TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN
Friends, I got very lucky in the ARC lottery. One might even say I won the ARC lottery by receiving a copy of Take A Hint, Dani Brown.
Danika Brown doesn't do relationships, not when they all surely end in disappointment. No, she'd much rather focus on her career and academic pursuits than waste precious energy on romance. But if the universe could just send her someone to take the sexual edge off...that'd be a dream come true. Someone who can keep her satisfied without expecting more from her than she can give.
When former rugby player and security hunk Zafir "Zaf" Ansari "rescues" Dani from a workplace fire drill, Dani reads it as an obvious sign from the universe that Zaf might be the person she's been looking for. When a video of her rescue goes viral, both Zaf and Dani see it as an opportunity– if they fake a public relationship together, Zaf gains publicity for his non-profit, and maybe Dani can convince romantic Zaf to be her partner in the bedroom. As long as they can both agree to part ways with no strings attached at the end, it's win-win for everyone...right?
Talia Hibbert does something that I absolutely love and she does it really well: she writes male characters that transcend the typical character profile in contemporary romance. In Take a Hint, Dani Brown, Zafir "Zaf" Ansari is complex and utterly ideal. He's intelligent, a former pro rugby player, an uncle, a friend, and the founder of a non-profit that focuses on young men overcoming toxic masculinity. He's an avid reader of romance novels and he believes in the importance of acknowledging your feelings and being truthful about them with others. He suffers from deep grief and persistent anxiety, frequently facing it down by reminding himself of who he is, where he's been, and how to move forward. In Take A Hint, Dani Brown, anxiety and depression are represented well:
"He wasn't going to tell her about the heights his anxiety had reached, or how it turned out depression could fuel rage like nothing else, or how bleak it felt when the fire ran out and the demons were all you had left."
Zaf is a male character you absolutely admire, and I love how TAHDB includes struggles we so infrequently read in male characters. How often does a male character openly suffer from anxiety and worry about their loved ones dying suddenly? How often does a male character understand and express that in relationships, it's not your job to change your partner, you should just accept them as they are or move on? Not often, that's the answer, and it's a ringing theme I've noticed in this series. I love the male protagonists the most.
In the same vein, TAHDB also features a female character that's outside of the "normal" quirky we frequently read in the genre. Dani Brown is a witchy, socially awkward, academically driven PhD student who has no time for romance, thank you very much. Romance ends in misery and disappointment every time, so she's taught herself to avoid it. She has strict rules in place to prevent herself from getting hurt ever again. She has goals that she wants to achieve, she's unwilling to sacrifice her drive and passion for someone who wants her to change, and she doesn't have time to be someone she's not. She's not the romantic type to remember anniversaries, or so she's told herself. She's also a character that has qualities we don't always read–she's not a sweet, clumsy, sometimes funny heroine. She's a sarcastic, focused, highly intelligent character that's thinking three steps ahead with dimpled thighs and a great rack. She's blunt and straightforward in what she wants, and that's something I love to read in female protagonists, even if it hits you over the head sometimes.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, there's a few things I wish I'd had more and less of. I wish I'd had more of Zaf's struggle with the grief he feels from the loss of his brother and father, how it's ever persistent and changes, how it's affected his family and his relationships with them. I wanted more on the why's of starting Tackle It and there are some plot points that we never find resolved (as an example, accepting a job with his former team that causes him much anxiety). In this, we only get little tastes. I wish I'd had more backstory or reflection on Dani's history and how she became so cynical on love and romance. Again, we only get little tastes. And I know it's part of her character, but I wish I'd had a bit less of Dani's internal monologue because it's redundant. We know that Dani "doesn't do relationships" but her brush-offs are frequent, her rationale static, and a huge part of her change is almost overnight. There's not much reflection on that, either. And finally, her grand gesture was, sure, outside of Dani's comfort zone, but a little underwhelming in the end.
This one was absolutely a slow burn and I loved it. The romance was steamy (whew, so good) and drawn out and there were so many moments of friendship. I loved the concept of fake dating after a social media mishap because it makes the scenario far more likely today than other plot lines you find in the genre. I don't always enjoy the friends to lovers trope, but it was done really well here. However, there were moments when I felt like it the build up and slow burn was too drawn out, too slow moving, particularly in the middle (about 60% of the way in), and I found myself wishing for something to happen, wishing for just a tiny bit of drama.
Misgivings aside, Take A Hint, Dani Brown was a fantastically written, funny, thoughtful story from Talia Hibbert including characters I'll remember and I can't wait for her next book.
*Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!