A comic, potentially multicultural romance conflates India’s many identities into a misleading package for easy consumption.

THE MARRIAGE GAME

A down-on-her-luck Indian American human resources professional locks horns with an Indian American corporate downsizer while also trying to find a suitable bridegroom.

Layla Patel returns to San Francisco after undergoing a public breakup with her social media–star boyfriend and getting fired from her job in New York. She's immediately plunged into a chaotic life with her extended clan while she tries to start her own HR firm. At the same time she's helping her family’s restaurant stay afloat after her father has a health crisis, she has another item to tackle: evaluating the potential grooms he had selected for her from a matrimony website. To complicate matters further, Sam Mehta, an uptight corporate executive, has rented the space above the restaurant and refuses to give up his lease. Desai, who has previously published as Sarah Castille, now mixes up ingredients for a South Asian rom-com khichdi, with meddling aunties, a mishmash of Indian foods, references to movie songs, and a string of marriage candidates. Layla and Sam’s chemistry channels the drama of Indian cinema. There are many humorous moments of banter and slapstick between them and a notable attempt to immerse the reader in South Asian Americanness. But the novel shows a poor understanding of the sociopolitical dynamics within Indian communities (including in the diaspora). Desai seems unaware that names signal a person's region and religion, so there are seemingly northwest Indian characters specializing in southern Indian vegetarian food, which sidelines their own staple cuisine. Similarly, Layla's marriage candidates span a pan-Indian, pan-religious roster, a misleading representation of the reality of religious biases that impact Indian minorities. A subplot about domestic violence also teeters on the edge of representing people with disabilities as supporting characters who only serve to shape others’ stories.

A comic, potentially multicultural romance conflates India’s many identities into a misleading package for easy consumption.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-10056-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS

An earnest grad student and a faculty member with a bit of a jerkish reputation concoct a fake dating scheme in this nerdy, STEM-filled contemporary romance.

Olive Smith and professor Adam Carlsen first met in the bathroom of Adam's lab. Olive wore expired contact lenses, reducing her eyes to temporary tears, while Adam just needed to dispose of a solution. It's a memory that only one of them has held onto. Now, nearly three years later, Olive is fully committed to her research in pancreatic cancer at Stanford University's biology department. As a faculty member, Adam's reputation precedes him, since he's made many students cry or drop their programs entirely with his bluntness. When Olive needs her best friend, Anh, to think she's dating someone so Anh will feel more comfortable getting involved with Olive's barely-an-ex, Jeremy, she impulsively kisses Adam, who happens to be standing there when Anh walks by. But rumors start to spread, and the one-time kiss morphs into a fake relationship, especially as Adam sees there's a benefit for him. The university is withholding funds for Adam's research out of fear that he'll leave for a better position elsewhere. If he puts down more roots by getting involved with someone, his research funds could be released at the next budgeting meeting in about a month's time. After setting a few ground rules, Adam and Olive agree that come the end of September, they'll part ways, having gotten what they need from their arrangement. Hazelwood has a keen understanding of romance tropes and puts them to good use—in addition to fake dating, Olive and Adam are an opposites-attract pairing with their sunny and grumpy personalities—but there are a couple of weaknesses in this debut novel. Hazelwood manages to sidestep a lot of the complicated power dynamics of a student-faculty romance by putting Olive and Adam in different departments, but the impetus for their fake relationship has much higher stakes for Adam. Olive does reap the benefits of dating a faculty member, but in the end, she's still the one seemingly punished or taunted by her colleagues; readers may have been hoping for a more subversive twist. For a first novel, there's plenty of shine here, with clear signs that Hazelwood feels completely comfortable with happily-ever-afters.

Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-33682-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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