Review: Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh
Contemporary romance released by Nalini Singh on September 18, 2018

Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh Book CoverNew York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh continues her Hard Play series with a sweet, sexy romance featuring big, fat, OTT weddings, a meddling grandma, and a too-serious hero who needs to be unbuttoned…

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 rule breaker 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.

Nalini Singh is an evil fiend because I’m pretty sure she enjoys ripping your heart out. (Figuratively, emotionally.) … Maybe I should’ve written that “I’m pretty sure Nalini Singh is an evil fiend because she enjoys ripping your emotional heart out. Doesn’t matter – I’m not getting quoted and definitely am not aiming for that. Heh. Rebel Hard is just so cute. It’s snuggly and warm and fun and I just want to hug it. I have slightly mixed feelings about part of it, but everything really fell into place for me around 70%. I already know I’ll be re-reading this book. I also was thinking this was way more lighthearted and then you get to 82% and BAM. The book reaches out and grabs you in the feels. It’s got love, intrigue, drama, overly involved loving family (but not all good – some are shake worthy), cultural mores, a devoted hero, and a heroine just spreading her wings in her own way. 

Nayna Sharma​ is so much her own person … yet not. The book begins with her really deciding to live her own life. I really felt for her, being so constrained with and by her family, thinking she had to and has to be the perfect daughter to “make up” for the actions of her sister. I even more appreciated how she realized at some point she was the architect of her own prison, in a way, in that yes, there were all these expectations and the fear of causing anyone any iota of distress … but also that it was her life and that she had to assert herself when it was most important – and that she was willing to go through with living life as she wanted, not dictated by cultural and familial rules, damn the consequences. ​(I did want to shake her older sister at times though, but … I realize also I’m probably more sensitive about things like that than your average reader.) But what is equally important is that Nayna loves her family and community – she doesn’t want to break from it entirely, she just doesn’t want to be smothered by the [conservatism] of it. While to many people getting your own place as an adult is no big deal – I think Nalini does an excellent job of conveying what a big step that is. And also – as Raj says – her weakness is that she loves too intensely. She’ll put those she loves (family) before herself. 

Raj is so steady. So steady. He’s clearly the rock in his family, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, he wouldn’t mind some help. He’s also looking for a family of his own… and figures love will come. Until he meets Nayna.* I like that he’s so gruff and practical … but really romantic. Not in the sweeping gestures way, but that this seemingly staid man considers romance and romantic gestures par for the course. He listens and feels certain things are just what a husband would and should do. He’s darling. And of course, incredibly gorgeous. Beyond that, however, what I appreciate is that Raj knows he has emotional scars, and realizes how they affect them. He handles them as best he can, and does a good job. He’s honest with Nayna about his concerns, and he also realizes when things are a personal issue, not a “their relationship” issue. Even more, he understands how the former can (deeply) affect the latter. We’ve got a grade a self actualized hero here. In a way, Raj is the angst monster here, in that he keeps worrying Nanya is slipping away. Then the manipulation of his family – in so many ways. I love that he prioritizes family and Nanya as needed.

*(Herein lies some of my issues with this book. I love the smitten hero, and Nalini Singh does an excellent job writing them. … But in this case I guess I didn’t get the connection initially. There’s the instant animal attraction, but … I don’t know. I felt like for about half the book it’s just the two of them because they’re the hero and heroine and that’s how it is – not anything really really beyond animal attraction and physical chemistry.) I actually wasn’t really interested in the sex scenes and kind of paged through them until about ~halfway through the book. I think because they both had such questions about each other, and personally I wasn’t convinced they were really working through them with heavy petting. That’s because it’s them meeting at a party and basically hooking up, the match making meet, and then all of a sudden it’s “I must have you forever you’re the absolute one.” It’s when they meet at the cabin though – when Nayna finally realizes she needs to discuss things with Raj. And they do talk … eventually. That was the turning point for me. I loved how perfectly matched they are. In so many ways – which I won’t spoil. Nanya and Raj appear to be opposites on the surface, but really they’re more alike than different. Both love their family and community, and crave a life that is deeply connected to both. Those are core values that they both hold. Nanya just also wants to travel, and spread her wings a bit – which Raj is on board with, and even provides for her. It’s lovely how he’s always her champion – even “against” her own family.

Seriously – this quote about halfway through (which I don’t really consider a spoiler, because, hello, hero and heroine in a romance novel. They’re obviously going to fall in love. And that this is just halfway through the book.)

His chest ached, but he could no more stop helping her fly than he could stop breathing. “I love you, Nayna Sharma,” he whispered, the words a secret he couldn’t say to her when she was awake.
It would be another kind of pressure.
Nayna knew his deepest hurts, and it would go against every part of her nature to scar him any further.Her heart was too soft, her ability to be loyal too powerful. But even worse than Nayna flying away from him would be a Nayna who stayed only because of a sense of obligation and friendship.
So he would tell her of his love only in the midnight hours, when she slept in his arms. He’d help her fly … and hope she’d choose to fly to him.

I mean just come. on!!! <3

I loved how absolutely developed not just both their families were, but the sense of community. Yes, it’s a cultural thing, and this book was so filled with color and family and love. I didn’t mind being a little clueless as to some of the terms. (They’re explained, and some are pretty obvious, but some I didn’t remember the definition, and that was fine because you get the gist, and I knew if I really wanted to I could go back and look.) There’s a lot what with the clothes, food, and vernacular. Romance readers (especially those who read Harlequin categories) often find sprinkled in Italian, French, Greek, and Spanish, depending on the book. Adding Hindi to the mix is only a good thing. I also felt that when necessary, Nalini did a great job of explaining terms or concepts in an organic way from within the story. I also appreciated that there wasn’t excessive hand holding or jarring explanations. You just roll with it, and go with the ride of boisterous controlling, loving family, that generally shows that through food. (So much amazing food that I want to eat right now.) And then the Bollywood style dance number.

While writing this review, re-reading the blurb, it made me think of Crazy Rich Asians – the movie, and hello with the “OTT wedding.” Which brought another smile to my face. I’d love to see Rebel Hard as a movie. I think it’d be amazing and beautiful. Anyway, in summary, I liked but didn’t really get convinced as to the romance until the cabin scene, when Nanya figures things out – somewhat – and Raj realizes that while he has to make allowances he also needs to discuss what he wants, expects, and fears too. However, once they decide to actually be a couple and a unit, I love how they stood together. And that even while they’re working through their own issues, Nanya and Raj are strong enough to not let malicious drama tear them apart. Both are willing to change, and yet assert themselves for what they feel is most important. Rebel Hard is such a feel good read, that’s packed full of fun and perfect abs. (Seriously, Raj’s abs could almost be their own character. 😛 And that’s not a bad thing.) The texting? (Sexting?) Adorable.

Grade: C+

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

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