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REVIEW:  The Contract by Zeenat Mahal

REVIEW: The Contract by Zeenat Mahal


“…I’ll pay you a monthly salary to behave and appear for all practical purposes as my wife…If you agree, the marriage vows can be taken on the phone on Saturday, since I have an hour free in the morning.”

Circumstances have forced the young divorcée, Shahira, to accept Hussain’s unusual proposition. As per their contract, she’ll have his name, will be paid to look after his ailing mother and motherless daughter and will be left well alone by him. Perfect!

Until her new husband decides to stop playing by the rules…

Dear Ms. Mahal,

While perusing the latest offerings from Indireads, I remembered how much I enjoyed “Haveli” and how much people at DA expressed interest in reading more books about South Asia. Especially ones using different arranged or marriage of convenience plots. Voici, I thought, here’s a book that will cover all bases.

One reason I love to read books set in a country other than my own is for the chance to vicariously live there for the duration of the story. “The Contract” allows me to do just that. It’s packed with little details about life in Lahore, Pakistani families, weddings, Daahta Saheb and life in general. I was eating all this up and looking for seconds. This is why I read non-US set books.

The growing relationship between Hussain’s mother Aunty Salma and Shahira is wonderful as each finds that which she has longed for – a loving mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law to dote on. Salma also takes Shahira’s son under her wing and gently scolds Sharhira when she protests saying that’s what grannies are for.

Hussain might be a high stakes business wheeler and dealer but Shahira puts him in his place a time or two when he takes the high hand with her over their initial marriage negotiations. He finds himself intrigued but still not falling at her feet – which is a good thing to me. They scheme and snip at each other as they attempt to keep the rest of the family from guessing the truth of their arrangement and seemed evenly matched to me. I was looking forward to them finally discovering each other when some sand got tossed in the Vaseline.

First an Evil Other Woman appeared. The novella is short and there’s a lot of ground to cover so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when this person was little more than a tissue paper thin stereotype but I would have liked to see a bit more depth to her. However while I could easily dismiss Nudrat, something else occurs that got me steamed.

Shahira was very firm in her demands for no sexual aspect to their marriage. When this suited Hussain, he cared less. But once he decided he wanted to change their arrangements, he was determined to get his way. Shahira all but tells him she was sexually abused by her first husband. While his initial response was dismay for what she went through, in the next breath he turned on the seductive charm again and says,

“You’ve been divorced for six years.”

“Seven, actually…but who’s counting?” she laughed nervously, still a little embarrassed.
“That’s a long time to remember. You should have forgotten any bad experiences by now.”
He gave her another sultry look.

I wanted to slap him through my ereader. No, actually I wanted to knee him in the nuts. She should have forgotten any bad experiences by now?! She should have forgotten being raped?! Really? Asshole. He’s amazed – amazed! – that she’s still traumatized by what (his words) “that bastard” did to her. Hussain just won my prize as the prick of the year. His later anger at Shahira for not telling him she spoke Arabic (of all things to be pissed about) didn’t help. His smug belief that their night of hot loving near the end of the book would fix everything had me rushing to get through the end of this one. B for the local color and Shahira’s strength, F for Hussain.


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REVIEW:  Haveli by Zeenat Mahal

REVIEW: Haveli by Zeenat Mahal


“Abandoned by her father, C. is brought up by her domineering, intractable grandmother, whom she privately refers to as ‘The Broad’. Raised in the closed environs of a haveli in Jalalabad, C. is rebellious, quick-witted and a self-proclaimed cynic.

So, when The Broad presents her with the ‘suitable’ Taimur as a possible husband, C. isn’t too happy with the arrangement, no matter how gorgeous ‘Alpha Male’ may be. As it happens, the feeling is mutual. Or is it?

And when C.’s long lost father enters the scene, things get really complicated…”

Dear Ms. Mahal,

I love your voice here! Our readers at DA have been very receptive to books set in South Asia and I was delighted when Indiereads got in touch with Jane and offered some of their books for review. Though I started out a little bit lost with all the terms – which I intend to look up – C’s smart aleck-y personality reeled me in from the beginning. Chandni is a smart, gorgeous heroine who has a little growing up to do and an Achilles heel in the form of her smarmy father. Though she doesn’t initially realize it, her tough as nails grandmother has raised C in her own image and I truly feel sorry for anyone who gets on their collective bad side.

haveli-200x300The women of this family are anything but subservient. If I had any notions of weak willed Pakistani women, this novella put paid to them. “The Broad” decrees and the family (usually) falls in line posthaste – including the men. The exception? Chandni of course who thinks she knows who she’s in love with and who is disconcerted when someone sees right through her efforts to snag him. The someone? Taimur or “Alpha Male” as C derisively calls him. He only oozes the most testosterone of any man C has ever met.

Their battles of wits and cutting sarcasm are hilarious to read. I love that Taimur is the one who “gets” all of C’s literary references – even when she’s using her extensive education at his expense. But he doesn’t take her witticisms lying down and give as good as he gets.

The conflict arc is well set up and seems realistic. Will C yield to her grandmother’s wishes and agree to marry Taimur? Is he truly as indifferent and cocksure as he appears? And how will C react when faced with the father she’s longed to hear say he loves and misses her? I wasn’t too sure of the last minute “will” twist but at least those who love C have a way to ensure it doesn’t trip things up. C’s desire to reconnect with her father at the expense of all else is initially maddening but on second thought makes sense given her long standing feelings of abandonment. Even “The Broad’s” insistence that C publicly agree to the match seems more that her grandmother wants to be sure that Chandni will truly be happy in it rather than getting her pound of flesh back or bolstering Taimur’s male ego.

Overall, I was delighted with my first foray into Indireads. The setting, language, and characters all seem authentic. A complete story was delivered in novella length and a HEA wrapped everything up. I look forward to seeing what else Indireads has to offer. B


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