Review: Incense and Sensibility

Review: Incense and SensibilityIncense and Sensibility (The Rajes #3) by Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes #3
Published by William Morrow on July 6, 2021
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads
three-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I was very conflicted by this book. I absolutely loved the romance between Yash and India. I loved Yash as a character. But I hated almost everything else about the book. There wasn’t enough romance — which didn’t really have a satisfying ending — and I didn’t buy anything about the governor storyline. Ultimately, if the romance had a fantastic ending it might have overcome everything else, but because I wanted more from the romance, everything else about the story annoyed me by the end.

THE STORY: Yash Raje, the family golden boy, is a candidate for governor of California when an attempt to shoot him results in his bodyguard being shot instead. Yash has difficulting dealing with the aftermath. His family encourages him to get help from India Dashwood, a family friend that they trust who helps with stress management. What his family doesn’t know is that ten years ago, India and Yash had one night where they grew close before everything fell apart. Yash has spent years focusing on his political goals and hasn’t been concerned about what makes him personally happy, but seeing India again puts his desires in conflict.

OPINION: This book was ultimately a disappointment. The central relationship between Yash and India was amazing. Their history, their interactions, and the emotion between them were amazing. But everything else disappointed. First, Yash is a lousy candidate for governor of California. He apparently has no backbone and if I’m supposed to believe that he will somehow be a great governor and get his policies accomplished when he can’t tell his family that his 10 years (??!) relationship with his “friend” (who is honestly a terrible person and I have no idea how Dev intends on making her the heroine of the next book) was fake. Also, as far as I can tell, this book rests on the premise that Yash’s progressive political policies will succeed because Yash is “good” and “honest” which is belied by the fact that he is a liar and willing to live a lie about his entire life in order to be elected. Everything about his book shows me that he is immature and an idealist who really will be completely ineffectual. I think the book would have been a million times better if Yash lost the election or withdrew — because honestly, the resolution would never happen.

Now in a normal romance, I wouldn’t care about this stuff because the relationship is key and the rest tends to be fantasy anyway. However, this book’s romance is unsatisfying because everything is “resolved” in a magic turnaround in the end but readers are not given even an epilogue resolution of some of the serious impediments to Yash and India’s relationship. As such, I finished this book being convinced that India and Yash love one another but not firmly convinced that things will work out between them.

Yash’s problems with sexual intimacy are made a significant part of the story and yet nothing is really resolved by the end. The “happy ending” is so truncated as to be insufficient to counter the level of trauma. That didn’t work for me as a plotting device. If the author is making this an important issue, the resolution needed to be more prominent. The book needs to make clear that India and Yash are able to overcome this issue and have a loving relationship not tag it on in the last couple of paragraphs.

So while I absolutely adored Yash and India’s story, I can’t give this book a higher rating because the end of the story was completely unsatisfying to me. That just made me mad, because until the last page, I wanted to absolutely love this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: Like the first book in this series, there is some discussion about rape and its emotional aftermath, but the rape is discussed rather than depicted.

CONNECTED BOOKS: INCENSE AND SENSIBILITY is the third book in the Rajas series. The story here is self-contained so it is not necessary to read the others in the series. However, this is a continuing family drama so the other books introduce and develop the family members and their relationships to one another.

STAR RATING: I reluctantly give this book 3 stars — although the romance itself would have been 5 stars with a better resolution.

 

three-stars

Review: Recipe for Persuasion

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: Recipe for PersuasionRecipe for Persuasion (The Rajes, #2) by Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes #2
Published by William Morrow on May 26, 2020
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 464
Goodreads
four-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book! The first book in the series was okay but not incredible, but this one had such emotional depth and just kept me turning pages. The interwoven stories of daughter and mother worked so well together. The balance between romance and personal growth (aka “women’s fiction”) was well developed.

THE STORY: Ashna Raje is desperate to save the restaurant she inherited from her father. She decides to join a “cooking with the stars” reality show as one of the featured chefs. She ends up paired with Rico Silva, a recently retired soccer player — and her first love. When their first meeting goes viral and makes them fan favorites, Ashna has no choice but to work with Rico to save her restaurant. At the same time, Ashna also is facing the return of her mother who abandoned her and Ashna’s father and now wants to build a relationship with her.

OPINION: I really loved this book. It is more women’s fiction than romance, but the romance was good enough to keep me interested in the book (although I could have done with much more Ashna and Rico!) Ashna’s story was complicated and sad and oh so painfully real.

Admittedly, the book relies on one of my least favorite tropes — people don’t speak to one another. And yet, isn’t that often the problem that we have. We don’t speak truthfully to one another. We deflect and avoid — and so it is here.  I figured out the ultimate explanation long before the characters did, and yet, I so enjoyed the journey. These characters really reached me.

The premise of the cooking show was fun and worked as such an interesting reflection of Ashna and Rico’s relationship. I simply adored Rico and can’t wait to read more about him in the next book (as a secondary character).

The book was crowded with characters — but in a good way. I enjoyed the community of this book and how Ashna learns to see and accept that there are people who are there for her and see her as her essential self.

WORTH MENTIONING: Content warnings for rape and suicide.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RECIPE FOR PERSUASION is the second book in The Rajas series. The romance here is self-contained but there are overlapping characters in the series. This book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

four-half-stars

Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors

Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Other FlavorsPride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors (The Rajes, #1) by Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes #1
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 7, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 512
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Straddling the line between women’s fiction and romance, this book doesn’t always comfortably satisfy either genre. I liked the book, but didn’t find the romance here as compelling as prior Dev books.

THE STORY: Dr. Trisha Raje is a celebrated neurosurgeon who has a difficult relationship with her family but even while she complains about them, she longs for something more with them. As would be expected in a Pride and Prejudice retelling, on the night that she is attempting to bridge the gap between them at a party, she meets DJ, a chef who is cooking for her family’s event. DJ finds Trisha stuck up and unlikable on their first meeting and judges her accordingly. Trisha, however, is DJ’s sister’s neurosurgeon so they are bound to meet again.

OPINION: I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice. Therefore, any book that so closely depends so much on that book is already a problem for me. I liked the family dynamics at play here, but I think that trying to shoehorn some of these things into the original Pride and Prejudice template doesn’t always work as well here — especially the Wickham story.

I thought that both the main characters were well conceived. Trisha isn’t the easiest character to identify with but women characters often face more criticism for being successful, determined and unemotional. I really felt her mistakes and her inability to express herself as she wants. She also learns a lot through the book.

DJ is adorable but also a jerk in how he quickly judges Trisha. He is a caring brother who is struggling with his sister’s illness and how to allow her to make decisions in her life that are not the ones he would make.

The family drama was the weakest part for me as it seemed to overwhelm the romance at times. It also felt that this book, as the first in the series, was attempted to introduce everyone and do a lot of work that didn’t feel natural.

I wanted more romance and Trisha and DJ didn’t spend enough time together for my tastes. That being said, I liked the book and it was worth reading.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is a gender role reversal version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

CONNECTED BOOKS: PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND OTHER FLAVORS is the first book in the Rajes series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

UPDATE: 4/3/2022: I’ve increased the rating on this one to 4 stars. The book does somewhat suffer from being the first book in the series and having to introduce all the family characters. I increased the rating because I really did like Trisha and DJ and think that at least some of my negative feelings the first time were because of my expectations of the book. I really did enjoy this book and upon second reading will continue with the series.

four-stars

Review: A Distant Heart

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: A Distant HeartA Distant Heart by Sonali Dev
Series: Bollywood #4
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp. on December 26th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: A challenging and beautiful story of love and loss and living life. Kimi and Rahul are destined for one another but life is complicated and sometimes the fear of loss prevents one from living.

THE STORY: Kimi and Rahul meet as children. Kimi, the only of eight children to survive birth has medical issues which require her to be isolated. Rahul comes to Kimi house when his father in murdered while protecting Kimi’s father. In order to pay the debt of his and his siblings education, Rahul insists on working. While cleaning the mansion’s windows, fourteen year old Rahul meets Kimi. The two begin a friendship that lasts to adulthood. Then things get complicated.

OPINION: This is a beautiful book that takes place in India but centers on the universal human themes of loss and love and living. A companion to A CHANGE OF HEART, this book tells the story that readers of that book got glimpses of. The book is told in varying points of view and also takes place over time and asks for some commitment from the reader. In return, the reader gets a book that is part romance, part suspense, part life drama.

Kimi and Rahul are a classic friends to lovers story mixed in with impending loss at every turn. The characters are strong and vivid. The story has a strong sense of time and place detailing the complexities of the cross-class romance in India.

I knew where the story was headed on the mystery front early on (there are quite a few clues in A CHANGE OF HEART) but I was enthralled by the intense connection between Kimi and Rahul and how their past is slowly revealed.

The depth of the story comes from how the characters deal with the possibility of loss and about letting go and when not to let go. This is not a fairy tale HEA, but rather a HEA about living ones life no matter what the outcome might be.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is told in varying points of view over a period of years.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DISTANT HEART is the fourth book in the Bollywood series. The books generally are loosely connected and can be read as standalones, but this book is closely connected with A CHANGE OF HEART and I recommend reading that book first (it is fabulous) because they are almost companion books.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: A Change of Heart

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: A Change of HeartA Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
Series: Bollywood #3
Published by Kensington on September 27th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

Superlative Journey About Loss, Recovery and Finding Love Again

“They found nothing that could be construed as evidence.  But they had found something else.  Something you found when you traveled impossibly difficult paths with someone.”

FINAL DECISION:  One of the most amazing books I have ever read, this is an intense story of death, survival and rebirth.  Beautiful, lyrical, painful, redeeming.  I couldn’t turn away from this book despite the raw emotion because the raw emotion went to the pure humanity in the book.  Loved the characters, loved the story, loved it!

THE STORY:  Dr. Nikhil Joshi is devastated after the murder of his wife.  He has abandoned everything that he loves and is living and working on a cruise ship drunk most of the time.  One day he meets a woman who claims to have received his wife’s heart in a transplant.  Even more incredible, Jess Koirala claims that Nic’s wife has been communicating to her wanting Nic to find those ultimately responsible for her death.  Nic’s wife, Jen, was investigating a ring of organ thieves when she was murdered to prevent exposure.  Jess has come to Nic because she needs him to discover the truth and set herself free.

OPINION:  This book ripped me open and left my insides exposed.  Going deep into the emotional life of these characters, that is exactly the type of book I love.

“It was a tearing up of all that he was and of putting it all together again.”

Nic is a man who had it all. He had a successful and fulfilling career he loved.  He had found the woman who was his match.  They had a baby on the way.  Then everything collapses on him when she was murdered.  Nic didn’t know how to go on living.  Two years later, he is still living in a type of stasis where he exists but does not truly live.

“Sweetness of hope and leftover pain.”

Jess is a survivor.  I don’t want to give the secrets of the book away as Jess’s true story is revealed slowly, but readers who are sensitive might take a look at the Acknowledgements at the beginning if they have concerns.  I loved that she has been through so much and survived and thus teaches and shows Nic how to move past his pain and grief.

I also loved that Nic gives Jess tenderness and caring that she has been missing for so long.  But one of the best parts of this book is how the pain these two experience is not swiftly resolved and carried away.  These two hurt one another, bring out one another’s pain and somehow find a way for them both to begin to live again.

“He couldn’t not lay down with her, couldn’t not tuck her against him, couldn’t not wrap his body around her and close his eyes against her hair.  And hold her and hold her.  Until she drifted away in his arms.  Fell out of her pain and into sleep.  It was then that he left himself drift away too.  His sleep wrapped around hers.  Their joint collapse into a nothingness so absolute the morning light had to be rebirth.”

This book is all about rebirth.  The pain, the shedding of the past, of learning to live with the impossible.  The darkness and pain in this book allows the morning that comes after to be beautiful.

This book just tore me open.  I loved it even as I sometimes felt I wanted to turn away from Nic and Jess’s pain.  But ultimately, that pain and sadness turned into something lovely and life affirming.  We can survive the worst of humanity.  There is always hope and joy and the possibility of love.

Many times I enjoy a dark, pain-filled book but want to turn to something else after having my heart ripped out.  Not this book.  This one I wanted to immediately read again.  It will certainly go on my keeper shelf.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I hope that we hear more about Rahul and Kimi.  I expect from the progression of this book, I expect to know much more about them.  I an already intrigued.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  A CHANGE OF HEART is a standalone although there are appearances from characters from other Dev books.  I consider the books as taking place in the same world rather than a series although I will mark it as the third book in the Bollywood series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: The Bollywood Bride

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: The Bollywood BrideThe Bollywood Bride (Bollywood) by Sonali Dev
Series: Bollywood #2
Published by Kensington on September 29th 2015
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Painful, Sad but Ultimately Hopeful About Love

“Vikram was smiling. The last time she’d seen him he had looked like he would never smile again. She had looked into his eyes and watched him break, watched the gray-blue crystals shatter to bits. He was smiling.”

FINAL DECISION: Dark and emotional but ultimately uplifting, THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE is darker in tone than Dev’s first book but infused with the same wonderful characterizations and sense of community and ultimately joy in life. Not an easy read, but a worthwhile one.

THE STORY: Ria Parker had loved Vitram Jathar when they were children. She knew, however, that they had no future and so she betrayed him and broke his heart. Ten years later, Ria is a successful Bollywood actress known as the Ice Princess because she doesn’t let anyone close. Her career has been scandal free until a paparazzi gets too close to her dark past. Returning to Chicago to attend a family wedding, Ria comes face to face with Vitram again. She knows that their being apart is best for Vitram but Ria can’t help but love the boy of her childhood and the man who hates her now.

OPINION: This book is sad and yet there is ultimately acceptance and hope. Ria is haunted by her family’s history and as a result has decided to spent her life alone. A casualty of that decision is Vitram. The two were childhood friends and young lovers together until Ria’s destiny tore them apart. I enjoyed the complexity of Ria. I didn’t like nor could I condone many of her decisions, but I certainly understood them. It is a special book that allows the reader to disagree with the character but comprehend their motivations. I liked Ria because she is an incredibly strong woman. She has dealt with so much in her life and tries to do her best.

Vitram is adorable. Strong and dedicated and yet gentle with those he loves, he makes a journey in this book. From anger, disappointment and hate, he opens himself up through forgiveness. Even before he understands Ria’s motivations, he forgives her.

Ria and Vitram have a serious and emotional chemistry from the moment they meet. They have no blinding moment of falling in love. The two have always loved one another – first as friends and then as lovers. The anger and pain that these two experience makes this a book that I had to read in bites and put down. The story is complicated and heartbreaking at times.

Dev has a distinctive voice. Her characters are immersed in their community and family. Readers of THE BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR will find this book darker and initially bleaker than that book. The story contemplates issues of destiny, identity, and family but always focuses on the characters. The desire to separate from one’s history, yet the inexorable pull back into the past is finally resolved when the characters accept the possibility of future pain but choose to be hopeful about the future.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it especially because of Dev’s strong, complex characters and unique view into Indian-American culture. My only downgrade of the book is because I wish that Vitram’s voice was more present. He is incredibly forgiving considering Ria’s actions and it would have been nice to understand more what was in his mind.

WORTH MENTIONING: Spoilers! This novel deals with mental illness is a realistic and painful manner.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE BOLLYWOOD BRIDE is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: A Bollywood Affair

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: A Bollywood AffairA Bollywood Affair (Bollywood) by Sonali Dev
Series: Bollywood #1
Published by Kensington on October 28th 2014
Pages: 294
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Just Draws the Reader In

A BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR is a great twist on the rake and the virgin story. Here, this contemporary novel is grounded in the diverse and complex Indian culture. Set on the edges of many divides in that culture, this is not only a glimpse into the complexity of cultures but it demonstrates that love can cross many boundaries.

THE STORY: Mili Rathod was married at the age of four to a boy in her village in India. For twenty years, Mili has kept her vows and “all Mili wanted was to be a good wife.” Her pursuit of that goal led her far from her village. She obtained an education and has come to the United States to pursue further education. She is working hard to make herself worthy of her husband — who she has not seen since her wedding.

The only problem for Mili is that her husband was not aware that they were still married (because they were underage, the marriage was supposed to be annulled). He has married another woman and is expecting a child. When he finds out about the marriage to Mili, he sends his younger brother, Samir Rathod to convince Mili to agree to an annulment.

Samir is a director and screenwriter and has a “love” life that consists of him walking away from women when they get too close. He is scarred by the history of his parents. Half-American, Samir was abandoned by his mother and has commitment issues as a result. In meeting Mili, Samir is struck by the contrast of his expectations and the reality of Mili. He is a caretaker and Mili brings joy to his life. Samir, however, fails to tell Mili who is actually is and thus the conflict exists over the secrets that each is keeping from the other.

OPINION: I loved Samir in this book. For a guy who seems so cynical, he quickly becomes such a caretaker to Mili that he is almost sweet. As the reader is drawn further into his story, the contradictions of Samir become more obvious and understandable. He is definitely the rake who hides his goodness and vulnerability.

Mili is such an interesting character. She definitely comes from her culture and yet she has transcended the small town she comes from without changing her essential nature. I love that she is committed to her marriage and yet at the same time has used it as an excuse to open doors that otherwise would have been closed to her.

I also appreciated how this book opened a window into a complex Indian culture. There are divisions between the older generation and the younger generation, the city dwellers and the rural people. In addition, there is the American versus Indian conflict. All of these divisions are treated with respect and I loved the fact that all of this is presented in a matter of fact manner.

The emotional connection between these characters is wonderful. I loved how their relationship progresses from friendship to love. Samir’s failure to be truthful to Mili has bad consequences and the deep emotional pain that Mili experiences is moving. I truly believed in these characters. They were memorable and really good people.

WORTH MENTIONING: I tried this book on the recommendation of the author Nalini Singh and I am really glad I did.

FINAL DECISION: I recommend this book because I think it is deeply emotional and has a unique story to tell about two really likeable people.

CONNECTED BOOKS: This book is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in order to provide an honest review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

four-half-stars