Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh
Hard Play, #2
Review by Sheena
You guys. Whatever the lung friendly equivalent to smoking a cigarette is, I’m totally doing it. Because how else do you cap off the reading of such a fulfilling, romantic, decadent, beautiful love story? You see, Rebel Hard was destined to be devoured. Not just because Singh is an auto-read, not just because the cover is yum. The blurb folks; the synopsis sang a siren’s song to all of my reader senses. Rebel Hard promised sweet, it promised sexy, self discovery and a serious minded, hero who met his match and found enchantment with a heroine who refused to live in a gilded cage, no matter the love and protection it promised. Nalini is at her absolute best with this contemporary novel.
Nayna Sharma agreed to an arranged marriage in the hope it would heal the fractures in her beloved family… only to realize too late that a traditional marriage is her personal nightmare. Panicked, she throws caution to the winds, puts on the tiniest dress she can find, and ends up in the arms of a tall, rough-edged hunk of a man who has abs of steel—and who she manages to mortally insult between one kiss and the next.
Abandoned as a child, then adopted into a loving family, Raj Sen believes in tradition, in continuity. Some might call him stiff and old-fashioned, but he knows what he wants—and it’s a life defined by rules… yet he can’t stop thinking about the infuriating and sexy woman who kissed him in the moonlight then disappeared. When his parents spring an introduction on him, the last woman he expects is her. Beautiful. Maddening. A rulebreaker in the making.
He’s all wrong for her. She’s all wrong for him. And love is about to make rebels of them both.
“She’d been so happy to have her entire family around the table at birthdays and on Diwali and during all the moments small and big that were vitally important in life. It hadn’t mattered that she’d traded in her own dreams to glue her family back together. Even to the extent of agreeing to marry a man her parents would choose.”
Having thoroughly enjoyed Rebel Hard, the very first thing that came to mind when I started to share with my friends WHYTHEYJUSTHADTOREADTHISBOOK was the strong familial ties threaded through out the novel. Nayna comes from a beautifully proud and traditional family. Each family member is depicted in a manner where you invest in them in a way that is rather atypical for a supporting cast. Nayna’s father, a hard man, whom cast off and out one daughter for her free-spirited ways and wreckless choices was never villainous, though he broke my heart and raised my ire in some scenes. I cared for him and in ways understood him. His development was rich and necessary. Nayna’s grandmother was also a strong presence throughout the novel. Agh, I adore when grandparents are written with relevancy and reverence! The aunties, Nayna’s sister in particular, Raj’s family dynamic and family members, none of it was overwhelming, each interactions pushed the narrative forward, commanding full attention and investment. It was no hardship to fall in love and connect with these brilliantly dynamic family members.
“Nayna didn’t know how to flirt. Not unless talking spreadsheets and financial forecasts was sexy. So she, a woman addicted to historical romance novels, had convinced herself she’d be okay with a “suitable” match. Sometimes she was an idiot.”
Characters like Nayna are important in romance. She’s goodness and internal conflict personified, which made her unbelievably human. It is easy to make her just a free- spirit and drill down on her desire to be her own woman. What takes skill and creates a meaty and relatable reader experience is crafting her to be a host of imperfections and contradictions, while remaining who she is at her core. Nayna wants to please her family, but at what cost? An arranged marriage she feels obligated to see through to the end? She loves her parents but they also disappoint her, and even through that disappointment, her devotion to her family and respect for her culture remains true. She battles with satisfaction with her private little rebellions or giving in to her greatest rebellion yet. In Nayna’s home, the sins of the sister have fallen square at her feet, and it takes a great amount of willpower for her to decide to take up the mantle of the “good daughter” vs walking away from it all and doing her life her way, no matter the safety and security she sees promised in Raj’s arms. Nayna’s end game is freedom of choice and happiness, not cosseted wifery…The Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway, song played now and then as I read when I thought of Nayna. Loved her.
“I thought you were intelligent people,” her father said with his usual brusqueness when someone annoyed him. “But clearly I was wrong if you’re clinging to outdated standards of beauty seeded in our culture by colonialism. As I have no desire for idiotic grandchildren, let us end this meeting now.” Dilip Kapoor ate a third samosa, the crumbs from the first two littering his shirt, then let out another bray. “Good one, Mr. Sharma.”
Nayna and Raj are both from Indian families with traditional ideals and their culture is just as much a part of the story as they are. I reveled in it. The descriptions of their garment was so beautiful. I was so freaking excited and into it, I would every so often stop and google an image of the sari style description just to get the full effect. The food was described so well, I could practically smell it wafting from the pages. I have to give it to Nalini, she’s been doing multicultural characters in her stories for ages and she always does it so well. It doesn’t ever feel trendy or contrived, it’s so beautifully executed. And in Rebel Hard specifically, I could sense the love for the culture she highlighted shine through. Even the antiquated practice of arranged marriages was presented with knowledge, care and respect.
4. The Charming, The Sweet! The Broody! The Raj!
“Fight for me like I’m fighting for you,” he whispered after pushing the Send key. “Want me like I want you.”
Raj is so my September book boyfriend of the month. Holding on to a dark past, he’s maintained by keeping an iron grip on his life and what he expects from it. Love if fleeting. He is all about loyalty and stability and why not allow his parents to arrange his marriage? His brother is in a heinous marriage full of bickering and whispers of disloyalty and Raj isn’t having it. He’ll take a nice, respectful, homemaking and loyal wife for $200, Alex.
Besides brooding and planning his future within an inch of his life, Raj runs a successful family business and is in need of a shake up. Luckily Nayna breezed into his life during one of her private rebellions and gave him the kiss and kiss off, he never saw coming. And thus began the magnificent, Raj unraveling!
5. My Big Fat Indian Wedding(s)
“They seem fully on board. If she wants a full-sized aquarium at her reception, she’ll get it.” Nayna was actually enjoying the over-the-top madness. “They did draw the line at the tiger she wanted.” Ísa spread her hands apart. “Doesn’t everyone have a tiger at their wedding?”
The decor! The decadence! The ostentatious ambiance, the over the top and outlandish wedding scenes were to DIE! I felt like a guest, I may or may not have contemplate making my own sari and joining in. The gossip! The protocols, the antics! The beauty! Everything! I’ve never seen the “My Big Fat ” wedding tv series or movies, but I can imagine the weddings Nayna and Raj attend in Rebel Hard take. the. cake. My favorite scenes were at the weddings!
6. The Passion
“Of course by then his fingers were playing along the crease between her thigh and the heat between her legs and her head was buzzing. No one had told her sex could be this stressful. If he didn’t touch her there soon, she was going to start begging.”
Down folks. I don’t mean the on-page nookie- the smexy times aren’t on page panty shredders by any stretch. But Rebel Hard is a very passionate book. The sensual tension is right there, teasing and taunting every step of the way. Am I a gal that likes her books smutty, oh yes, yes I am. But I am slso a gal that likes her books to feel romantic (when I’m not reveling and dying 1,000 happy deaths in alien billionaire, motorcycle club smut). Though the sex isn’t in your face, the passion, sensuality and romance is clubbing you senseless and the trade off totally worked for me.
*Note- Ok, cards on the table, Nalini has been dialing back the WHOABABY smex scenes in her novels recently (I’m glaring at you Archangel’s Viper!) I’m wondering if it is a conscious choice. I need a poll, everyone who is ready for Nalini to bring sex(y) back (especially to her paranormal novels, raise your hand!? Everyone. Noted! Give us the peen Nalini!
7. To Thine Own Self Be True. Self-love and Acceptance.
“Raj was her boyfriend now. Would it be the same if he was her husband? Would he take her on dates full of adventure and make love to her with naked passion? Or would everything change, the weight of expectation and culture forcing her into a mold she would never fit?”
Self love and acceptance. Beyond the romance, which was sweet because this book is exceedingly charming, but it is also about self-love and respect. Nayna needed to feel as if she were living the life she designed for herself. Living in the shadows of her sister’s mistakes and parent’s rigid expectations, it wasn’t enough for her to meet a hot guy, have insane sexual chemistry, fall in love and marry. She needed to know that in doing so, it was what SHE wanted and not what was expected of her, just because he checked all of her parent’s boxes for a suitable husband. Raj needed the stability and assurance of a love that would never leave him. His past influences his more possessive and controlling urgings and to have Nayna, he has to face and conquer his deeply rooted fears of abandonment and lack of control. And though she loves him deep, to have Raj, Nayna has to believe that he won’t clip her wings. That marriage to him isn’t an ornate trap. She loves him enough to be grounded but knows that love would erode if he ever truly did.
Agh, the anguish, the feels, the realism, the beauty romance. Rebel Hard has it all in spades. I recommend it wholeheartedly. I read it well into the night, unwilling (unable?) to let the story rest. There is truly something for everyone between these pages and the story makes you feel unbelievably good.