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Nicola Marsh

REVIEW: Busted in Bollywood by Nicola Marsh

REVIEW: Busted in Bollywood by Nicola Marsh

Dear Ms. Marsh,

I am always on the lookout for India-set and India-related historical and contemporary romances, so when I saw your new contemporary was forthcoming from Entangled Publishing, I was intrigued. You’ve written a number of well-received category romances at Harlequin, so although Entangled is a new press, you are a proven author. But while there were aspects of the book I really enjoyed, in the end this was a frustrating read for me.

The story revolves around two Indian-American women, Shari and Amrita, who live in New York and are close friends. Amrita’s parents have arranged a marriage for her with an Indian man who lives in Mumbai, and since she wants no part of it, Amrita seeks Shari’s help in sabotaging their plans. Shari is unemployed after ending a yearlong affair with her married boss at the law firm where she worked. Amrita talks Shari into impersonating her in Mumbai, hoping that Shari’s behavior will convince the groom-to-be and his family that Amrita is unsuitable and therefore back out of the agreement. Shari is reluctant, but she allows herself to be talked into the scheme and flies to Mumbai, where Amrita’s Aunt Anjali, who is in on the deception, takes her under her wing. Shari’s impersonation is just the beginning of a series of events involving Amrita, her putative fiancé Rakesh Rama, and Rakesh’s handsome and sexy British business partner, Drew Lansford. The setting moves from New York to Mumbai (including scenes at a Bollywood film studio) and back to New York again, and the plot cycles from Amrita and Shari to Shari in Mumbai, back to Shari, Amrita and various other characters in New York, with short stops elsewhere.

The novel straddles the line between chick-lit and contemporary romance. Amrita and Shari’s close friendship is front and center, and many of their scenes involve drinking pitchers of mojitos and talking about their love lives. While Shari’s romance with Drew is the main relationship, Amrita has a pleasant if predictable secondary romantic storyline. The fact that Shari has just ended a year-long affair with a married man who lavished gifts and money on her contributes to the Sex and the City vibe, which some readers may enjoy but I find a bit played out. Shari knows she made a big mistake, but it was never clear to me why she fell for the snake in the first place. Drew is requisite hero material, though, and that relationship is sweeter and more characteristic of a standard romance novel. The major external impediments to the HEA are resolved relatively straightforwardly, and the final hurdle has more to do with Shari’s personal growth, which contributes to the chick lit feel of the book.

The setting is quite well depicted, and there is plenty of local flavor to make New York and Mumbai come alive. The heat, color, and dynamism of Mumbai are nicely portrayed. There are some false notes that will probably only resonate for readers who are extremely familiar with Mumbai, with a couple of exceptions. For example, two of the places Aunt Anjali points out to Shari are the Taj Mahal Hotel and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus). These are major landmarks, but they are also two of the main sites of the 2008 Mumbai bombings. It was strange to read a book set in 2010/11 that talked about them as if nothing had happened, especially since the repairs to the Taj were only recently completed. I can’t imagine a Mumbaikar (not Mumbaians as the book has them) introducing someone to them without the subject coming up. I understand why there are no references in the book (talk about ruining the mood), but then maybe other tourist sites would have been better choices.

Two other issues I had, though, are more general annoyances. First, everyone, and I mean everyone, in this book gets a nickname. At first it fits the breezy style, but then it becomes wearying and finally it got to the fingernails-on-a-blackboard level of irritation. When Shari meets Rakesh for the first time at his family’s home, she is introduced to his mother and sisters:

“Hi, I’m Pooja.” The eldest, a miniature rotund Anu, had a shy smile and my predilection for nicknames instantly dubbed her Pooh: round, soft-spoken, cuddly.

“Divya.” The middle one flicked a dismissive glance over me and gave an imperceptible shrug, more intent on patting her sleek hair and studying her nails. Definitely Diva.

The youngest enveloped me in a brief hug. “I’m so thrilled to meet you, Sister. I’m Shruti and if there’s anything you need during your stay here, don’t hesitate to ask.”

I might’ve been impressed by such an effusive welcome if I hadn’t caught the furtive glance she shot her mother, seeking approval. Her expression begged ‘have I done well, Mommy?’ Shrewd Shruti, knowing who controlled the family and how to stay on her good side: she became Shrew.

I’d met the three stepsisters and the fairy godmother—of my nightmares.

Why? What have these poor women done? Nothing, really at this point in the novel. But they remain Pooh, Diva and Shrew to the end. And the mother, Anu, is always a cow. In fact, and this is my second major complaint, all the women are portrayed in unflattering ways. Aunt Anjali is vulgar and gobbles ladoos (Indian sweets). Drew’s mother behaves badly to Shari and is given a nasty nickname for the duration. I’m not looking for perfection or role models in my romance reading, but the drumbeat of insults became really depressing.

The men don’t escape the nickname fairy either: Shari’s ex is the Toad, and the hero, most unfortunately, is Bollywood Boy. For me, at least, it didn’t do much for his appeal.

These shortcomings are really a shame, because there is much to like in the novel. The relationship between Amrita and Shari was well developed and believable (if excessively rum-drenched). Rakesh and Drew were both really decent men. And while Shari’s path to independence and maturity strained credulity and screwed up the pacing of the last quarter of the book, it was well within the bounds of the genre. Shari and Drew’s relationship could have used more on-page time, but what was there was very enjoyable.

For readers who like books that straddle the chick-lit/romance boundary, this could be a fun read. For me, the fun was undercut by the depiction of some of the women. I’m sure the intent was to write clever and witty, albeit caricatured, supporting characters, and I tried to read them that way, but I failed. Dial down the descriptions of women as waddling cows, and the underlying sweetness is more likely to shine through.

Grade: C

~ Sunita

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What Jane’s Been Reading,  week ending September 15

What Jane’s Been Reading, week ending September 15

Lord of the Abyss by Nalini Singh. This is a December release. It’s a full fledged fairy tale with an ugly heroine (described as having a hook nose, walks with a limp, and a misshapen body) and a somewhat virginal hero. He’s been Lord of the Abyss for as long as he can remember and has had no woman in that time. I read no other books in the series and wasn’t lost at all. I was disappointed in a reveal at the end and that marred my enjoyment of the overall story. Full review to come in late November.

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Ravenborne by Chandra Ryan.  This is an alternate reality paranormal romance which had intriguing world building but suffered from either a lack of focus or an attempt to shoehorn too much into one story.  I did go and buy a second story in this series which predates “Ravenborne” but have not yet read it.  The story opens with a scene in which a dragon shifter on the losing side of a war but with much power is condemned to live a number of lives before she can be free of her servitude.  She is called the Oracle because of her ability to foretell the future and to measure the power of others.  Magic flows through some families and it is the strength of magic that determines the rulers of the kingdom.  Saraphina Raven is conscripted into the king’s guard because he wants her to use her telepathic ability to suss out those that might be plotting against him. Kavin Hunter, the head of the king’s guard, and old friend of Saraphina is ordered to bring her to the castle.   The journey is beset with challenges to Saraphina’s life, betrayal, and a growing but improper attraction.  I liked the world and the concept but felt the romance was shoehorned in.

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Hot as Hades by Alisha Rai.   This is an erotic take on the Hades and Persephone story.  Hades is a misunderstood lord of the underworld and Persephone is unclear of her power.  They must be separated, per the myth and Rai colors in the reasons why. It’s a short story and a decent read, but doesn’t have much staying power for me.

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Altered Destiny by Shawna Thomas. This is a high fantasy story set in a land where they use horses (middle earthian?) There are two basic types of folks: humans and Svistra. Svistra are bloodsuckers. They are great fighters but small in numbers. They had been hired by the human kings to fight in battle with them but given their predilection for blood, they are cast out and driven back to a northern, inhospitable climate. The Svistra, however, are tired of being outcasts and are mobilizing an army. Selia is a human that owns a tavern. She stumbles upon a wounded Svistra and nurses him back to health. Her world is upended by the coming war, the conscription of her adopted brother, and her growing feelings for the Svistra. The book kind of peters out toward the end because so much denouement is stuffed into the last two chapters. Full review to come.

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Deadly Descent by Kaylea Cross. Years ago I read an article about these awesome female helicopter pilots and I thought it would be great if one of them were the basis of a romance heroine. “Deadly Descent” features a female soldier in the Army who pilots Black Hawks on extract missions. I thought the military parts were really well done in this book and I certainly felt like I was amidst the action. However, in reading articles about females in combat there has been a concern that the males in combat would be endangered by their own protective instincts toward the females and I felt that the story actually fed into that belief rather than combatting it and that was unfortunate. Full review to come but it is a book I would recommend with some provisions. Full review here.

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Cover of Darkness by Kaylea Cross. After I had read “Deadly Descent”, I wanted to read another Cross romantic suspense book and I remembered that she had sent me a book for review last year. According to my gmail archives that book was “Cover of Darkness”. The good news is that Cross has really grown as an author. The bad news is that I had a hard time reading this one (and I suspect that is what happened when I first received the book for review) and ultimately I have to score this as a DNF for me. In the first chapter, the heroine is saved by a team of SEALs in the Middle East. She’s injured and placed in a military hospital along with a wounded SEAL. A medic on the SEAL team comes in and just lays a big fat sloppy kiss on her while she is recovering from her wounds and her father is elsewhere, likely dying. I wanted to put the story down right there, but given that I had liked Cross in the past, I thought I would give it more of an effort. Unfortunately, the story really didn’t improve for me. Instead, I met more testosterone who were obviously sequel bait and the insta lust between the two characters continued apace. I did skim through the book to find out what happened but I wasn’t interested in reading the rest of the series. I’ll wait for more Cross books from Carina Press.

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The Crown Affair by Lucy King.  There isn’t anything particularly wrong with this story. The hero wasn’t a huge asshole and the heroine wasn’t too much of a doormat, but I was never engaged by this couple.  Neither had an interesting storyline and even though the story was about the heroine remaking herself from being passive to more aggressive, I never bought into that transformation.

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Sex, Gossip and Rock and Roll by Nicola Marsh.  This was an opposites attract story but the insta-lust between two people who didn’t like or trust each other was tiresome.   Charli Chambers manages rock stars and other celebrities for a man who saved her from the streets.  Luca Petrelli has been asked by the same man (and also his purported grandfather) to step in and manage the money for the tour of a rock star that Charli is managing. Both believe the other is ripping off the old man.  I stopped reading after the fourth chapter. DNF.

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The Kanellis Scandal by Michelle Reid.  I love Reid’s books but this one was a big disappointment.  Neither character was likeable. Anton Pallis lies and virtually kidnaps Zoe Ellis from her home when her parents die because she is the guardian of the heir to a fortune.  Zoe’s father was the son of a wealthy Greek man who was disowned when he married against the wealthy man’s wishes.  Now Zoe’s father is dead and the wealthy Greek man wants his heir and sends Anton to fetch the both of them. Zoe spends most of the book alternating between ripping Anton’s clothes off and insulting him greviously. She was 23? in the book but acted about 16. It was a chore to spend time with either character.

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Doukakis’s Apprentice by Sarah Morgan.  Sarah Wendell suggested I read this and it was as enjoyable as she suggested.  Polly Prince’s company is taken over by Damon Doukakis who believes that everyone on the payroll, particularly Polly, are lazy and incompetent.  The Prince company must have at least one creative talent, however, because it is stealing ad campaigns from the Doukakis firm.  Damon knows it isn’t Polly though, who wears loud stockings to work, and allows her co workers to have plants on their desks.  Of course, Polly is the creative genius behind the Prince firm and has been for a long time.  I think someone at DA will review this next week. Full review.

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Animal Attraction by Jill Shalvis.  Jade Bennett is only in Sunshine, Idaho, temporarily. She suffered something bad back in Chicago and she ran and ended up in Sunshine 18 months ago. She promised her family she would return after a certain time and her deadline is approaching.  As the deadline is approaching, Dell, her boss, and Jade decide to embark on a temporary affair, mostly because Jade believes that Dell can’t make an attachment.  This is something that is repeated throughout the story but the problem is that the declaration didn’t match the text.  He was devoted to his brothers. He took in Lilah, a woman in town and treated her like his sister. He had a solid vet practice and had his own pets. Everything about him screamed permanency. So while I liked both characters, I felt that neither characterization was very authentic.  What Shalvis told us we should believe wasn’t what she showed us.

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Head Over Heels by Jill Shalvis.  After I kind of complained about “Animal Attraction” on Twitter, a bunch of readers told me to try Head Over Heels out.  So I did and I liked it a ton better.  The hero is  Sheriff Sawyer Thompson who used to be a rotten teen and turned his life around. He’s all about permanence, stability, and up right citizenship.  Unfortunately, the one woman in town that really turns his crank is Chloe Traeger, the youngest of the three sisters featured in the Lucky Harbor series, who is nicknamed the Wild Child.  I hadn’t read any in the series before so I hadn’t any feelings toward Chloe one way or another. Apparently she is a pill in the previous books.  In any event, I thought that there romance was quite sweet.

One huge problem for me was that Chloe didn’t want to change from being wild, coloring outside the lines, in order to be loved.  Yet, in the end, she opted for a very conventional life with the sheriff, enforcing exactly what she struggled against.  If the message was that you didn’t have to completely remake yourself  to find true love, I felt that message wasn’t delivered in the end.  That said, I loved both characters.  Sawyer is the tall, silent type (and I love that type) who needed a person like Chloe in his life.  You could really see in the text of the story that these two were a good pair, that they balanced each other.  And Sawyer is a really loving guy.   This is a late November release which I plan to review.

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The Sweetest Thing by Jill Shalvis.  I liked Head Over Heels enough to go and purchase The Sweetest Thing which I kind of regret because I saw that Forever is re-releasing the first two in the Lucky Harbor series as one volume for the price of $7.99. Curses.  Anyway, I didn’t love it as much as The Sweetest Thing.  Ford is an olympic medal winning sailor whose home base is Lucky Harbor.  Tara is his teenage sweetheart.  Their teen romance ended badly but their feelings for each other haven’t ever wholly died.  Ford knows that Tara’s time in Lucky Harbor is temporary (does that remind you of any plot?) but pursues her avidly.  Why?  So that they could have casual sexy times. I didn’t really understand either characters’ motivations.  Tara says she didn’t want to stick around in Lucky Harbor but I wasn’t shown that she had a good life away from there.  She was presented as this woman who was so amazing that she had two awesome guys pursuing her.  The best part of the story was the competition between Ford and Tara’s ex husband.

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Season for Temptation by Theresa Romain. This came to my attention in a glowing post by Courtney Milan. I wrote the publicist immediately for a copy but even before I received a response,  Ms. Romain kindly sent me a copy. It was a nice historical but not much agnst. Sarah Wendell calls these types of books “visiting” people and I think that is what it was. Admittedly I like more romangst in my historical romances. Full review to come in October.

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Clearly I need to read more historical romances. Again.