Review: Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai

51baubxovylHate To Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1) by Alisha Rai

Plot: Every year on her birthday, Livvie Kane and Nico Chandler would hook up for just one night. Nobody else knows, because of the infamous falling out between the Kanes and the Chandlers. So when Livvie returns to their hometown to sort things out with her family, Nico is absolutely thrown for a loop. Can they let go of their history and be together, or has the family feud gone too deep for them to turn things around?

I love a good angst-filled romance, and Alisha Rai delivers that with the first book of the series. The tension between the characters and just from the plot kept me up all night reading this book. Written from perspectives of both the main characters, you can feel their turmoil for each other as well as their families. Livvy is hella feisty and sexy and a talented tattoo artist who’s all heart, Nico is a businessman who is typically calm, collected, loyal, and only Livvy can get under his skin. The flashback scenes of the budding romance between a young Livvy and Nico made me swoon and ache, and just the banter between the two made me cackle; Livvy makes Nico want to both kiss her and kill her at the same time, which I simply adored. Outside of the romance, Alisha skillfully introduces a plethora of secondary characters and we get to see their dynamics with both Livvy and Nico. These characters and relationships were also extremely well-developed and multi-layered, which gave this book so much depth along with being a smoking hot romance. Totally fits the brief of a forbidden romance with a family rivalry trope.

wrongtoneedyouWrong To Need You (Forbidden Hearts #2) by Alisha Rai

Plot: Sadia Ahmed is the owner of Kane’s Café, which she inherited when her husband Paul died in a tragic accident. When her former brother-in-law Jackson Kane returns to town ten years after he ran away when accused of a crime he didn’t commit, she’s unable to shake her feelings for him. On his part, Jackson realizes he’s still helpless to stay away from the one woman he’s always loved. When she agrees to let him help her out at the café, Sadia realizes that her childhood best friend has grown up into an irresistible man. Will they, won’t they?

Oh. My. GOD. After HATE TO WANT YOU, I was sure Alisha was setting herself up for failure, because there was no way a follow-up was ever going to be as good. She proved me wrong by writing a second book that was somehow even better than the first one. This one is hands-down my favorite of the series. I was a little hesitant about the brother’s ex trope, but she handled it perfectly. Also, allow me to gush about Jackson for just one minute. Seriously, give me all the broody introverts always and forever. He’s shy, he cooks, he doesn’t talk a lot, and he’s downright sexy- sheer perfection. I loved their chemistry, I loved the angst and turmoil Sadia was going through about having feelings for her former best-friend-turned-brother-in-law, and her son Kareem was just pure joy and comfort on the page. Sadia’s character is beautifully developed- as a sex positive bisexual woman, as a daughter in a large family with conservative parents and delightful, caring siblings, as a mother, and as a lover. She and Jackson are a perfect match. In addition to all of this, we learn more about the Kanes and the Chandlers, so it’s not like the family drama is a one-and-done thing in book one. This book is all about second chances, and by god, it delivers that, with a gigantic helping of consensual, sex-positive, and super hot romance. 

91rkk2z2sul-__bg0000_fmpng_ac_ul320_sr202320_Hurts To Love You (Forbidden Hearts #3) by Alisha Rai

Thanks so much to Avon Books and Edelweiss for an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

Plot: In the final installment of this series, we meet Evangeline Chandler and Gabriel Hunter. She’s the heiress to the Chandler fortune and sibling of the overprotective Nicholas Chandler, he’s the tattoo artist boss of Livvy Kane, and son of the Kane family’s former housekeeper. He’s not supposed to be attracted to his friend’s sister, and she’s not supposed to nurse a lifelong crush for the help. However, will respectability and responsibility stand a chance when they’re forced to spend time together and sparks fly?

This book is a fitting ending to the series. She’s a good girl gone bad, he’s thrown caution to the wind in spite of his deep, dark secret. The chemistry is palpable and tender between these two. Eve clearly has a lot of issues and complexes thanks to the men in her family, and I absolutely love how she’s come into her own in this book, going from someone who strictly toes the line to a confident, outspoken person who can stand up to the men in her life, even the ones that have her best interests at heart. Gabe is clearly going through a lot of pain, but is still a wonderful human all-around. They’re also in the middle of a wedding, which means you get to see a lot of our favorite characters from our first two books. And just when you thought you’d discovered everything you needed to about the Kanes and the Chandlers, more secrets are revealed that absolutely shake up both families. 

Alisha Rai delivers again. In just one series she’s managed to deliver three completely different types of forbidden romances, with such diverse characters. Also, hurray for POC romances. The Kanes are Hawaiian-Japanese, Sadia is a bisexual Muslim, Livvy and Jackson’s aunt Maile is a queer WOC, and Gabe is multiracial with an adoptive Black mom and sister (who is a badass billionaire boss, and I hope Alisha writes a spin-off book about Rhiannon sometime in the future). The books all prioritize consent. are super sex-positive, and especially don’t fetishize WOC and/or queer women. Let’s be real: Alisha knows how to write hot books. The sex scenes left me weak at the knees, and I was especially glad that none of the male protagonists had moments of being insecure about their masculinity or whatever when they were with assertive women. All in all, a fantastic series, and definitely her best one yet. I’m so ready to keep reading her work.

 

ARC Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

32920226 Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Pub. date: September 5th, 2017
Publisher: Scribner
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781501126062
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Scribner for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Trigger Warnings: Dead sibling, addiction, cancer, dying family member, drugs

Plot: Jojo and his little sister Kayla live with their grandparents in rural Mississippi, and only occasionally see their mother Leonie. The grandmother is dying of cancer. the grandfather is trying to run the household and teach Jojo life lessons, and Leonie sees visions of her dead brother when she gets high. Then, when Jojo and Kayla’s white father Michael is released from prison, Leonie packs the kids and a friend in a car, and travels across the state to the Mississippi State Penitentiary. a journey that’s full of danger and promise.

It is of no surprise that Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for this novel. She is just such a fantastic writer, and has the ability to make readers of her work empathize with the most flawed characters. Characters who in theory should be the villains of the story, but you end up feeling for them. She makes you ache for them. All of her characters have experienced, or are experiencing an immense amount of pain, and this is reflected in their worldviews, the choices they make, and the lives they live.

The story mainly comes from the perspectives of Jojo and Leonie, who are both people of few words, always on guard, but their internal voices convey everything that they would not say out loud to the reader, and basically set up the entire book. Jojo is coming of age and holds so much resentment towards his mother, who is an absentee parent, while absorbing crucial life lessons from Pop, his grandfather, as he is trying to figure out how to be a man. Leonie on the other hand is the character that put me through the wringer emotionally. She is so deeply flawed, and everything she does or that Jojo says she does or does not do makes you want to hate her, but reading her perspective and what she’s thinking makes you not only empathize, but just ache for her. A drug addict, she’s haunted by visions of her dead brother whenever she’s high, and it’s a punch in the gut to read about it. 

Jesmyn’s skill comes through in how she uses her characters- a lot of them are symbolic to further the story. Her writing makes you feel such pain with a story where terrible things just keep happening and there seems no reprieve, but still leaves you feeling hopeful at the end of it. There is no particularly happy ending, nothing is neatly tied up or resolved. Therein lies its beauty. I honestly could not find a single flaw in this book.

This was my first time reading her full-length novels (I’d previously read her memoir, Men We Reaped, and The Fire This Time), and she has become one of my favorite authors. I’m a total sucker for books that make me feel pain and that just sucker- punch me with all the emotions, and Sing, Unburied, Sing did just that. Devastatingly beautiful prose and an absolutely engrossing story, it is undoubtedly one of my favorites of 2017, and one that I urge you to read if you haven’t already. 

-J

 

 

2016: Reflections and Resolutions

2016-reflections-and-resolutions

Disclaimer: Several existential crises about attaching meaning to arbitrary cycles of time occurred during the drafting of this post. 

Ahem, okay. 2016. Trashfire year, to say the least. However, there’s some good stuff once you wade through the garbage, and I’m taking the time to be grateful for the little things. 2016 is the year I joined the book community on the internet, and it still amazes me to know that there’s people out there that read, breathe, and revere books the way I do (and some even more). I made some fantastic friends, some of whom I got to know in real life, and all of whom have been absolute hearts (you know who you are). I discovered so many social justice warrior gems who inspire me everyday with their outspokenness and general badassery. I also discovered that my drug of choice is participating in readathons and reading challenges, regardless of how well I do in them. It is the year I started blogging about books, albeit sporadically, and also the year I realized the purpose of this blog. All of these things give me the warm fuzzies, and I’m taking this moment to be grateful for that. 

I’ve learnt several things about myself as a reader this year, and I’m choosing to use those things to shape my reading as we enter the next year. 2017 is going to come with a hell a lot of challenges as it is, and I’d like to make sure I keep chipping away at making my happy place a worthwhile place. 

In terms of numbers, this year has been a success. I’ll be ringing in the New Year with my 228th book, which is the most I’ve read any year ever (last year I read 53, I think). I’ll be setting a goal of 250 books next year, which I think is pretty doable. I’m woefully behind on updating my spreadsheets and the running list on my blog, but I have finally completed all my social obligations  so those should get done soon. 

I’ve talked before about wanting to read mindfully, and this is something I’d like to continue working on. While high numbers are an adrenaline rush, I’d like to be really absorb and sit with what I’m reading, and be able to look at my reading material critically.

As for reading challenges, I’m narrowing those down to a chosen few. I’ve learned that I prefer readathons, especially ones like Dewey’s where I can go full blown introvert and hole up with my books and the bookternet, so after having dabbled in a bunch of reading challenges this past year, in 2017 I will be doing the following: 

As mentioned earlier, I’m joining the wonderful Kerry in hosting Social Justice Book Club, and it’s been so great working on the behind-the-scenes stuff with her. We’re actively working on making this a meaningful experience for all our participants. We’re also working on selecting books that cover social justice intersectionally, which I’m super stoked about. The intention is to continue learning and using that knowledge to do good, and I’m working on these intentions being reflected in actual, actionable steps. 

I have several things I want to work on with blogging, and I’m trying to remember that I’m still brand new to this, so taking it slow is key. I do not want blogging to be an aversive experience, so I’m going to take a couple of things at a time and work on them. Manageable goals are less stressful, especially since there’s so many other uncertain variables in my personal life.  

I’d like to work on an actual posting schedule. It’ll help with accountability, generating content, and writing more reviews. It’ll also motivate me to chalk out time to work on these posts, rather than scramble in the wee hours of the morning in sweaty panic because that’s just unnecessary. 

Another thing I’ll be working on this year is to write better reviews. This means having something meaningful to say besides just gushing about books I love, because I think it’ll just generally help improve my writing, so two birds, one stone. I’m also going to use this as practice to critically analyze books- plot, writing style, character development, etc.- and generally have more nuanced content. 

Of course, as I’ve said earlier, the purpose of this blog is to support and promote marginalized voices. I think a part of this is also being able to discuss problematic rep. While I’ve been part of a fair number of these discussions on twitter, I think using the blog for this is equally crucial, especially since there’s very few POC/LGBTQIA+/disabled bloggers, and we need to keep having these conversations about inclusivity and representation if we hope to make a dent in publishing. 

I’d like to take this moment to thank you guys- friends, readers- for having stuck with me all through 2016. I don’t think there’s words that will adequately describe what this community means to me. It’s changed my life. I’m looking forward to all of the wonderful things you will be doing in 2017, and I will be cheering you on all the way.

Let’s kick 2017’s ass.

-J

 

 

#DAReadathon TBR

I have several issues with the lack of diversity in the world of Harry Potter, especially with the kind of crap JKR has been putting us through this year. But I think you’ve known me long enough to know I can’t resist a readathon, especially one that is focused on promoting diverse books. I’ve been mulling over my reading goals for 2017, and it only seems fitting to kick it off with a readathon highlighting diverse books, organized by an awesome blogger. The details are right here, and I’m excited to be repping team Slytherin!

name-jananiblog-the-shrinkettehouse-slytherinpatronus-white-swan-2

Aentee has given us eight awesome prompts, and I’ve picked one book each in order to rack up some sweet house points:

expectopatronum

everyheartdoorway

 

I haven’t read a lot of books repping ace characters, and it is totally for lack of trying. I’m making more of an effort and have found quite a few titles, so I’m reading one that has been recommended to me the most from all corners of the interwebz. 

 

 

expelliarmus

undertheudalatrees

 

It’s safe to say that I’ve discovered plenty of gaps in my reading, so many that I’m not actually sure I’ll get to all of them in my life, but I’ll be damned if I don’t keep trying. So for this category, I’ve picked this highly acclaimed title which hits both titles by Non-US/European authors and features lesbian characters. 

 

protego

lolitatehran 

 

This book has been sitting on my shelf for months; I only bought it because the premise sounded interesting. A quick scroll through Goodreads indicated that this is highly acclaimed, so I’m using this readathon as an excuse to crack this beauty open. 

 

 

reducto

hidden-figures

 

You guys, my body is so ready for this movie. I can’t explain what it means to see women of colour nerds on screen. It is going to be glorious, and you bet your bottom dollar I need to read the book before I go see it on screen. 

 

impedimenta

fifthseason.jpg

 

I keep picking this book up and I’m never in the right mood to read it, but I’m thinking having a print copy will help me this time. I know it’s a slow burn and there’s a ton of world building, but I have mad respect for the author and I’d really like to finally be hooked along with the rest of you. 

dareadathon-stupefy

sunsstaryoon.jpg

 

It’s really simple, my library hold finally came through, and I need to read it because the holds list is a mile long. Also, I’ve heard so many good things and I’m having serious FOMO. THAT COVER IS EVERYTHING. *heart eyes for days*

 

dareadthon-lumos

leztalk.jpg

 

This book has been recommended to me by both Naz and Bina, which made it the perfect pick for this prompt. I’m knee deep in my need for intersectional feminist works, so this automatically made the list for that as well.

 

 

 

 

Right, those are my picks. Looking for more options? Allow me to direct you to Naz’s blog, where he gives us more than 60 awesome options for the readathon prompts. Excited to see everyone’s picks, and looking forward to start off the year reading fantastically inclusive books! 

-J