Yesterday was my 31st birthday and as a treat during my birthday month, I picked three of the four books that I usually rattle off as my favorite contemporary romances of all time. Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai, Rock Hard by Nalini Singh, and A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole. I’ve re-read Hate to Want You and Rock Hard more times than any of my other favorites (or at least, until I add Boss in the Bedsheets to this list because I think it really does belong on here). So I’m really excited to be here today to talk about these three fantastic books so that we can really get some numerical proof, or not, that these three books are in my actual top five. Let’s see where we wound up, shall we?
Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
As you can see from my scorecard for Hate to Want You, this book is pretty much perfect for me, which matches what I’ve been saying for years. Plot is entirely subjective and is the only place I took points off because for me, the plot of Hate to Want You isn’t exactly perfect, and honestly, I’m not entirely certain what I mean by that. It’s not the perfect blend of all of my favorite tropes? I don’t know. I just know that so far in my re-reads, I haven’t found a book with a plot that has me like, I want to read 1200 takes of this plot. And maybe that’s not a thing? It’s hard to say. Ratings are always subjective, you know?
Anyway. Let’s talk about characters. Livvy and Nico are everything. I mean, like not to be dramatic, but Livvy’s messiness and her struggles with mental health? There’s a reason I’ve re-read this book as many times as I have. This book has really influenced what I want out of contemporary romances. The level of angst in this book? The way that Livvy and Nico love one another so completely, but have these rather serious obstacles in their way? The way they feel so meant for one another? Hate to Want You is amazing and all of the characters are so fully real for me. I’m having a hard time not immediately continuing on in the series to re-read Jackson and Sadia and Eve and Gabe. I just absolutely adore this world that Rai created. And, maybe I’m biased because I have the full context of the next two books in the series, but HEA believability gets a 10 out of 10 for me too because Nico and Livvy have already dealt with so much. They deserve every ounce of happiness and now it’s clear that they’ll fight for one another. I believe in them, forever and always. The emotions also gets a 10 out of 10 for me because everything about this book makes me feel. Every single time. The level of angst is perfection. I cannot rave about this book enough, honestly.
Now, chemistry. Listen, Rai writes some freaking sexy af steamy scenes. Okay? And there’s something utterly entrancing about the fact that Nico’s only ever let one woman go down on him. I don’t know what that says about me and I’m not going to look into it. I’m just saying. And speaking of Rai’s writing, I scored her a 10 here because, I mean, seriously. I love everything about her writing style. She shines with this entire series, but particularly this book for me. I love it. And I keep turning the pages or listening to chapter after chapter when I pick up Hate to Want You no matter which number read I’m on, which is why I gave the intrigue score a 10/10. I feel like this should really go without saying given how many times I’ve re-read this book, but I scored Hate to Want You with a 10/10 on Re-Readability as well. I’ve already rambled about plot, so I won’t delve into that more. All I’m saying is that Hate to Want You is definitely the romance to beat at this point and I feel extremely validated for my long held belief that it is a favorite contemporary romance of all time for me.
Rock Hard by Nalini Singh
Rock Hard comes in at an overall 71/80 and so you might think I would be disappointed, since that ties with two other books that I love. But honestly, Rock Hard is such a great book that got knocked a lot of points because at this time in my life, I can’t really handle reading about domestic or sexual violence. I just… can’t. I work with survivors on a regular basis and if there is actual on-page recollections or if the abuser comes back on page, I really struggle to read them. I also never really know exactly when my limit will hit and so I still wind up reading books with a through plot line related to one of those two topics, but the way it’s presented in Rock Hard is apparently just consistently too much for me right now. I wondered that after the last time I re-read it and told myself to stop re-reading and instead read Love Hard, where Gabriel and Charlotte finally get married, but I just couldn’t resist it for this project. So, anyway, let’s talk about Rock Hard, shall we?
As far as characters go, Gabriel and Charlotte are two of my favorites and I especially love them together. All in all, the Bishop-Esera crew are one of my favorite fictional families and I would join them in a heartbeat if that was a thing and they were willing to teach me about rugby. I love Molly and Fox too and the glimpses we see of them through Charlotte’s eyes. Since I said I especially love Gabriel and Charlotte together, you may not be surprised that I scored the HEA Believability at a 10 out of 10 as well. The two of them really fight for their relationship in this book and I leave it knowing that they will have a long, long life of joy and happiness. And I’m grateful for that knowledge.
That takes us to the emotions, which I scored at a 9 and I think that feels right for me. I don’t know if it’s because I have to mute some of my emotions to get through reading the book at the moment or what, but I just don’t think I quite hit a full 10 out of 10 on the roller coaster of emotions. And then there’s another 9 out of 10 on chemistry, which I think is really just because there is a lot of holding back because we are with Gabriel and Charlotte while Charlotte is working through some trauma. I love them together and I think they have a lot of chemistry, I just think we miss a little bit there because of where they are in their journey.
But writing and intrigue both take us back to 10 out of 10 scores because I will always love Singh’s writing. She wrote the most incredible meet disaster in this book (I mean really, throwing a stapler at your boss?? Incredible.) and their entire journey just keeps you turning the pages. Unless, of course, your mental state cannot handle the plot elements.
That takes us really to the re-readability factor and I scored this at a 6. Obviously, I’ve read this book a lot. And so this time through, I went ahead and skipped ahead a few times so that I could try and have the good parts without the parts that really cause me stress. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), the way this book is plotted, everything is important and builds upon one another, so it’s actually hard to read this book pretending there isn’t a domestic violence past that pops up again in the present. And that’s also why I knocked the plot score down to a 7. Are these scores right? I have no idea. I’ve mentioned they are subjective, but it feels right to me, so that’s what matters. And really, the next time I am missing Gabriel and Charlotte, I’m going to read Love Hard, I promise.
A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
A Duke by Default comes in with an overall score of 75/80 and I think that largely feels right, though I’m already second guessing some of my scores because of course I am. Let’s walk through it though. Starting with characters. I think that Portia is easily one of my favorite characters and I adored her discovery of having ADHD. I’ve had my own journey of discovery regarding an ADHD diagnosis of sorts and so Portia’s journey was actually so impactful for me. The reason I wound up only scoring this at a 9 is that Tavish is sort of just okay in comparison to my overwhelming love for Portia. I don’t feel like I understand him as fully as maybe I would like to? So perhaps a 9 is a higher score than it should be, but I still think that feels right. Especially since I also really like and appreciate all of the other side characters who appear in the book. Turning then to HEA Believability, I scored this at a 9 and honestly, I am concerned that’s too generous because I can’t help but feel like this book ends so abruptly. I think I would appreciate seeing a little further into the future to know how they make things work after Tavish has fully embraced his role as a Duke. Then we have The Emotions, which I scored at an 8 and I do think that feels right. My roller coaster of emotions isn’t as deep with this one as it is for Hate to Want You, for example. But I did still experience a lot of emotions! And I did feel the chemistry between Tavish and Portia, though I think it could have been more sizzling, but that’s just the mood that I was in probably. So that’s where the 9 comes from for chemistry.
Then we have perfect scores for writing, re-readability, and intrigue because Alyssa Cole has beautiful writing and I could re-read this book again and again. It also keeps me turning the pages so I scored it perfectly on intrigue as well. And, for once, I gave a perfect score for plot because, well, I actually do think this plot is as perfect as can be, for me.
I’m really enjoying finding the places where I’m wrong in my predictions that I guessed prior to beginning the re-reads. I think it’s really fun to discover this. And I feel confident that Hate to Want You will remain pretty close to the top no matter how many more of these books I get read this year! Or in general. Because it is everything. I’m so glad I got to read these books in my birthday month, even if this post is going up the day after my birthday. Whoops. Do you enjoy re-reading? Let me know!
4 responses to “Contemporary Romance Favorites Project: Hate to Want You, Rock Hard, and A Duke by Default”
Ahhhh, what a fun blog post! I love everything about you treating yourself to a reread of your favorites in honor of your birthday ❤️❤️❤️ And it’s so interesting to see what you think of them now and how they hold up for you with continued rereads!
I hope you had a lovely birthday!!
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Thank you!! I did. 🙂
And yes, it’s been really fun to do this project. I’m having a good time!
I need to read Hate to Want You!
Amber!! You really do! I love it so, so much.