while the first book in the series was a pretty boring white, this is a cheerful and distinctive bright yellow.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday 2 August 2020

#CBR12 Book 53: "The Ten Thousand Doors of January" by Alix B. Harrow

Page count: 385 pages
Audio book length: 12 hrs 20 mins
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Debut

Official book description:
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artefacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Little January Scaller is fully aware that even though she gets to wear fancy dresses and take trips to foreign locations with the rich Mr. Locke, her father's employer, she doesn't really belong in his big, sprawling mansion in Vermont. He's an old, white man, she's a little girl with dark hair and skin a brownish coppery hue. Her mother is dead and her father travels the world, risking his life and acquiring exotic treasures for Mr. Locke's collection, but is hardly ever back long enough to spend any time with his little girl. The only friend January has is the grocer's boy, Samuel Zappia, who sneaks her adventure stories to read and who she manages to get away to play with on weekends. But as Mr. Locke's ward, January is expected to behave well, and not "consort with the help". 

While on a journey with Mr. Locke to sell some artifacts, January finds a strange door in a field and manages to open it by writing about it in her journal. The door opens to a beautiful seaside village somewhere obviously different, and January finds a foreign coin, before Mr. Locke discovers her and burns both the door and her journal. He hires a strict governess to take care of January and admonishes her that she needs to stop being so wild and start behaving properly. When she's seventeen, January finds a strange book called "The Ten Thousand Doors" and the book makes her realise that she didn't imagine the incident with the strange door when she was younger, and there's a lot more mystery and adventure in the world than she imagined.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a remarkable debut that has been nominated for pretty much all the major genre awards (the Nebula, the Locus, the Hugo, the World Fantasy Award) and while it's a bit slow to start, it tells a story of travel and adventure, portals to other worlds, friendships, love, but also dark forces with the wish to colonise, subjugate and control, taking riches and resources to enjoy as your own. I enjoyed the book a lot, but with every piece of foreshadowing, I found that I had figured out where the story was going long before the actual reveal. There were very few real surprises for me over the course of the novel. Considering the book is about portal doors between our world and various exciting fantasy worlds, I wish we'd gotten to explore and see more of the various other worlds than we did. Some of the supporting characters, like Samuel and Helen, January's loyal friends and helpers, could also have gotten a bit more characterisation. 

Still, it's a good read with an interesting message about family and belonging, as well as condemning colonisation and the appropriation and subjugation of foreign cultures to gain wealth and riches. I liked it a lot, but I didn't love it. I'm nevertheless very interested in seeing what Alix B. Harrow writes next.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not entirely sure what I think of this cover, it gives you very little idea what the book is about or what you might expect to meet between its pages. There's a number of colourful flowers, with elaborate keys hanging from them, and what appears to be a keyhole, or maybe a portal doorway. Considering most of the Doors in the book don't require keys of any kind, I'm not entirely sure what the cover designers were going for. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.