Alisha Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series is the contemporary romance we need in 2017
In WRONG TO NEED YOU (Forbidden Hearts #2), Sadia Ahmed is a widowed, single mother who runs into Jackson Kane, a man she hasn’t seen or heard from in a decade. They were childhood friends, and he happens to be her former brother-in-law. Sadia finds herself unexpectedly attracted to him; he loved her from the beginning, even after she married his brother.
Rai is one most the contemporary romance writers out there, like, hyper-contemporary. This series is wonderfully complex: it’s never just girl meets boy, can’t resist the attraction, sexy times, happily ever after. Rai’s work deliciously reflects the complications of modern love and modern life. Sadia is Pakistani-American and Jackson is Japanese-American, but the issues they face have nothing to do with race or ethnicity. They’re about familial expectations, single parenthood and how our personal histories form who we are. Yes, of course there’s sex, some of it hot, and Rai (rightfully) makes desire and sex a natural part of life.
Sadia’s plate is full, she’s running her deceased husband’s cafe. She’s juggling parenthood, family commitments, and reclaiming who she is as a woman. Jackson’s deal is no less complicated. After taking the fall for a crime (no spoilers), he became a chef, traveling the world and avoiding Rockville, New York. He came back to town to support his sister Olivia (see book #1 – Hate to Want You). And now that his childhood friend and former sister-in-law Sadia could use a hand at the cafe, he’s sticking around.
Rai is firing on all cylinders with WRONG TO NEED YOU. It’s a steamy romance that not only addresses family drama and womanhood in the face of single parenting, it touches on mental health and body positivity. It gets the cultural details right. One of my nit-picks in my review of book #1, Hate to Want You, was that Jackson’s surname Kane, would correctly be pronounced “Kah-neh” versus “Cane.” It’s addressed / explained in book #2! And in a scene where Jackson enters his mother’s house, he “automatically” takes off his shoes. I mentally applauded when I read that. Details are not just about accuracy, they’re about respect.
WRONG TO NEED YOU continues to advance a category of contemporary romance that recognizes people of color (in this case, Asian and South Asian-Americans) have rich and complex romantic and family lives. Finally seeing that experience treated equally and with care is a huge part of what makes Rai’s stories so relatable…and remarkable.
What’s the deal with the popcorn and cookies? In the book, among the many things Jackson bakes is a batch of his grandpa’s world famous chocolate chip cookies. I can’t claim these are as good as those, but these cookies are chocolatey as all get out, and they have a Japanese-American twist I imagine Sam Oka might have snuck in at C&O. You’ll want to add ’em to your recipe box. Miso is also delicious in peanut butter cookies. Grab that recipe here.
Miso Chocolate Chip CookiesPrint Recipe
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
- 2 T. red miso paste
- 1 c. packed brown sugar
- 1/2 c. granulated sguar
- 1 T. vanilla extract
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
- 2 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars and miso paste for 2-3 minutes.
Add the vanilla and eggs and beat until light and creamy.
On low speed, mix in the flour mixture, just until blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir until just evenly combined.
Using a scale, weight out 80 gram disks of dough. Arrange 5 to a sheet, about 3 inches apart. Press them with the palm of your hand.
Bake 15-18 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
Adapted from Maggie Stiefvater's Big as Your Head Cookies.