This book. THIS BOOK, Y’ALL. Seriously. Why are you even still reading this review? Or really even thinking about buying this this book? Shoo. Scram. Go buy it. And the rest of the series, while you’re at it. They are THAT good. Which is not a surprise, considering who wrote it.
Talia Hibbert is a British author who writes scorchingly hot (and ridiculously good) romances with curvy Black heroines and wonderful men who love them exactly as they are. A Girl Like Her is the first full-length novel of hers I’ve read, and guys? I am KICKING myself for not having started it sooner, because it is amazing on so many levels. I sacrificed a badly-needed afternoon nap for it and I have no regrets. #BadDecisionsBookClub.
Here’s the blurb, from Talia’s website:
SHE’S THE TOWN PARIAH. HE DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN.
In Ruth Kabbah’s world, comic books are king, silence is golden, and human contact is a pesky distraction. She doesn’t like people, which works out just fine, because the people in this small town don’t like her. The exception to that rule? Evan Miller, her way-too-charming next-door neighbour…
Ex-military man Evan is all tattooed muscle on the outside—and a big, cuddly teddy bear beneath. He’s used to coaxing prickly people from their shells, but he’s never met a woman quite like Ruth. Blunt, sarcastic, and secretly sad, she’s his exact opposite. She’s also his deepest desire.
Soon, Evan’s steady patience and smouldering smiles are melting Ruth’s reserve. But when small-town gossip from her past begins to poison her future, she’s forced to make a choice. Should she trust Evan completely? Or is her heart safest alone?
Doesn’t that sound just absolutely amazing? And from Talia’s twitter (which is a hoot, you should follow her) I knew that Ruth was autistic, and I was excited to see #ActuallyAutistic rep, since I knew Talia would hit it out of the park. And I was right.
Honestly, I bought A Girl Like Her aaaages ago half because of the old cover – the heroine reminded me strongly of Kelly Rowland, who (no shade to Queen B) has always been my favourite Destiny’s Child, what with the short hair, gorgeous dark skin, and the not being married to Jay-Z. But the new cover? Is even better, even if Evan’s beard, is, sadly, nowhere to be found. (It’s a testament to Talia’s skill that she can make beards sexy to my vastly-clean-shave-preferring-self.)
But enough judging this book by its cover, let’s get to the story, which is an absolute delight, on so many levels.
Ruth is in a secret (unhealthy, abusive) relationship with Daniel Burne, the aforementioned golden boy, for seven years. Not only does he tell her on the afternoon of his engagement party that he expects things to go on as they are even post his wedding, he lies to the town about what really happened, painting Ruth as a manipulative Jezebel and pretty much ruining her sister’s life for the completely deserved revenge she enacted.
Two years later, Evan moves to Ravenswood to work for Burne & Co. as a metalsmith, and runs – literally – into Ruth in a parking lot… and that’s when the book starts.
We’re not told why Ruth is a pariah, just that she is – the story comes out in dribs and drabs, and I really liked how well it was paced. And having had experience of small, close-knit communities like Ravenswood… I can both believe that the townspeople rallied around the town’s golden boy (ugh!) and that Ruth had more friends than she believed she deserved. The little cameos from the townspeople, like the gossipy plumber and the town librarian, were delightful and really added to that authentic small-town vibe.
As for the characters… I legitimately cannot pick a favourite, because I adored every one. I love how complex they were, even the side characters, in just 300-odd pages.
Ruth. Oh, Ruth. I love that Talia allowed her heroine to be not just prickly but rude and unlikeable – how often do we see that, rather than a heroine who’s supposedly prickly but really doesn’t ask how high when the hero says jump? And I loved, loved, loved seeing how her mind worked – this is an #ownvoices book and it was a delight to see how beautifully Ruth’s autism was handled. And her growth over the course of her book as she moves from crushing guilt to acceptance of her own worth is just wonderful.
Another delightful thing about Ruth? While she does, like any good character in a book, have some growing to do, she’s already confident in her own body and sexuality. This bit made me laugh out loud, and then grin like a fool at Ruth.
She wondered if she should do this lying down, to minimise the roll situation, but then decided that rolls were fine. If they were going to do anything interesting, rolls would eventually occur. She couldn’t lie down constantly whenever they were naked.
Plus, Evan didn’t seem to have any complaints.
Usually, I read books for the heroines, but Evan stole my heart in this one, to the point where I’m really, really sad he’s neither real nor my next-door neighbour. More than his looks or his build (a bearded ex-military metalsmith… Talia knows her audience’s catnip) what made me fall in love with Ethan was his kindness. And how easily he accepts everything about Ruth, from her pyjamas to her prickliness. It’s no secret that I love beta heroes and emotionally fluent men, and Ethan scores on both counts. And he cooks!
Evan could have been a Nice Guy (ugh!) but it’s clear that he’s just a good egg period, the kind of guy who helps you with your groceries and walks little old ladies across the street and rescues treed kittens. He cooks for Ruth, yes, but it’s because he wants to take care of her and be her friend, independent of anything else. He’s committed to earning her trust and while he does misstep a couple of times, seeing their bond slowly deepen and blossom is just delightful.
Sometimes, with romance novels, although the main couple are superbly written, everyone else is a cardboard cut-out, a stereotype, or both. Not so with A Girl Like Her; even the minor characters in Ravenswood felt rich and real, from Ruth’s sister Hannah (who both loves and is deeply frustrated by her sister), to the town’s other inhabitants and Daniel’s father and his wife. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting either of them to have the complexity and depth they did and it made an already stellar book even better. Laura, especially, is the heroine of the next book and I can’t wait to see what Talia does with her story.
As for Ruth’s ex (and Laura’s current husband) Daniel? All I’ll say about him is that he deserves to die in a fire and not from smoke inhalation. I’m glad that he was only minimally in the book, which is centred on Ruth and Evan, as it should be.
Right, I’ve babbled on quite long enough. If you want to read a brilliantly written love story with hot-like-burning super-consensual sex, laugh-out-loud snark, and minor characters that leave you chomping at the bit for their stories even as you wouldn’t mind a further 300 pages of this one? A Girl Like Her is the book for you.