Book Review

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Scant mention of racist assholes harassing a Muslim man. Discussion of panic attacks, generalized anxiety, and the loss of family members in a car accident. Also, some discussion of intimate partner emotional abuse and gaslighting, and the barest of gestures towards the type of isolation felt by Black academics within their profession.

So I loved Take a Hint, Dani Brown. How much? I joined the Bad Decisions Book Club on the reread. Which started right after I had finished it the first time. Yes. I knew exactly where the book was going to go and I could not put it down. Honestly, I’m reading it a third time.

We here at the Pink Palace love Talia Hibbert. Kiki wrote a very beautiful review of the first book in this series, Get a Life, Chloe Brown. This second book stars the middle sister Danika. You absolutely do not need to read the first book to be able to dive into the second. But also that is, frankly, the silliest choice you could make. Make better life choices by reading Get a Clue and Take a Hint back to back like I did. Your skin will feel clearer, your pedometer will say you hit 10k steps even if you (very responsibly) didn’t leave your house, and your litter boxes will all magically be cleaned. That’s just science.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown begins with Dani fresh off a breakup with a woman named Jo, a friends with benefits situation that Jo wanted to turn into a relationship, but which Dani shut down with a quickness. While Dani denies to her best friend Sorcha that she is upset about the breakup the whole point of a casual hookup is there are no feelings! neither Sorcha nor Jo are convinced. Dani, though, is not interested in her feelings, but she is ready to move on to another casual, sex-only entanglement. Relying on some self-taught witchery and a heirloom statue of the goddess Oshun passed down from her Nana, an obeah woman, Dani prays to Oshun, asking, “Can I get some already?”

One of the big strengths of this book is how the friends-to-lovers plot is set up. We skip over the first six months of the interactions between Dani and Zafir, and land solidly in the neighborhood of denied pants feelings. Dani and Zafir are adorable work friends Zaf is a security guard at a building at the university where Dani is a PhD student and teacher. Their norm is casual flirting and unselfconscious delivery of snacky goods. Each day Zaf has a protein bar ready for Dani, who never manages to feed herself in the morning, and Dani always brings Zaf a cup of coffee, because he never sleeps well. It’s an adorable dynamic and one that everyone seems to see means that they should be more than friends. Well, everyone except for Dani and Zaf.

Zaf is the most perfect of grumps. He’s ready to torture each and every university student who decides that flashing their ID badge at him is too much work, but is also nothing less than overflowing with exuberant love whenever he sees his 18-year-old niece Fluffy, er…Fatima in his building. Because this book is endlessly generous on the adorable setup, Zaf is also trying to get a nonprofit off the ground that teaches boys how to talk about their feelings and generally challenge all manner of toxic masculinity. And, if you love a story with an athlete, he’s a former rugby star that gave up his career because of a family tragedy that was absolutely devastating for him, but was also what set him on his path of wanting to help young men figure out how to use feeling words. It’s like, you’re welcome, you just checked off half of the Ripped Bodice Summer Bingo.

Zaf and Dani are very clearly enamored of each other. So much so that everyone – their loved ones, Dani’s sisters and Sorcha, and Zaf’s family and best friend – are clearly cognizant of their feelings. But seriously, here’s Zaf:

“From your lips to the universe’s ears,” she purred, and twinkled at him. That was the only way to describe it. She looked at him, and she justfucking twinkled. All of the sudden, he felt a little bit warm and slightly dizzy and way too horny for a Monday morning at work.”

But don’t worry because Dani’s world is shook, too:

Her stomach swooped, and she let out a mortifying little shriekbut really, it couldn’t be helped. Because Zaf’s grip on her waist and her thigh sparked electricity, and her mouth was just inches from his bare, brown throat, and who could blame her for making undignified noises under circumstances like that? It was all very irregular and unreasonably good. Perhaps she should stop doubting the universe and accept this man as her goddess-chosen fuck buddy, after all. He looked down at her with a tiny smirk, a quirk of the lips that seemed to say, Bet you didn’t know I could do that, and she almost melted into a puddle pussy-first.

So much lusty feelings and apparently neither of them know how to use words to say it out loud, despite Zaf’s asserted proficiency in the matter. Thankfully, Instagram is here to save them! (says no one ever.) Only seconds after Dani’s close brush with melting bodily via her bits, their deeply obvious chemistry is caught on camera and posted on Instagram for the universe to see. Dani, you see, had gotten trapped in an elevator during a safety drill at the school and Zaf rescued her. Despite only slightly injuring her hand, Zaf felt like it was necessary to carry her out of the building like in that scene with Miss Whitney in The Bodyguard. Adorableness ensues, with an assist from a plotting Fluffy, who insists wide eyed and innocent that a little Twitter and Instagram heat could help her uncle’s nonprofit. Maybe, she suggests to her uncle, you could ask out that woman you have been obsessing over for the last 6 months to fake date you for the social media likes?

The whole fake dating set up is pretty silly, but it also feels really right. Dani and Zaf are a couple that just need a little push from the universe, a little cover from coincidence to act on what they actually want. And frankly, I am here for it. I also finally got to feel like the little old conspiring auntie that I am destined to become. You know the one whose winking over the dinner table and has a little poochie that she feeds from her lap named Shermie. And is also always ready and willing to fake a fainting spell to just ACCIDENTALLY help some lovebirds-in-denial get alone together. Fake dating for Twitter mentions is ridiculous, but I was yelling as much as anyone else in the story, “THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. FOR THE BABIES. FOR THE LIKES.” Not for love, no Shermie, that’s not why I’m here at all.

Once Zaf and Dani start faking their relationship, their adorable, loving mutual support ramps up to a thousand on a scale of 1 to 10. Dani is this high-achieving, truly brilliant scholar who has also convinced herself that the things that make her good at her studies makes her completely unlovable and a terrible partner. She believes that her late night studies, her forgetfulness, her tendency to get sucked in to her work are all weaknesses of hers that means she should not try to date anyone ever. Obviously all this nonsense is ultimately connected to a shitbag ex, but it has, in the way cruel things said by a partner can, completely eroded Dani’s perception of herself.

Zaf, on the other hand, lost his brother and his father in a tragic car accident and, as a professional rugby player and a Muslim, became a media target for a bit in the aftermath. He didn’t handle any of it well. His loss precipitated a serious depressive spell and anxiety that he still sometimes needs to manage. He’s coping in the present by trying to take his entire past and chuck it into the deepest, most unexplored parts of the ocean.

I cannot emphasize enough how much fun it was reading this book, despite the kernels of sadness ever present in the main characters. Dani and Zaf clearly delight in each other’s presence and both are deeply loved by the people in their lives. Zaf’s family makes fun of him for his grumpy face; Dani’s family loves and appreciates her brainy quirks. The extremely unforgettable Gigi, Dani’s grandmother, makes another appearance in this book and she’s as perfect as ever.

If you are a WOC, and in particular a Black woman, what this story gives you is a narrative that is undeniably about a Black woman, but it already assumes you know how hard it is to be one. You aren’t told how isolated Dani is in her academic pursuits; all you know is that she is meeting her hero, a Black woman who is a tenured professor in her area of study, and it means everything to her. There are no details into what specifically far-right journalists were doing and saying to poor Zaf because you already know how Muslims have been hounded daily for daring to exist. It’s a book version of the friend who knows, such that when you start a recounting of the day with, “So the president of my company called me articulate…” the rest of it can go unsaid. This book trusts you to know exactly what the world is like for these two characters and it doesn’t want the story to dwell on pain, because their worlds are much more than that. This is a hopeful, silly, and sweet book, filled with grumpyass men who also yell “Fluffy!!!!” at the top of their lungs in public when they see their favorite (and only) niece and cerebral, emotionally inarticulate women, who still, when faced with a friend’s imminent panic attack, figure out how to be empathetic and kind regardless of their limitations.

Sometimes even when your life is just steeped in oppression you are a Black woman in academia, practically all alone, or you’re a Muslim man who had once been harassed by right-wing journalists because you had the temerity to be deeply heartbroken in public after the unexpected loss of people you love that’s not the whole story. That’s not the fulcrum point of your existence. That’s not the sum total of your value. And that is not how you define yourself. Take a Hint, Dani Brown doesn’t make tragedy the predominant narrative of a story about two people of color existing and finding love. It’s there and it’s theirs, but it is not everything. And that is a relief. Everyone has joy, has the right to joy, and should be able to grab at that joy. That’s what Take A Hint, Dani Brown is all about it’s a truly lovely book about snatching at that joy right in front of you, with a bit of Black Girl Magic and some Black girls doing magic. This is one for the keeper shelf.

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Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

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  1. SandyH says:

    The first book in this series is Get a Life, Chloe Brown.

  2. Kerry says:

    So excited for this! I loved the first one.

  3. My preordered copy just arrived, and I LOVE this review!

  4. Nancy says:

    After that review, I’m on my way to buy both! I can’t wait.

  5. Maya says:

    noooooooooooooooo thank you for pointing that out @SandyH

  6. Emma L says:

    The first book in the series (which, as Sarah has said is “Get a life” not “Get a clue”) is currently reduced on amazon UK…. … I accept that as a message from the universe.

  7. Teev says:

    Also (as if one needs more to want to read and/or go to there) Zaf reads romance novels. All the time. He is the best cinnamon bear.

  8. Maureen says:

    What a lovely and funny review! This part had me doing a spit take…

    “Your skin will feel clearer, your pedometer will say you hit 10k steps even if you (very responsibly) didn’t leave your house, and your litter boxes will all magically be cleaned. That’s just science.”

    So very funny!

    I really enjoyed Get a Life, Chloe Brown-I’m so looking forward to reading this one, even more so after reading Maya’s review.

  9. Blackjack says:

    I really liked Hibbert’s new release and appreciate the focus on what it means to be a career-driven woman of color in a competitive field. I loved Zaf and found him to be incredibly supportive. My main hesitation with this book concerned the trope of commitment phobia, which is a step beyond feeling too driven and perfectionist to have space in one’s life for a relationship. I did struggle a bit with Dani’s actual phobia about relationships and for me that theme ended up veering to much into abstract psychology. I’m not a huge fan of commitment phobia as a trope in romances though, even when it’s flipped and becomes a feminist narrative. Why does Dani actually fear relationships? I read the words and still can’t quite comprehend her reasons beyond a conceptual level.

  10. NomadiCat says:

    Ordered from my favorite local indie based 100% on the strength of this review! I’m taking a couple of days off in July and hoarding cute contemporary romances like this in anticipation. I can’t wait to start reading!

  11. Lisa F says:

    I loved this book so very much. It’s my romance of the year thus far. A++ banter, Zaf is my favorite hero of the year, and Sorcha is one of my favorite supporting Hibbert characters ever.

    Also I loved Fatima/Fluffy and hope she shows up again later in the series.

    And I need something with Gigi at the center at this point TBH. She’s so good.

  12. Muse of Ire says:

    I inhaled this book. Worth every squee.

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