Book Critique: Love Hard (Hard Play Series #3)

For review of all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation:  Another eye candy kind-of plot that not only pleases the primary senses of the readers, but also touches the romantic hearts who want a happy ending, despite the serious family dynamics.

Love Hard is the third book in the Hard Play Series by Nalini Singh published in March of 2020. The primary plot revolves around Jacob "Jake" Esera - the third of the Bishop-Esera clan and a star rugby player - and Juliet "Jules" Nelisi - the "bad girl" reputed classmate of Jake's in high school.

This series focuses on the Bishop-Esera clan that we met in the second book, Rock Hard, in the Rock Kiss Series.  A family that totally revolves around Rugby, love, friendship and above all deep emotional family bonds. We had seen Gabriel "Gabe" Bishop's, the oldest son of the clan, story in that book where he falls in love with Charlotte "Charlie" Baird. However, in Rock Wedding, Nalini Singh mentions that since she hadn't given a proper wedding for Gabe and Charlie, she would create a spin-off on the Bishop-Esera clan leading upto their wedding. With this plot she does give us Gabe and Charlie's wedding. I am still hoping to see all of the Schoolboy Choir Band members again too. Terribly miss them !!

In the previous book, Rebel Hard, Nalini had veered a bit away to focus of Nayna and Raj's stories, friends to Isa and Sailor Bishop. With this book, she moves her focus back to Bishop-Esera clan taking us to the story of the third brother in line.

In Cherish Hard, a plot that was set good eight years prior to this plot, we were shown that Jake was having a girl friend and they were having some issues. The plot in this book begins 8 years after the events in Cherish Hard, and after the events in Rebel Hard.

Jacob "Jake" Esera hadn't seen Juliet "Jules" Nelisi, all grown up, with lush curves and soft folds. All he remembered her was as the skinny, bony, brash and "bad influence" best friend of his girl friend back when they were all in high school. Now 8 years later, a successful professional rugby player and a single-dad, he sees sparks flying between him and Jules. Sparks that had nothing to do with their constant oil and water relationship they had as teens, only one binding them was Calypso, his girlfriend and her best friend. Sparks that want to feed their sexual tension, and burn them. But the consequences and the cost they might pay for testing that burn might be too huge.

Overprotective nature of Jake would bound to be clashed with the care-a-pin nature of Jules and one would see explosions going on. Yet, the sensitive nature of Jake softens the prickly shield that Jules projects to the outer world. Not to discount how shamelessly he uses his ability to think fast and fix situations on field, in order to get into the deepest layers of Jules. 

Nalini finally gives us Gabriel and Charlotte's wedding in this plot. In fact pretty much for almost for the first 50 pages of the book, the wedding takes on a much primary role than all the snapping and snarling that goes on between Jake and Juliet. Of course, they are preludes to their steamy romance.

Seeing as that the plot is set around a family that has four Rugby players, there is deep explanation of the game, how the players prepare and what entails to be a successful professional rugby player, the endorsements that come with it. Also Nalini brings back the elements of being fame, consequences of having a very public life, trying to keep it as private as possible, which we had seen extensively in the Rock Kiss Series.

Juliet is introduced not only as a high school classmate to Jake but also as a fellow pastry-class mate of Charlotte "Charlie" Baird. When Gabe and Charlie's story was being told, Nalini did not introduce Juliet anywhere though. However we had definitely met Detective Mei Lee in that story who now stands as Charlie's bridesmaid. 

Nalini continues giving funny titles to each chapter, a theme she had started in Rock Hard plot, giving the readers a preview of what they might expect in that chapter. She also gives us the customary family gathering scenes in this plot, even though she gives us a wedding. These social gathering scenes bring other characters from the rest of the books not only from this series but also several from the Rock Kiss series too continuing the fine thread that binds them all.

Nalini had a gap of two years before she had the next book in this series because she was busy working on her new thriller, A Madness of Sunshine - a  new genre she is venturing into, a book I am yet to read. I do hope the next book would not take that long. Considering only one more brother, Danny, left, I am curious to read his story.

It is always hard to get back to real world after visiting one of the worlds Nalini Singh creates. Usually I pick up some other author's book after her book so I can shake myself off, even though I want to cling to that world like a burr. :P

Despite the hot steamy scenes she weaves, Nalini always leaves the readers with an emotional wrench creating happy tears, sad tears and over all making your heart light and heavy at the same time.  She has adventure, romance, betrayals, politics, family and future weaved into her plot giving it a strong base to settle on rather than becoming just a juicy plot. She still has a few more inconsequential details and sub-plots left to explore, perhaps could be visited in the next book.

Another eye candy kind-of plot that not only pleases the primary senses of the readers, but also touches the romantic hearts who want a happy ending, and leaves the readers with a deep-sense of family support and balance. Looking forward to see how the last of the Bishop-Esera Clan will shine. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. Other folks at the wedding - Aroha, fellow pastry-class graduate; Mei Lee, a Homicide Detective; Harry, Gabe's best friend.. Aroha and Harry become a pair during the wedding. 

b. Juliet was married to a washed-out cricket star Reid Mescall. He has a girlfriend, Lisa Swan. Her professional contacts are - Kalia, Jules' photographer; Everett Echert, her boss; Iris, her mentor.

c. Jake and Juliet are engaged to be married at the end of the plot.

d. Some media, books and movies Nalini Singh puts across in the plot:

i. Shortland Street, a New Zealand TV soap-opera, that Jules used to watch regularly. 

2. Sub Plots:

a. From the Rock Kiss Series: Members of the Schoolboy Choir Band who all get married to their respective partners in Rock Wedding.

i. Zachary Fox - lead singer. Married to Molly Webster; story told in Rock Addiction.

ii. David Rivera - the drummer. Married to Thea Arsana, their publicist; story told in Rock Courtship.

iii. Noah St. John - the guitarist. Married to Kathleen "Kit" Devingy; story told in Rock Redemption.

iv. Abraham "Abe" Joshua Bellamy - the keyboardist. Remarried to his ex-wife, Sarah Bellamy; has a son, Theodore "Theo" Gregory Bellamy, at the end of Rock Wedding.

b. In Rock Courtship, we are introduced to David Rivera's two brothers. But Nalini Singh mentions only name of one brother - Zeke - but doesn’t give the name of his second brother. However, she does hint at plausible love stories between Thea's sisters and David's brothers. Short stories for them perhaps?

c. In Rock Wedding, Nalini has a hot pink Ferrari with diamantes and pink fur on the foot pedals. I wonder who it belongs to. Nalini doesn’t explore that further in the plot although she does indicate that she has two new short stories on her website that will give the readers more insight into the pink Ferrari and other little inconsequential scenes she has given us all through this plot.  Have to soon find those newsletters and read to satisfy my curiosity.

d. Bishop-Esera clan that were introduced to us in the Rock Hard book of the Rock Kiss Series:

i. Joseph and Alison Esera - parents of the clan, adopted father to Gabriel and Sailor.

ii. Gabriel "Gabe" Bishop - First son of Alison and Brian Bishop; marries Charlotte "Charlie" Baird. Story told in Rock Hard, while wedding held in this plot.

iii. Sailor "Sail" Bishop - second son of Alison and Brian Bishop; married to Isalind "Isa" Magdalena Rain-Stefansdottir, have a  daughter Emmaline "Sweetiepie". Story told in Cherish Hard. They have an infant baby boy Joseph Connor, at the end of this plot.

iv. Jacob "Jake" Esera - third son, step-sibling to Gabe and Sailor through Joseph Esera; has a daughter Esme from his late first-wife Calypso, "Callie" Simpson, who had died of bacterial meningitis infection a few months after Esme was born.

v. Daniel "Danny" Esera - fourth son, step-sibling to Gabe and Sailor through Joseph Esera; sparks continue between him and Cate, Isa's step-sister, that began in Cherish Hard when they were 14 and 13 years old respectively. Cate uses prosthetic legs as she had lost her legs in an accident as a child.

e. More stories possible from Rebel Hard:

i. Raj's sister Aditi shows a deep interest in Harlow Chan, Isa's step-brother.

ii. There is a past with regards to Komal, Raj's SIL, concerning Taveuni, an island off the coast of Vanua Levu. But she doesn’t elaborate on what that is. Although she gives Navin and Komal a happy ending. Wonder if there would be a short story there?


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