Best friends forever: "Wrong to Need You" by Alisha Rai

Book: Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Release date: November 28, 2017

Pages: 368

Publisher: Avon

Genre/category: Contemporary romance

Rating: ★★★★★

*This book was provided to me by the publisher as an advance reader copy for review purposes.*

He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.

Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.

An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past...and step into a future together.

This is a gorgeous and stirring follow-up to Hate to Want You that expands on the world of the extended Kane-Chandler clan. The complexities of grief, family life and friendship are explored in a way that’s intimate yet universal. And you will absolutely fall in love with the delightful couple at its heart.

Sadia is wonderful and real. She is surrounded by people with extraordinary and lucrative careers, including her younger sisters, and she’s just a regular single mom trying to provide for her son and run the family business while bartending on the side. She has secret pastimes she doesn't feel shame about but wants to keep to herself, and she does care on some levels what her family thinks of her and worries greatly about being a good mother. That mix of owning her choices but having nagging feelings of inadequacy made her so tangible to me. She’s also loving, fun, supportive and no-nonsense when she needs to be, especially to protect her family.

Jackson is an epic dreamboat. A man who stands up against social injustice AND who can cook you a croque madame AND who is buff and tattooed? He might sound like a fantasy, but Rai made him flawed and conflicted. His difficulty communicating was a relatable problem that puts him at odds with the more demonstrative heroine. He was a far more enjoyable character than the brief glimpses of him we saw in Hate to Want You, and I was ecstatic about that.

The conflict of a widow falling for her former brother-in-law played out in ways I didn’t expect, and it was very cool seeing my read of the situation evolve with every chapter. Rai is excellent at subverting expectations. She does incredible work evolving the friends to lovers trope here, just like she put a fresh spin on the second chance romance in the previous book.

I also love that Rai continues exploring mental health issues with her heroines, and have a feeling that theme will continue through the end of the series.

Rai weaves in an excellent supporting cast that makes me disappointed this will only be a trilogy. I want to know more about all these complicated, fascinating people.

Read this one immediately, but keep tissues handy.


Skin in the game: "Hate to Want You" by Alisha Rai spoiler-free review

Book: Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Release date: July 25, 2017

Pages: 371

Publisher: Avon

Genre/category: Contemporary romance

Rating: ★★★★★

One night. No one will know.

That was the deal. Every year, Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler would share one perfect night of illicit pleasure. The forbidden hours let them forget the tragedy that haunted their pasts-and the last names that made them enemies.

Until the night she didn’t show up.

Now Nicholas has an empire to run. He doesn’t have time for distractions and Livvy’s sudden reappearance in town is a major distraction. She’s the one woman he shouldn’t want … so why can’t he forget how right she feels in his bed?

Livvy didn’t come home for Nicholas, but fate seems determined to remind her of his presence–and their past. Although the passion between them might have once run hot and deep, not even love can overcome the scandal that divided their families.

Being together might be against all the rules … but being apart is impossible.

A book so nice, I'm reviewing it twice!

I can't stop thinking about this book, and I knew soon after reading it that I would need to do a spoiler review to get into everything it made me feel. Ever since this episode of the Smart Bitches podcast, I've been stoked about the book Rai describes as Romeo and Juliet minus the sad stuff meets "Hotline Bling" minus the sexist stuff. I'd argue she lied her ass off about it missing the sad stuff, but you've got to love an elevator pitch that marries Shakespeare and Drake.

Hate to Want You, the first in the Forbidden Hearts trilogy, features a rebellious Japanese-American heroine with a complicated family background and an uptight hero with a somewhat misguided sense of familial duty. If you just said, "Geez, Liz, that sounds a lot like Rai's A Gentleman in the Street," you're not wrong. But despite the surface similarities, Hate to Want You is a different beast from Gentleman — and a bit more tame, so if heat levels determine which romances you read, Hate to Want You is just as steamy but in less scandalous contexts than Gentleman.

This is a second-chance romance about former teenage sweethearts who never quite managed to quit each other. I'm in awe of how much story Rai packs into this read. It's a compassionate take on mental illness, a love story that's equal parts swoony and weepy, and a family saga that made me want to live in this world as long as possible. And it also made me very, very angry. But in a good way. I just really got in my feelings about this one, yinz.

I read a lot of romances that are part of series, and they all weave in past and future characters in a way that makes you curious about their stories. But no romance has integrated supporting and soon-to-be lead characters in such a compelling way as this one, for me anyway. Rai managed to introduce the heroines and heroes of the next two books in the series in a manner that made it obvious that they were important, but that also made them vital to the story of Livvy and Nick and not like last-minute additions for the purpose of tying everything loosely together. This book even made me want spinoff series about the parents and grandparents of the main characters. There are no throwaway characters in this book, and I think it speaks to Rai's mastery that she can make characters who have just a few lines of dialogue feel well-rounded. And even with the prerequisite romantic HEA, I am dying to get even the tiniest sliver of what comes next for Livvy and Nico.

I have the ARC of the next book, Wrong to Need You, on my Kindle, and I promise I'll read and review it before the actual release date like a real, professional book blogger would. But before then, stay tuned for my spoiler review of this first chapter, because I've got a whole lot to say about it.


You ask me where I've been. I've been everywhere.

Wubba lubba dub dub!

I just spent three weeks in Africa.

Me and my camera bag at Bourke's Luck Potholes in South Africa

This is not a proper blog post about my trip to Africa, because if I were to write that, it would be novel-length and have a slideshow with detailed captions. I could write about Africa like an Anthony Bourdain narration, or I could go full-on Eat Pray Love up in this bish because I was doing plenty of contemplation when I was standing 10,000 feet above Cape Town on Table Mountain or staring off into the distance while hoping to see a zebra. 

At my last non-temp full-time job *lol sob* I used to make "By the numbers" boxes to illustrate news stories, and I thought of the numbers a lot when I was traveling: 10 hours of driving to New York because of traffic. 15.5 hours on a nonstop flight to Cape Town. Four countries. Fourteen passport stamps. One accidentally accepted marriage proposal from a Zulu warrior who said he'd send my father 11 cows. Countless hours on tour buses and countless calories at buffets and 14-course small-plate dinners. Two pounds gained back from the 14 I've lost since April — not too shabby. 30 other people in my tour group who I amazingly got on smashingly with, proving that I'm somewhat charming and not a total misanthrope despite my last year of hermithood. 500 mb of daily WiFi access at most of the hotels I stayed at, which got quickly used up by sending a couple of pics to my bestie on Snapchat and scanning Twitter to make sure the U.S. was still intact*.

I stood atop mountains and cowered three feet away from angry mama elephants. I (reluctantly) sampled ostrich samosas and banged the drums to request entrance into a Zulu village. I saw freaking Van Gogh's freaking Starry Night during my one day in New York before the trip, and I started crying because I'm a human being and I internalized that one Doctor Who episode.

There's so much I want to say about my trip, which is something I never in a million years expected to be able to experience. I will say it's surreal and destabilizing to not sleep in the same bed for more than three nights, and to realize when homesickness strikes that even "home" is a temporary concept because I'm currently packing up my apartment and planning a big move.

I loved everything about being in Africa. I just wish someone would invent teleportation, because getting there and back sucks and a week and a half later, I'm honestly still jet-lagged.

Blog updates: I'm planning to do a two-part review of Alisha Rai's Hate to Want You. The only book I finished on my trip was Dahlia Adler's Out on Good Behavior, and I'm currently reading Beverly Jenkins' Forbidden before diving into my ARC of Rai's Wrong to Need You, which I am preemptively freaking out about because of how much I loved Hate to Want You. So, all that is coming eventually, because mama has to pack and question all her life choices and procrastinate by watching Fenty beauty reviews on YouTube. I like that Trophy Wife highlighter more every time I see it. 

See you when I see you.



Binge-reading romance from the library

All my library holds seem to become available at the same time, so I've been speed-reading and not pausing to review each book I finish. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons I fell behind. Recently, I've spent my time:
  • Watching the first five seasons of Smallville, which I'd never watched before, and devoting too much intellectual labor to my doomed OTP, Clark and Alicia. That storyline both leans into the worst and most stigmatizing tropes about mental illness and relationships, and at times shows surprising mercy and insight about loving someone who is coping with mental illness — so I'm forever pissed at that tragic ending and at the potential for this pairing if it had been handled by better writers.
If loving them is wrong, I DON'T WANT TO BE RIGHT.
  • Feeling like a celebrity because my listener feedback has been featured three times on my favorite feminist political podcast, Hellbent
  • Attempting to prepare for my trip to Africa and paying for my procrastination. Turns out insurance doesn't cover typhoid vaccines and that it's winter there, and I have nothing appropriate to wear. Whoops.
  • Panicking about major impending life changes and intensely ruminating.
  • Overhauling major plot points of the novel I'm working on, which feeds into the intense rumination.
But, despite all that, I have been reading a ton, specifically a ton of romance, so here are some rapid fire reviews.

Book: Twist by Kylie Scott

Release date: April 11, 2017

Pages: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Genre: Contemporary romance

Rating: ★★★★

I was getting a tattoo and while I grimaced through an arduous spot, my friend tried to distract me by asking me what I was reading. After I told her the premise of Twist, she said, "So, it's a romance about catfishing." I hadn't thought about it, but yes, and despite that problematic setup, I really enjoyed this. Joe intended to close his brother's online dating account for him. Instead, he starts chatting with one of his brother's matches, Alex — while pretending to be his brother.

Email courtships are one of my Things — seriously, couples wooing each other with tomes gets me all in my squishiest feelings. But while I thought the emails would be the bulk of the story, they're not, and the story is more about the aftermath of Joe's lie and his attempts to win back Alex's trust. Circumstances lead to her having to stick around and spend time with him, and the two try to be "friends" while exploring whether their online chemistry translates IRL.


Keep ya head up: "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

Book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Release date: February 28, 2017

Pages: 464

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Genre/category: Young Adult Contemporary

Rating: ★★★★★

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

This may have been the most anticipated book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Thirteen publishing houses fought for this book. YA movie queen Amandla Stenberg signed on to star in the movie of this book before it was even published. It has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks, many of them at No. 1.

I bought it during release week and only recently got around to it, partly because the subject matter is heavy and I had to steel myself for it a bit, and partly because my expectations were so high, I didn't know how I'd possibly review this beloved book if I didn't absolutely love it.

But oh my gosh, this book is amazing.


Unmet needs: "Just What I Needed" by Lorelei James

Book: Just What I Needed by Lorelei James

Release date: August 2, 2016

Pages: 368

Publisher: Signet

Genre/category: Romance, Contemporary Romance

Rating: ★★★

Trinity Carlson might be having the worst day ever. And that was before she started drinking in a dive bar, right across from her ex and his new girlfriend. So when she finally decides enough is enough, she grabs hold of a hot, blond stranger and gives him the kiss of his life.

Walker Lund never expected that a chance at love would hit him right on the mouth. Since the moment his brother decided to settle down, Walker has been dodging his family’s hopes that he’ll do the same. He’s never been interested in following in anyone’s footsteps. But when he discovers his sexy assailant has given him a fake name and number he suddenly finds himself in the mood for a little hot pursuit...

This was a cute, low-angst romance that I just didn't love.

I don't often take notes on books for my reviews, but I wanted to pin down what didn't work for me in this. The main issue, I think, is that this is lighter than what I usually go for. Maybe I just prefer my romances to have higher stakes.


PSA: "Wonder Woman" is Wonderful

Believe the hype.

I can't speak for any other movie in the DCEU because I haven't seen any of them. And I can't speak to whether Wonder Woman the film does justice to the comics because I've read only a few of the very early stories and some of the history about the character.

But from my perspective as a lover of superheroes and a feminist, I thought this was a fantastic film.

The plot was not labyrinthine and overwrought like a lot of superhero movies specifically and action movies in general. I'm sensitive to stupidly complicated plots recently because I've been paring down and rewriting my work in progress, which was once a complicated dystopian sci-fi story complete with an evil monarchy and a taboo central relationship, but is now none of those things, and thank God for that. But that's neither here nor there. Anyway.

Even though the plot isn't complicated, it plays with many genres. It's a romance, a war movie, an action flick, a tragedy and a bildungsroman. There are lighthearted comedic moments. There's potential to interpret the overarching message as cheesy. But it's paired with a heavier exploration of humanity.

The performances were stellar. Gal Gadot emotes with every pore. I've always had a soft spot for Chris Pine because he was my visual inspiration for the hero in a screenplay I wrote, and he's so charismatic here.

What I loved most about Diana in this movie was how pure-hearted she is. It's exactly what I love so much about Ms. Marvel. I wish I were as brave as Diana was in the moments that made me tear up. Which reminds me — this movie was damn pretty. I demand it be nominated for some technical Oscars.

I promised I'd keep this post short. So, just go see it. It's well worth your time. I wish I had a daughter I could take to see it, or that I lived closer to my kid sisters. Because it's important. Because Wonder Woman is the hero we need and the hero we deserve. (Oh, hi, Christopher Nolan, I still want to debate that quote with you. Call me.)

There are so many of these going around but this one is my favorite. Source.
Patty Jenkins, how soon can you get the sequel to us?