Bookseller Jaimie, an avid romance reader, gets us hyped for Bookstore Romance Day with this heartfelt look at the Brown Sisters trilogy by Talia Hibbert.
With Bookstore Romance Day right around the corner, I thought the timing was right to gush about my current favorite romance series. Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters trilogy is laugh-out-loud hilarious, steamy, romantic, and great at mixing humor and fluff with more serious themes. Hibbert also always makes a point of representing people with marginalized identities in her fiction and giving them the happily-ever-afters they deserve. She handles her characters’ various struggles with depth, nuance, importance, and care.
Each entry in the trilogy follows one of the three Brown sisters in their own love story. The events of the novels do happen chronologically, with characters from previous entries appearing in subsequent ones, but they each stand on their own just fine. If you’re not a stickler for reading in order, feel free to pick up whichever book interests you most!
When prim, proper and organized Chloe Brown is nearly struck by an out of control vehicle, she realizes her life thus far would have made for the most boring eulogy of all time. She does what she always does in times of crisis: she makes a list. Chloe’s “Get A Life List” includes such items as “Enjoy a drunken night out,” “Go camping,” “Travel the world with only hand luggage,” and the most difficult of all, “Do something bad.” For that last item, she’ll need to enlist the help of her polar opposite, Redford “Red” Morgan. Red is the apartment handyman and resident bad boy who secretly paints when no one is looking. The two resent each other completely, at least at first. But the more time they spend together, the more they begin to learn about each other, and the more drawn to one another they become.
The banter in this installment is impeccable. If you like an opposites-attract kind of story, you’ll love the way these two play off of and tease each other. While Red pushes Chloe to break some rules and have some fun, Chloe pushes him to get over his technophobia and fear of sharing his art and get a damn Instagram account already. Red is also my favorite of the three romantic leads; a handsome, funny guy with a rough exterior who is still soft enough to make you food and carry you when you’re tired and call you “button.” (BUTTON! I’m swooning again.)
The characters are also tackling their own insecurities–Chloe’s brought about by the way her friends treated her when her fibromyalgia flared up, and Red’s left over from his relationship with an emotionally abusive ex-girlfriend. You can see the way the characters’ pasts affect their present, and it makes for a compelling conflict as they try to open up to each other while the fear of being hurt again lingers. It’s a really fun story that doesn’t shy away from the hardest parts of the issues depicted.
A career-driven, academic, bisexual witch, Danika “Dani” Brown doesn’t do relationships. She’s tried them before, but she’s learned she’s just not cut out for them. She’s more than open to “situationships,” though, which is why she asks the universe for a suitable, casual partner under the full moon one night. Soon after, Zafir “Zaf” Ansari, former rugby star currently working as a security guard for the university where Dani teaches, rescues her from a broken elevator and carries her out of the building like a romantic hero. Dani takes this as the sign she’s been waiting for, especially after footage of the rescue goes viral with everyone swooning over their supposed romantic chemistry. The two agree to start fake-dating, Zaf hoping the publicity will help to boost his nonprofit organization and Dani looking for some casual fun. But Zaf can only contain his burning crush on Dani for so long, and Dani is a bit frightened to discover she may be forming one herself.
I found Dani and Zaf to be the most interesting of the three couples to follow. Dani is driven, focused, and seemingly uninterested in relationships, and Zaf is a big ol’ softie who loves romance novels and can’t keep himself from pining after Dani. While their opposing views on relationships make them seem like a bad match, they’re both incredibly passionate–Dani about her career as an academic writer and Zaf about his nonprofit charity organization. Watching the two revel in each other’s successes is so incredibly sweet and rewarding. As in all of the Brown Sisters novels, there’s a focus on mental and emotional health here. Zaf deals with anxiety and post traumatic stress throughout the book, and his charity aims to teach young boys not only how to play rugby, but how to manage their often neglected mental health.
Something I tend to dislike about a lot of fake-dating romances is that, after a certain point, I don’t understand the characters’ reasons for not making their relationship real. Here, those reasons are easy to understand, as the characters’ internal conflicts are realistic and well-established. It’s risky and scary to pursue a relationship with someone when you’re only just beginning to learn that a relationship might be something you want, and Dani’s fear of hurting Zaf or getting hurt herself in the process makes a lot of sense. Zaf wants to respect Dani’s boundaries, but it’s hard to do so at the expense of his own, ever-growing feelings for her. The way we watch them learn about themselves and each other at the same time is very engaging as we wonder how they’ll be able to make their personalities work together and allow themselves the joy they deserve with each other.
Eve Brown has never really had a “calling.” She’s mostly just tried on different jobs and pursuits for a few months at a time, then decided they weren’t for her and moved on to something else. When her parents cut her off, deciding she needs to finally “grow up,” Eve is determined not to disappoint them. A help-wanted sign outside of a local bed-and-breakfast provides the perfect opportunity, but Eve’s disastrous interview for the open line chef position ends in her accidentally backing into the B&B owner with her car. Said owner, Jacob, is furious when his colleague hires Eve under his nose, but with a broken wrist and a B&B desperately in need of a chef, he doesn’t have many other options. Eve gets on every last one of his nerves, with her singing and her constant need to “help.” But as the two start to overcome their differences, they realize they have more in common than they could have imagined, and make a pretty good team on more than just a professional level.
This is my personal favorite of the three novels, mostly because I love Eve so much. She’s so endearing, funny and cute, and her struggle to live up to what her parents see as “successful” while trying to figure out what would actually make her happy is very relatable. Much of her story arc focuses on what it actually means to be an “adult,” and how figuring out what you want may take a lot of trial and error. Jacob is also an incredibly sweet character despite his stuffy first impression. He cares deeply about the B&B and the people in it, and–as an autistic man who struggled with a lack of accommodation and stability in his early life–is passionate about creating a safe, comfortable space for all of his guests. I loved watching the two leads succeed in their own ways.
Eve and Jacob have a nice grumpy-sunshine dynamic, and once they get past the “enemies” part of enemies-to-lovers, their relationship is the most sugary-sweet out of the three. It’s adorable to watch them playfully pick on and tease each other, and as they learn about each other’s quirks, they also learn a lot about themselves. They’re both very invested in learning and meeting each other’s needs. They often take note of what makes the other comfortable or uncomfortable and make a point of figuring out how to work with it and help each other in their daily lives. There’s a scene where Eve helps Jacob through the awkward process of initiating a friendship that I won’t spoil, but just know that it made me audibly squeal in delight.
This is one of those series that made me feel a pang in my chest upon finishing it. While I’m excited to fill that hole by going through Talia Hibbert’s large backlist and catching her YA camping romance when it comes out in January, but there’s just something so special about these three women and their eccentric lesbian grandmother (I didn’t even get to talk about Grandma Gigi, but she appears in all three books and is an absolute legend). For me, the Brown Sisters trilogy represents exactly what I want when I pick up a romance novel–a fun, happy story that is driven by its characters, their emotions and their internal obstacles. Please do yourself a favor and pick up one–or all–of these lovely novels. I hope the Brown sisters’ stories give you all the joy and comfort they’ve given me, and more.