Fiction, Reviews

Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Anything you want to do, you can. Hurdles were made to be jumped. Glass ceilings were made to be smashed. But all that can be exhausting, so make sure you care for yourself too. There’s great value in the things that bring you joy.

*There may be spoilers in the content warning section below, above the summary. Tread lightly!*

Published: June 2020
Genre: Romance
Representation: People of Colour (Black folks, and a South Asian/Pakistani-British Muslim character); LGBTQIA+ (bisexual); Mental Health (anxiety, trauma); Plus-Sized characters.
Content Warning: fat phobia; description of panic attacks; family death and mourning; trauma; exploration of depression and anxiety; self-doubt; past toxic relationships; sexual content

Summary

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?

— summary from Talia Hibbert’s website

Review

We keep telling ourselves we won’t review the same authors over and over again, but how can we help it? It’s Talia Hibbert! TalHibbs! (Are we trendsetters?) We love and adore a good ol’ skillfully written diverse romance, and Talia Hibbert always delivers. Chloe Brown was a lot of fun, with excellent representation in the form of a chronically ill protagonist (in the form of fibromyalgia), body positivity, and a whole lot of personality (from literally every character). Not to mention the sprinkling of steaminess throughout. The second addition to the Brown sister’s trilogy comes in the form of this gem, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, which packs just as much personality and character development as its predecessor, while also being tenderly earnest, with heart-warming character dynamics and of course, everyone’s favourite – more fun sex! With a fiercely and unapologetically confident protagonist (Dani), and a genuinely adorable, cinnamon-roll of a love interest who has a lot of softness behind his gruff exterior (Zaf), how could we have any regrets about shamelessly plugging every Talia Hibbert book that crosses our paths? She somehow crafts these brilliantly flawed characters that you can’t help but want to be best friends with. And every single time, we find introspection and growth within the characters that gets you in your soul, the same way the romance gets you right in the heart, and the steamy stuff gets you right in the…well. You know.

It reminded Zaf why he loved this romantic shit so much: because it was all about hope, about finding sparks of light in a world that could be so fucking dark.

Dani is a bisexual Black woman with a PHD, oozing with ambition and confidence. She’s a total workaholic, and is absolutely terrible at reading people…or interacting with them, in general. She’s singular in her focus, and determined in a way that’s admirable. Zaf is a British-Pakistani, non-practising Muslim and ex-Rugby player who has put his dreams on hold indefinitely. Dani and Zaf work in the same building, and through a confounding sequence of events (only available in cheesy romance novels, folks!) they come up with this whole fake-dating thing, which yes, we know, it’s super trope-y (but hey, why else do you read romance novels??) Hibbert does an excellent job with the execution of the trope here. We were genuinely invested almost immediately. As is always the case with Hibert’s novels, the banter was hilarious and great at diffusing stress, even as there were some admittedly emotional and hard-hitting conversations about mental health and trauma. Dani’s process of understanding herself and becoming slightly better at being a people-person corresponds with Zaf’s initially reluctant but enthusiastic effort at trauma work and improving his mental health. The dynamic between Dani as super condescending towards anything related to romance (outside of casual sex…and for good reason), and Zaf’s wholehearted buying-into of the romance industry was frustrating and entertaining in equal measure. The amount of compassion in this novel, not just between Dani and Zaf, but also from their friends, family, and community was a lovely reminder of all the love and kindness that exists in the world, even as you struggle through the hardest moments of your life.

We absolutely loved Zaf. He was so thoughtful and kind under his more intimidating mask. Most endearing of all, he was a sucker for romance novels (I mean, same). This was an immediately loveable character trait, as it isn’t something you normally see, especially when it comes to people of colour. We want to point this out, because culturally, racialized men are typically expected to hold a lot more space for being outwardly manly. This is just another rung on that godforsaken ladder called “the patriarchy”, and we love seeing these kinds of attitudes dispelled. Not that there’s anything wrong with genuinely being a more masculine man, with traits typical in more manly men. But in the world of fiction, and especially in romantic fiction, those characters are a dime a dozen. It’s wonderful to see Zaf’s love of romance novels, because it challenges some of these norms. And it does so unapologetically. While Zaf doesn’t make any outward effort in publicizing his interest in romance novels, those around him are aware of it, and don’t judge or criticize him for them. The sweetest thing of all to come from this particular character trait, is we get a whole lot of gems in the form of quotes that perfectly encapsulated why folks like us are so enamoured by (well-written) romance novels. They’re the kinds of things we subconsciously feel, but may not have the wherewithal to articulate. Seeing Zaf’s thoughts and sentiments were like being sidelined (in a good way), where we’re suddenly confronted with the things we didn’t realize were also contributing factors to our love of romance (especially since both of our interest in romance novels came fairly recently). It also perfectly described the reason why people who have been through a lot (don’t look at us) find so much solace in romance, as a genre. Zaf said it best: 

…it’s all about emotion, Dan – the whole thing, the whole story, the whole point. Just book after book about people facing their issues head on, and handling it, and never, ever failing – at least, not for good. I felt like my world had already ended unhappily, but every book I read about someone who’d been through the worst and found happiness anyway seemed to say the opposite. Like my story didn’t need to be over if I didn’t want it to. Like, if I could just be strong enough to reclaim my emotions and to work through them, maybe I’d be okay again. That’s kind of what inspired me to, er, keep going. To make good choices, even when feeling better seemed impossible.

If that’s not relatable as hell, we don’t know what is. Is there such a thing as smiling with your whole body? Well, there is now.

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