I recently expanded my reading interests into a new genre: romance. At first, this was purely because I was going on a trip, was almost finished with the novel I was reading, I’d received a couple romance novels in the mail from publishers and the books themselves are very small. So I tossed one in my bag. And I’ll admit, by the end I was hooked. So I started to do a little more research into the genre (more on why will be coming soon), and decided that my next foray should be into contemporary romance (the first one was historical). So I again went into the stash of novels I had on hand, and selected Alisha Rai’s Hurts to Love You.
I devoured this book. It seemed long for a mass market paperback, over 350 pages, but I flew threw it. We learn on the book jacket that this is the third book in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series—but I’d discovered in my research (I knew that sounds super nerdy), that when it comes to romance series by a specific author, you don’t need to read all of them to understand the story. Instead, it simply means that the couples the books are centered around are all connected/exist in the same universe; in this book, the couples who served as the protagonists in each of the first two are present and happily together. In fact, the setting for most of the book was the lake estate that would serve as the venue for the wedding of Nicholas and Livvy, the couple whose story played out in the first Forbidden Hearts novel. I thought this was a really smart way to place all the characters in the same place at the same time and set the stage for the story that would play out.
Even though a year or time period wasn’t specified, this book felt modern despite a story that could have felt old and stuffy. One of the elements of the plot that makes the protagonists’, Eve Chandler and Gabe Hunter’s, love feel forbidden is that there is a history of conflict and tragedy between their families. (This is a gross simplification, and in an effort to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say it involves two incredibly rich families, some shady business dealings, some backstabbing and some car accidents.) There are quite a few moments in which Rai writes things like “a Chandler would never do that” or “a Chandler is always expected to do this.” At first, this idea felt antiquated to me, but Rai did her best to subvert it as the story went on, mostly through Eve and her journey.
One other thing on the family drama: there were quite a few spots where I got bogged down and confused by the number of names being tossed around, and I had trouble keeping them all straight. I suppose this is one instance in which it would have been helpful to read the other books in the series, because I would have already been familiar with a number of the characters, but it was still frustrating at times.
Now, to Eve and Gabe. Eve is 24 and Gabe is 36, which I thought was very smart on Rai’s part. It meant that as their romance blossomed, they were forced to reconcile the differences in their previous romantic and sexual experiences, which was interesting and fun to read. In terms of character, I liked Eve better; her emotional struggles felt more authentic, and I appreciated the ways she forced herself out of her shell, though not the fact that she constantly referred to her shell as, literally, her shell. Her doing this, and Gabe constantly talking about his mask, felt a little too on the nose for me. They both also had a tendency to get way too much into their own heads, and there were early scenes that had me groaning in frustration at the silly reasons they were using to justify staying away from one another, and later scenes that made me even angrier. I mentioned earlier that Rai did her best to subvert the antiquated idea of warring families (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?), but it was also difficult to ignore it when Eve’s reason for not telling Gabe how she really felt was that their relationship “just couldn’t happen.”
I’ll admit that when it started to feel like the first sex scene was coming, I flipped ahead ten pages or so to see if it was close. The tension built and built, and then joyfully released, and it was definitely the strongest one in the book. I thought that the persona that Gabe adopted during sex felt further away from his actual personality than Eve’s did, though I can also understand the use of this device as a way to highlight his experience and the fact that he knows exactly what he wants and likes. But still, for a man who seemed petrified at times to say what he really felt during day to day interactions, he was very quick to do so in the bedroom.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. There was drama, tension, romance, action—all the things I would expect from a contemporary romance novel. I guess this series was Rai’s first with Avon Books; I hope she gets the opportunity to write more for them in the future!