Feeling is always worth it.— Danika Brown, Something To Talk About
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. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits… When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues her from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zafir 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.
Quick review: If you love diverse, incredibly sexy romance, if you love bisexual protagonists, if you love friends-to-lovers stories with lots of pining even as they are together, then this is a novel for you. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll probably make you cry, and you will not regret picking it up. I cannot recommend it enough, and I’ll keep yelling about it.
Dani & Zafir
Danika and Zafir — or just Dani & Zaf — are very different people, but with similar scars. But where Dani’s response to those scars is to turn emotion from her door, Zaf has “framed his scars in gold.” This is not to say that only one speaks of courage and the other doesn’t. It’s simply the difference between… kinds of self-sabotage. Both Dani and Zafir have set up rules for themselves, on opposite ends of a sliding scale: no love, or all of it. All, or none of it. And when they meet and realise that they like each other — like, like-like — they have to figure out whether they can step over the line, say, hang the rules, and go after what their hearts really want.
Dani is wonderful and uncompromising (at first), whip-smart (always), gloriously bisexual, and a character whose thoughts and happiness and fears I could read and listen to all day. (I’ve put the audiobook on my wishlist! I want it!) I would have longed to be half as cool as her if I’d stayed in academia. I still long to be half as cool as her, full stop.
Zafir is amazing and brave, strappingly handsome, and searching for that happy ever after. I love his open care and frank admiration so much. He’s brave, and while he has impressive resting murder face, what his character is all about is that caring is not weakness. His workshops helping boys get in touch with their emotions and providing a healthy outlet through rugby practice echo some of my favourite tropes: found family, wholesome boys will be boys caring about each other, and the whole genre of wholesome sports movies.
Because Dani’s sisters are part of the ongoing Brown sisters series, we get to see a little less of them and a bit more of Zaf’s family; and I love them all so much. There’s a lovely subplot involving another pair who are so well suited, and I felt Zaf’s happiness and his pang of envy when he congratulates them. All the emotions, all the good tropes.
Romance Tropes I Love & Those I Don’t
Speaking of tropes: I love that while (spoilers!) there happens to be a dreaded phase of both protagonists fearing that they ruined everything, it’s not delivered in a totally cliché kind of way, the ways we’ve seen in ten dozen romcoms. It comes as a gut punch, and it unlocks the true depth of Dani’s “interpersonal issues” in a way that serves both the story and her character development.
But the way to this (truly, epically, giant) cock-up is not paved with one step forward, two steps back. It’s the steady pull of the tide, drawing them closer and closer together. It’s Danika slowly letting Zaf into her heart, and not resisting, per se, mostly… rationalising. It’s Zaf doing his best to strangle his traitorous heart, which gloriously will not be silenced.
Tying into why I love this novel so much is the beautiful imagery of Hibbert’s writing. A recurring symbol of Zaf’s feelings for Danika lies in flowers: first, a single bloom (poppies! I love poppies), and then a “brightly colored meadow, beautiful and dangerous.” It’s such a strong, wonderful way of illustrating his growing adoration, and his surrender to it. That metaphor finds its twin in Danika’s response at the end.
I cried my way through the last 80 pages or so, for varied and some deeply personal reasons, but mostly for how masterfully Talia Hibbert draws these characters, their quirks and strengths and flaws. I felt so seen in Zaf’s anxiety and in Danika’s longing for something real that she denies herself for fear of hurt.
If you love diverse, incredibly sexy romance, if you love bisexual protagonists, if you love friends-to-lovers stories with lots of pining even as they are together, then this is a novel for you. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll probably make you cry, and you will not regret picking it up. I cannot recommend it enough, and I’ll keep yelling about it.
And YES; this story is still queer, no matter that this is an M/F romance. Biphobia not taken by the horns in this one as it is, for instance, in Sophie Gonzales’ Perfect On Paper which I’ve previously reviewed on Rainbow Bookshelf; it is simply taken as read that Dani is bisexual and that’s it. She’s had previous relationships with different people, and the “oh no, feelings” of it all is not restricted to partners of only one gender or another. She’s bi, that’s all, thanks and goodnight.
This review was made available a week early to patrons and supporters on patreon.com/annamarabella and ko-fi.com/grumble. 💛
Genre Adult Romance, Contemporary
Narrative voice Third-Person, Dual POV
Content warnings death of a loved one, anxiety, depression
Maturity rating 17+