Every time I’m in a new city, I make it a point to visit at least one local bookstore. If I’m lucky, I get to check out a few independent stores, like The Ripped Bodice right outside of Los Angeles or Rhino Booksellers in Nashville. And if I’m there for a few days, I will always, without fail, end up at a Barnes & Noble.
Something that I’ve noticed at nearly every single Barnes & Noble location that I’ve visited is that a certain section is consistently empty. Fiction is always bumping, Starbucks is very nearly packed to the brim with people stealing wifi and sometimes drinking overpriced beverages, and even the graphic novels have a steady stream of visitors thanks to our superhero-saturated culture. But the one section that I rarely ever see readers in is the romance section.
bell hooks tells us in Communion: The Female Search for Love that patriarchal culture teaches women from a young age that they are the arbiters of emotional understanding and love in the world, but also that emotional intelligence and love are useless and shameful. This catch-22 means that women, in general, are likely to feel deeply ashamed of anything related to emotion. I see this at work in Barnes & Noble. Despite the fact that romance is a billion-dollar industry and made up at least one-third of the U.S. fiction market in 2015, people are not buying these books in public. 82% of romance readers are women, but I don’t see women buying these intensely emotional books at the store, and it’s a sign that the patriarchy is alive and well.
I used to be one of these people. I didn’t want to pick up a book with a muscular, naked torso on the front. I wanted to be seen as a “serious” reader, unwittingly buying into both the patriarchy and the incorrect notion that romance novels can’t be well-written. But I’m delighted to report that I have changed, thanks to Alisha Rai and her stupendous Wrong to Need You. This volume is the second in Rai’s Forbidden Heart’s trilogy, and is an outstanding testament to the idea that emotions are not useless – they are important, they are well-crafted, and we should all shamelessly flock to the books that tout them as essential to our culture.
Family Drama is the BEST Drama (to read)
There’s a reason that soap operas like General Hospital and Days of Our Lives have been on TV for decades. It’s that people loooove drama. Specifically, we love drama that can’t be easily tied up in a season or in a movie, but that comes back to bite you in the ass when you’re least expecting it. We all have this kind of unresolved drama in our lives, often in the form of our family members, and it’s not fun to live through, but it is hella fun to watch.
Alisha Rai provides a decadent, sensational story in her Forbidden Hearts trilogy, in which she zooms in on a fictional town in upstate New York known for its Montague-Capulet levels of drama between two families, the Chandlers and the Kanes. Wrong to Need You focuses on Jackson Kane and his recently-departed brother’s wife Sadia Ahmed. Years ago, they were the closest of friends, but after being accused of a crime that he says he didn’t commit, Jackson fled, and Sadia married his older brother. Now that Jackson is back in town, he and Sadia have to navigate not only their intense (and now lust-filled) connection, but a town that can’t forgive the sins of the past.
Oh yes, y’all. Rai weaves a story rife with family politics which only amp up the emotional intrigue and romantic longing between Sadia and Jackson on every page. From the very first pages of this unforgettable story, I got major Cat on a Hot Tin Roof vibes. Each interaction between each character, even if it only lasts for a few minutes, breathes with tension because the drama goes back for years. I don’t know how Rai manages to infuse a past history that you haven’t read into the present, but she does it. Because I’m committed to writing mostly spoiler-free recommendations, trust me when I say that the drama is so worth it. (Sex. I’m talking about some really good sex after some epic drama.)
Characters that Make You Feel All the Feels
You can’t have a good story without characters that make you feel, and luckily for us, Rai gifts us two extremely sympathetic protagonists who just need some love in their lives. I loved getting to know Sadia and Jackson on an intimate level, mainly because Rai writes them outside of any stereotypes or tropes. Jackson is a muscle-laden, broody man, worthy of any romance book cover, but he broods mainly because he’s just always been quiet and kept to himself. Sadia is in full command of her bisexuality and her identity as a Muslim woman, confirming the fact that just because a character is marginalized doesn’t mean her story needs to be about oppression, and struggles instead with being a new widow and a single mom to boot.
Also, the character subplots in this book are incredible. Many contemporary stories forget that protagonists have parents or siblings, and instead focus on the families that we choose in life. That’s fine, but I really enjoyed delving into Jackson’s complicated relationship with his mother and Sadia’s competitive but loving bonds with her four (!) sisters. I haven’t often encountered books that make me want to know more about the secondary characters, but Wrong to Need You is so beautifully textured and realistic that I want more time with every character.
THE SEX IS REALLY GOOD
If you imagined me screaming that caption and then running away to hide behind the couch, you imagined correctly. Because I am both the product of the patriarchy and the biggest nerd you can imagine, I have a difficult time writing openly about sex. But Alisha Rai inspires me to try, to be shameless in my writing about her writing, so I’m going to try.
The sex scenes are just very, very good. I’ve read my fair share of romances, and they’re not always good. Some are PWP, which in Internet Land means “Porn Without Plot.” These types of stories function purely to satisfy the reader, and sometimes they get the job done. Rai’s writing destroys the idea of PWP and leaves it whimpering in the corner because her plot and her characters are transcendent, and her sex scenes work because her plot and characters are so good.
Nothing about Alisha Rai’s writing is standard. She evokes passion and emotion into every scene, whether it’s sexual or not. So when you get to the sexual encounters between Jackson and Sadia, be it a kiss or some hardcore grinding in an alley, it’s a sensory, evocative, and completely consensual experience every single time.
Friends, come over to the light side. Come over to the aisle of Barnes & Noble where glorious, muscular torsos are on full display. Wrong to Need You is a jewel of the romance genre, and of fiction in general. Rai creates a page-turning plot full of juicy family drama, riveting characters that pull you into their textured lives, and sex that makes 50 Shades of Grey feel like 50 Shades of Meh. What else could you want?