Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia HibbertAct Your Age, Eve Brown (The Brown Sisters, #3) by Talia Hibbert
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy
Series: Brown Sisters #3
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on March 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Act Your Age, Eve Brown the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.
Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It's time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she's not entirely sure how…
Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.
Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.

My Review:

At the tail end of 2020, I was in a rather desperate mood for stories with happy endings – so I scheduled an entire week of romances. Two of those romances were the first two books in the Brown Sisters trilogy, Get a Life, Chloe Brown and Take a Hint, Dani Brown. Both of them turned out to be exactly what I was looking for that week, contemporary romances with a bit of bite and more than a bit of depth, and with absolutely marvelous and hard won happy endings.

But the series is a trilogy, because there are not one, not two, but three Brown Sisters. Now it’s time for the third and youngest of the Brown Sisters to get her due, by following, as her sisters did in their turns, the titular instruction.

Eve’s parents pretty much force the issue as the story begins. It seems as if 20something Eve is an example of a “failure to launch”. She’s in her mid-20s, she’s still living at home, she’s still living off the generous allowance – read that as trust fund distribution – her wealthy and successful parents provide for her, and she’s never held down a “real” job for any length of time.

She’s tried plenty of things, but Eve has a tendency to give up when the going gets tough. Something that she can afford to do, because her parents are financially backstopping her seeming inability to start adulting.

When Eve gives up her latest venture as a wedding planner because her client turned bridezilla, Eve’s parents give her an ultimatum that admittedly feels a bit like kicking her when she’s down.

They’re taking away her allowance and her room in the family mansion. She has a year to find and keep a job, AND support herself with her own earnings, before they’ll consider supporting her again.

At first, it feels like a bit of necessary tough love. Eve doesn’t seem to be adulting, and her self-talk sounds very self-defeating. She sees herself as a failure next to her driving and successful older sisters, and she does run away when things get hard.

And yet, she tries. She tries hard at everything she does. But just like her sisters, the drumbeat of her parents’ disappointed voices keeps her putting herself down at every single turn. She knows she’s a disappointment to them, because they constantly reinforce that message. So she lives down to it.

Faced with having to figure out things by herself and for herself, or so it seems, Eve first takes herself on a long drive to think over her options and escape her demons. Only to quite literally run right over one.

Eve needs a job. Jacob Wayne needs a chef for his Bed and Breakfast. Cooking classes are among the many, many things that Eve has dabbled in, so she sees his “help wanted” sign and drops in without an appointment or a CV in hopes that she can wow him into letting her have the job, at least on a temporary basis.

Jacob is sure it’s not going to work. He’s anal retentive to the max, and Eve is a master chaos agent. He shouldn’t let her into his B&B, let alone into his life. But once she’s run over him with her car, he doesn’t have much of a choice.

Not that, as it turns out, either of them ever seriously did have any choice but each other.

Escape Rating B+: The entire Brown Sisters trilogy has been absolutely marvelous, but I think that Eve is probably my least favorite of the sisters. Now that the series is complete, I can say that I liked Dani’s story the best, Chloe’s second and Eve’s not quite as much – but still quite a lot.

First let me say that I think these books can each be read as a standalone. The stories don’t exactly depend on each other, or on knowledge gained in one carrying over to the next, but I think there’s more depth if you read them all. And they’re all marvelous so why wouldn’t you?

But I said that Eve was my least favorite of the sisters, or at least her story is my least favorite – and I need to get back to that.

Although this series isn’t in first-person singular, this book still reads as being very much from Eve’s point of view. At the beginning, Eve’s negative self-talk really reads like a downer. And it also reads very much as if Eve’s parents are right – however disastrously they go about it. That Eve’s problems are self-inflicted because she just doesn’t have enough stick-to-itiveness.

It’s only as the story goes on, as we see Eve stick to her new job at the B&B, and most importantly as we see into the heart of her coping mechanisms, that we begin to realize that Eve is dealing with her own shit in ways that are much less obvious than either her sister Chloe’s chronic pain and fibromyalgia or Dani’s commitment-phobic workaholism.

Once Eve is able to put a name to her neurodiversity, that she is on the autism spectrum, as she accepts herself as she is, we do too. And it’s much easier to both feel for her and to see that her coping skills and where they fall short also feed into the way that her autism and the fact that girls are less likely to be diagnosed than boys has fed into her parents’ ableism and assumptions about the reasons for her behavior.

In comparison, Jacob is a whole lot more straightforward. He is also on the spectrum, but, well, he’s a guy. His autism was diagnosed in childhood, he’s been learning to cope with it ever since. His behavior, his actions, his coping mechanisms all seem more obvious because they are – because as soon as he was under the care of someone who actually cared, he got help. And he got that help because his caregiver knew what to look for because he was male and the signs were what they were expected to be.

Also, as much as Eve’s parents and extended family love each other, and they definitely do and it’s wonderfully obvious, her family is also a hot mess. They mean well, but that well-meaning really messes things up in the execution. It was obvious from the outset of Jacob and Eve’s romantic relationship exactly what was going to precipitate the inevitable breakup crisis. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop while watching it hanging up their heads by a fraying shoelace. That her family turned out to be the agency for it seemed equally inevitable.

Not that the friendship stuff that was inserted to string out that tension a bit longer wasn’t fun and interesting on its own but I had reached the point where the story needed to get on with it so they could reach the happy ending.

I was so very ready for that. And it was awesome and lovely and acknowledged the progress of both of their journeys, all at the same wonderful time. I’m kind of sad to say goodbye to the Brown Sisters and their eccentric family, but I’m looking forward to whatever and whoever this author introduces me to next!

Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia HibbertTake a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters, #2) by Talia Hibbert
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance
Series: Brown Sisters #2
Pages: 361
Published by Avon on June 23, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral...
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?

My Review:

As my “week of happy endings” kicked off last Friday with the first book in the Brown Sisters trilogy, Get a Life, Chloe Brown – Dani’s older sister’s story – it is only fitting that I close the week with this book, all about the middle sister in the Brown family.

And what a story it is!

This story, and this series so far, is all about finding love a)when you are not looking for it and b) while you’re carrying baggage that you’re sure means that no one will ever really love you as you are except for family. Part of me is tempted to say these characters are all “positive” about their negative chances, because none of the protagonists so far begin their stories even remotely hopeful about their chances at finding anything resembling love and acceptance of the romantic kind.

And, as both of these stories show, it’s important to see people carrying emotional baggage finding happiness, because everyone is carrying some. Unless of course, they’re dead, and in paranormal romance even death doesn’t stop characters from finding their HEAs.

So this story, and this series so far, are about people who deal with their baggage and find love and happiness neither in spite of it nor because of it, but rather because they’re dealing with their own crap in constructive ways that make romance possible.

Love doesn’t magically cure what ails you – whether that ailing is physical or emotional – but it can help give you the strength to handle it a bit better. And that’s what is at the heart and soul of this series so far.

In the case of Dani Brown’s slightly flirty friendship with Zafir Ansari, both of them are carrying some pretty heavy baggage of the emotional kind. Nerdy, driven, single-minded and obsessively focused Dani has internalized the idea that she isn’t capable of the emotional work of maintaining a relationship. She’s happy to be friends-with-benefits with people, but relationships require work that she doesn’t believe she’s no longer interested in even attempting. So she has rules about getting involved with people outside the bedroom.

In Dani’s world, friendship is good, sex is great and romance is entirely off the table. She’s too busy pursuing her dream of becoming one of the relatively few black, female full professors in Britain to make the time for relationship maintenance and all of the compromises she knows it requires. Compromises she already knows that she’s very, very bad at.

Zafir Ansari is dealing with an entirely different set of emotional burdens. He’d love to find a happy ever after, and he’s more than willing to try, but whoever he becomes involved with has to be able to deal with his occasional panic attacks, uber-protective anxiety binges and his complete unwillingness to revisit whole swaths of his past because that way lies depression. He lost his father and his older brother in an accident and the resulting downward spiral caused his promising rugby career to implode.

But he has gotten his life mostly back on track, running a combination coaching and counseling program for boys who need help dealing with emotional and mental health issues without resorting to the dead end trap of toxic masculinity. As the program doesn’t pay the bills, he has a day job as a security guard at the university where Dani is an underpaid and over-driving teaching assistant and Ph.D. candidate.

Zafir wants a happy ever after, and Dani is just looking for a new fuckbuddy. They should restrict themselves to flirting, because they have entirely different relationship goals. Or at least they think they are.

When a recording of Zafir’s dramatic “rescue” of Dani from a trapped elevator during an evacuation drill goes viral, they decide, with eyes more or less wide shut, to embark upon a fake relationship, a classic of the romance genre, in order for the publicity to boost Zaf’s counseling program.

Oh, and they’ll be friends with benefits for the length of time it takes the social media craze to die down and the future for Zaf’s program to be secure.

Everyone knows just how fake relationships turn out in romance novels. Especially Zaf, who reads them voraciously. He’s all in, even if thought he wouldn’t be. The question is whether Dani can admit that she is, too. Before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: Dani’s story is even better than Chloe’s – and Chloe’s story was damn good.

But as much as I loved Chloe’s story, I found Dani’s to be just that extra bit easier to identify with because of her recognition and rejection of the performative nature of being part of a relationship. Women usually end up doing the emotional heavy-lifting in a heterosexual relationship, and some of us just aren’t equipped for it. Not that we don’t love the other person, but there are just some parts of relationship maintenance that we either don’t get or can’t be bothered with or that suffer in comparison to career or personal goals.

The latter of which is considered perfectly okay when a man feels – or doesn’t feel – that way but for which women get roundly and soundly criticized.

At the same time, part of what makes this romance so good is just what made Chloe’s story so good. In spite of often being emotionally clueless, Dani supports Zafir’s goals and his broken places, just as he does for her. They come to love each other as they are, not as the other wants them to be.

And the journey here for both of them is learning to deal better with their own shit. Zafir needs to be able to incorporate the good parts of his past with his present. He’s cutting himself off from both happiness and opportunities because he tries to maintain a hard line between the before – before the accident that took his father and brother – and the aftermath where he copes as long as that door isn’t opened.

Dani, on the other hand, needs to open the door in her own psyche to deal with a trauma that she hasn’t been willing to admit is there. That she’s afraid she can’t maintain a relationship so she refuses to try.

Like Chloe’s story, Dani’s romance with Zaf works because it feels real, and so do the tensions that nearly tear them apart. Get a Life, Chloe Brown was the perfect opening for my week of romance, and Take a Hint, Dani Brown was the perfect ending.

Even better, the Brown Sisters’ story is not over – which is wonderful because they’re part of a terrific family that continues to be marvelous to get to know. Youngest sister Eve’s story is coming up this spring in Act Your Age, Eve Brown. I can’t wait to see her try!

Review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia HibbertGet a Life, Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters, #1) by Talia Hibbert
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Brown Sisters #1
Pages: 373
Published by Avon on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?
• Enjoy a drunken night out.• Ride a motorcycle.• Go camping.• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.• And... do something bad.
But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.
Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.
But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

My Review:

Because yesterday’s book had a slightly higher, let’s call it “discomfort” factor than I was expecting from something promoted as a play on classic mysteries, I went looking for something a bit lighter in tone – or at least something I could reasonably expect to have a happy ending. My search led me to Get a Life, Chloe Brown, as I have the whole series in the virtually towering TBR pile but hadn’t quite been in the mood for it.

Until now. I was definitely in the mood for something light and maybe even a bit fluffy, and was hoping this would fill that particular bill. And even though the baggage that both of the protagonists are carrying is much too heavy to make this book either light or fluffy, it still gave me the happy ending that I was craving.

And all the better for dealing appropriately with that baggage.

Chloe needs to carve out a tiny bit of space from her loving, intrusive, extremely overprotective family. Not that Chloe doesn’t need a bit of help and protection, because she does. In the aftermath of a nearly deadly bout of pneumonia a few years ago, Chloe found herself living with both fibromyalgia and chronic pain.

It’s a situation that has forced Chloe to learn to manage her illness – with the help of the medical professionals she finally located who believed her and didn’t brush her off. Because if she doesn’t manage her health, the issues with it will manage her. And sometimes they still do, in spite of her efforts.

Along the way she’s lost friends and a fiance who refused to believe her, and her family, her parents, her grandmother, and her two sisters, have all stepped in to fill the gaps in Chloe’s social network.

But they’re smothering her with their good intentions, so after another near-death experience – this time with a drunk driver who swerves away at the last possible second – Chloe decides to go out and get herself a life without her loving family looking over her shoulder and swaddling her in cotton every single second.

She does find a new apartment, although the new social life is a bit harder to come by. What she does have is a new frenemy/obsession, the gorgeous, tattooed superintendent of the building. She sees him as a bit of a rough badass, and he sees her as a stuck up rich girl with a snooty attitude and her head up her very shapely backside.

When he discovers her rescuing a stray cat from a very tall tree, the ensuing mayhem allows them both to discover that neither is exactly who the other thought. And that each might provide the other with the kind of friendship that is forged not from what they have in common, but from the elements each needs and sorely lacks – but that the other has in abundance.

If only they can manage to get their own personal baggage out of the other’s way.

Escape Rating A-: As I said at the top, I was expecting fluff. What I got was a whole hell of a lot more nuanced than that, and I think I enjoyed it more because of that nuance. Not that fluff can’t be a wonderful thing if that’s what you’re looking for at a particular time, but this was just more than I expected and I was very happy with that.

The baggage that Chloe and Red are dealing with is both heavier than I expected and was handled so much better than I expected. The crap they’re carrying around isn’t easy and there are no quick solutions.

At the same time, they both recognize that they have a crapton of crap – even if it takes Red quite a bit longer to figure that out – and they both are coming to terms with their own shit. (I can’t be the only person in the world who had a relationship go to hell because both parties had their own crap and weren’t both willing to deal with it.)

And on my third hand, the stuff they each had to deal with was real and hard and not generally dealt with well or at all in romance. Chloe has a chronic illness. It’s something she has learned how to handle, but it will most likely never be cured. So her illness and her management of it and her health is part of what she has to deal with every single day. Even the good days, because it’s always lurking.

But there’s also the emotional baggage along with it. Not just her family’s overprotectiveness, which comes from a place of love but can be unintentionally belittling, but Chloe’s quite real fears of abandonment – because those feelings arose from reality. Her friends and her fiance didn’t believe her illness was real, so they treated her like she was a lying faker and left her to cope by herself.

The result is that she has walled herself away from people other than her family because everyone else has betrayed her trust when she needed them the most. So when her relationship with Red changes from disdain to friendship to flirting to love, she’s afraid he’ll leave because it’s happened to her before.

When he does leave she’s devastated but determined, because he leaves her not because of her crap but his own. His last girlfriend was a rich girl like Chloe, but she was abusive – something that you don’t see nearly enough in romance but does happen. He leaves Chloe because he panics and conflates her behavior with the ex, even though it isn’t so. But it’s something he has to work through and Chloe can’t do it for him anymore than he can deal with her abandonment issues for her.

No matter how much he can, and does, help her deal with the practical issues of her illness and the management of it.

So there was way more to unpack in this story than I was expecting – and it was all terrific stuff. Stuff that slid very nicely between the lines of this terrific, fun, flirty and very sexy romance – almost as nicely as Chloe and Red slid between the sheets – and eventually managed to stay there.

I loved Chloe Brown, and I liked her sisters Dani and Eve – along with the whole family – quite a lot. More than enough that I’m looking very much forward to reading Dani’s story next – and next week – in Take a Hint, Dani Brown!