In this Encore Unabridged Love is in the Air episode, we talk about some romance book recommendations we each want to share, including discussions of Alexis Daria's You Had Me at Hola, Alisha Rai’s First Comes Like, and Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown. There's something for everyone who is looking for a great romance book to read.
If you're looking for more romance book recommendations, don't miss this great bookish fave from Jen or our previous romance episodes from 2019 (which is a good one but so old it's only available here on our site!) and from 2020. Also be sure to check out our episode with Farrah Rochon about her brilliant book, The Boyfriend Project!
Ashley - R. Eric Thomas’s Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in Americas
Jen - Holly Black’s The Queen of Nothing
Sara - Bri McKoy’s Come and Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table
Our Romance Book Recs
Ashley - Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown
Sara - Alisha Rai’s First Comes Like
Jen - Alexis Daria's You Had Me at Hola
Mentioned in Episode
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s The Magisterium series, starting with The Iron Trial
Our Season 4 Recs for Each Other, episode 139
J. Ryan Stradal's The Lager Queen of Minnesota
Tali Hibbert's Get a Life, Chloe Brown
Alexis Daria's Dance Off books
Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe
Alisha Rai’s Girl Gone Viral
Give Me One - Most Recent TV Binge (thanks to the Ambassadors for this topic)
Listen to find out our latest series binges!
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Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.
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Jen said, "So I am reading Holly Black's The Queen of Nothing, which I'm really enjoying. I was trying to figure out how to talk about this because it's the third book in a trilogy, and the things that are happening at the very beginning are huge spoilers. So I just can't really tell you anything, but I will just say in general it is a series that focuses on a girl named Jude: she is a twin, and they have an older sister named Vivi. And when they were children—I think the twins were eight—they were home with their parents, and this man came to their door and demanded to have his daughter, which turned out to be Vivi. He turned out to be a fairy. He murdered their parents and then took them all, because they were his obligation at that point, to Fairyland.
"So Jude is a human who has been raised among the fairies, which is . . . they are really brutal. They are really cruel to humans, they really look down on humans. So she has basically spent her life trying to figure out how not to be tormented or killed by these people who are these beings that are immortal and really, really mean to her. But yeah, so it's a really interesting trilogy because I would say the characters are quite complex, and sometimes they are not nice. Jude herself makes some decisions that are quite selfish, and she's just a really complex character, which I enjoy. So I'm anxious to see how Holly Black wraps up the trilogy. I will say I've come to really enjoy her work. I think she is great at world building and at creating these complex moral questions. I really liked her middle-grade series that she wrote with Cassandra Clare that my son had me read. It starts with The Iron Trial. So yeah, I think she's just a really, really interesting fantasy author.
Ashley shared, "So I'm excited to be reading R. Eric Thomas's Here for It. This is one that was recommended to me by Sara, and I've been wanting to get to it, and also it is the selection I made for the Uncorked Challenge. So we all have the Unabridged Podcast Challenge that we're doing together, but then we also chose our individual challenges, and the one that I chose for January is a 'Truth Bomb Nonfiction Book.' So this was a great fit for that because I think that R. Eric Thomas is really examining his own life, and also, he's speaking about American society and making observations and really insightful commentary about the connections between the experiences he's had as an individual as a Black gay man and also as a person living in America. I think it's really fascinating. It's hilarious. Sara had said that it was a good one because he is so brilliant and also funny, and so it's a really nice combination. I think he really invites the reader into the essays.
"She spoke before about how it's broken into sections as essays. So a lot of times, we've talked before on here that for people who don't read a lot of nonfiction, sometimes it's harder to get into that than it is one that has more of a narrative flow, but I feel like this one comes together in a narrative way, and yet moves from essay to essay. So I'm still pretty early on in the book, and what I really loved early on is just his ability to tell a story and then make some insights that are larger than the story itself. One of the things that really stood out to me early on is he talks about his experience going to a school where he was one of the very few Black students: it was predominantly a Jewish population. What I loved was he made a lot of comments about being in a bubble, and he pointed out how a lot of times now we think of bubbles as being really bad, but there are good things about them. So he made some really interesting insights about that, I thought, in a way that it is valuable to protect children when we can from some of the harder things. I thought that was really interesting, but then he gives an example of a situation that kind of popped the bubble for him and how that all played out. So I just think, you know, he does a really great job with that. It's really interesting. I really want to read that one.
Sara said, "I am actually—my January was an excellent month of reading for me. I've read eight or nine books, which is a lot for me. I feel like I started off really strong with The Lager Queen of Minnesota, and I like that, and I just I've been going one right after the other. . . .
"But what I'm reading right now, one of the things I'm reading is Bri McKoy's Come and Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table. I got this because for Christmas, my husband got me a MasterClass that Bri McKoy is doing called "The Everyday Kitchen," and it's just like tips about cooking and elevating your food. I like to cook, and that's a comforting place for me. I'm really enjoying taking that. So I've got her book, and I'm reading it, and I just feel like this is the right book at the right time because she is full of faith—and we share the same faith, which I appreciate, but what she really talks about in the book is how people like to come to the table together and share meals. It's a place where you can connect and you should be willing to have people come to your table regardless of whether your house is not . . . looking the way that you wanted to want it to or you even if you have to have pizza, but you gather the table and you share a meal together and you talk and I think that what it's made me realize is . . . I think I've struggled so much especially during 2020 because that is my love language: having people over and preparing a meal. I like to have people eat my food and all that in. . . . So it's just been really enlightening. . . . So I'm still reading it, and I really enjoy it, and it's just really like kind of a comfort read for me. So that is Bri McKoy's Come and Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table."
Main Segment - Our Romance Book Recs
Ashley's pick is Talia Hibbert's Take a Hint, Dani Brown. She said, "I talked about this one not too long ago on a Bookish Check-in. So this is a pretty fresh read for me, but I wanted to recommend it because I think Talia Hibbert is a brilliant author, and I plan to read more of her backlist. But also, I wanted to share Dani Brown because Chloe Brown is the first in the series, but I don't think that you need to read them in that order. I think Dani Brown is a great place to start with her writing. So this is about Danika Brown, who is a PhD student, and she's teaching classes at a university. She's very dedicated to her work, and she feels like there's not a way to balance that with also being a good romantic partner. So she's kind of trying to make peace with that. She has had some breakups that have resulted in her feeling like she needs to keep things casual with any partners and that she just can't be successful in the romance department.
"Then it's also about Zafir. He is the security guard in the building where she teaches a lot of her classes, and they have this rapport where she brings him tea, and he has a granola bar for her. They have, they are always attentive to each other, and they're good casual friends, but they don't really have anything beyond that relationship, and then early on in the book, there is an encounter that results in him needing to help her get out of the building. That is very well received on social media, that he swooped her up, and all of a sudden there is this social media sensation of this really sweet couple. But of course they're not a couple. So then they recognize that there are benefits for both of them to kind of capitalize on that situation and to play up the coupledom and then things evolve from there.
"I think there are a lot of things I really loved about it. I think one of the things I feel like Tibbert does really well is looking at all parts of her characters. I think she paints these rich, vivid characters who are complex, and who have a lot going on, and she shows how difficult it is to navigate relationships as complicated people. I just really appreciate that about her. I think that she does that really well, and I thought that was true in Chloe Brown as well. I just love the way she examines the connections between things like work life and relationships and how that can be problematic. For Zaf he has this whole backstory that I don't want to give any spoilers, but there are things in his past that really impact his present ability to to be in a relationship, so both of them have some baggage that they're working through. I think that both of them are just really admirable characters. . . ."
Jen recommended Alexis Daria's You Had Me at Hola. She said, "This one does a lot of things that I really liked. First of all, the two main characters are Jasmine Rodriguez. She is an actress who has been . . . she has a moderate amount of fame. She has been on different soap operas, but she has the chance to launch a streaming TV show, and she will be the leading actress on the show, which is built around her character. She really loves the role that she's playing because it's a complex main character who has a lot of nuance. She feels as if it represents her as a Latina really well: something she's been frustrated with has been tabloid coverage of her life and her romances have really played into stereotypes, and she has gotten really frustrated by that. So the chance to emerge from that really superficial look at who she is, it is appealing to her that she has a chance to sort of redefine herself.
"She has the show all set up with his leading man that she had a large part in casting and then something happens and he can't be on the show. So all of a sudden she has a new lead actor to play against. She has never met him, but she knows that he is a good actor. His name is Ashton Suarez, and he is famous on telenovelas. He is hoping to -- the book does alternate perspective so you get his perspective too -- and he is also hoping that this show can be a game changer for him. He is ready to step out of the world of telenovelas and to again have more complex roles; he would love to get a Hollywood and get some mainstream movie parts, but he needs this to go well. So he has a lot invested in Jasmine liking him, which makes it really bad when they first meet because he ends up spilling a huge coffee all over her really light-colored outfit that she is wearing for their first read through, and the only clothes she has to wear are like gym shorts and a tank top. She's dressed up, she looks so professional, she's really been thoughtful about what she wants to wear, and she ends up wearing gym shorts and a tank top to the first read through, and she handles it with a lot of poise, but she is pretty frustrated. She knows it's not his fault, but he also fumbles a little bit with his apology and doesn't handle it in the best way.
"So their first meeting does not bode well for this to be a great connection on the TV show. So as things start to develop, you see that Jasmine, because of the portrayal in the tabloids is really frustrated by the media, but she also has accepted that this type of fame comes with that sort of attention. Ashton, however, wants to be super private and does not want any tabloid attention. So he goes out of his way not to go out with the rest of the cast when they go out in public because he doesn't want to be filmed, he doesn't want any pictures taken, and you find out eventually—this is a tiny spoiler—but that happens fairly early that he has a son. He is very protective of his son, and he doesn't want his son to get any media attention. So they have all of these just different conflicts in the way that they handle fame and their approach to the world. But ultimately, they both want to make a success of the show, and that's where their connection comes in. They decide that they have to have one on one rehearsals to build a sense of relationship. Of course, that gets steamy very quickly. It's a romance novel. So that's not surprising. But they also start to be vulnerable with each other and to really talk about their different philosophies about the world.
"One of the things I loved about the way Daria wrote this is she has the the show that they're on is called Carmen in Charge, and every chapter starts with a scene from Carmen in Charge. So you get this book within a book kind of feeling. You see the script, and then it'll play into them actually, their actual story. So that was really fun, and you get to meet these other characters. The characters in Carmen are great, too, so you get this doubling up of all of these excellent, nuanced characters who are really thoughtful about the way that they approach the world. So yeah, I really enjoyed this one, both because it's a lot of fun—there are some funny scenes, and it is really steamy—but also, I think, behind it, it's considering some really important issues and some issues that yeah, that we all need to think about a little bit more when we consider how the media is portraying different people."
Sara recommended Alisha Rai's First Comes Like. She said, "It is part of the Modern Love series by Alisha Rai, and this is actually the third book, but like you were saying, Ashley, about the Brown Sisters trilogy, you don't need to read them in order. Basically, the series is centered around three roommates, Katrina, Rhiannon and Jia, and First Comes Like is centered around Jia, but then there are two other books called The Right Swipe and Girl Gone Viral that are centered around the other two roommates. It also kind of reminds me of Farrah Rochon's The Boyfriend Project and what she's going to be doing with that story.
"So like I said, this is first comes like and it is about Jia, who is a Pakistani American, who is a beauty influencer in a YouTube-type situation. That's her job. She's an influencer. She has tons of followers, and she makes makeup tutorials, and she lives in California, and her family lives in New York. So one day, this man named Dev slides into her DMs on Instagram, and he, it turns out, is this international superstar who is from a very influential, wealthy Bollywood family from India. So she has some correspondence with him, and she really, you know, hits it off and they talk well. He leaves India to come to the United States to film a television series, and she wants to meet him because they've been talking and all this, and he is very elusive and won't do it. So she decided to take it upon herself and go try to meet him at this industry party because because she's an influencer. She's able to get into high profile parties, and when she walks up to him, he just doesn't know who she is. So, as we say a lot, hijinks ensue from there.
"But what I really love again, I think like a lot of the things that we've all read this year have just dealt with different cultures and how if we're from different places, how we can navigate and become friends or in this case lovers or whatever. And I just really liked learning about Jia's family, and she is one of five sisters, and she has a twin, and her mom and dad–everybody in her family–is a physician except her, and she's an influencer. And Dev's family is really influential, but they've had some some tragedy, and it's a little bit fractured, and just learning how they come with from different values and about both of their cultures and how they navigate once they start getting to know each other. It's all very, very sweet. . . .
"There's a little steam, but nothing like some of the other books we've talked about. So I just think it feels really current, it feels really empowering for women, and I really like that Alisha Rai is talking about women in technology, and especially Jia. She is an influencer, but she's so successful, and she has all these dreams of having her own makeup line. Then her roommates, they create a dating app, and they are they are super smart, and all three of them are great examples of strong female characters, and they're from a diverse range of backgrounds, and I just I really appreciate all that. . . . I just like normalizing women being powerful and in technology, and in this book, the women really shine, and I just really like that. . . ."
Jen also pointed out that all three of these also would work for the Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge and would all qualify for the category "romance written by a woman of color."
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