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second chances

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:  Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

REVIEW: Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson


I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K.

It was on a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a Georgia summer so ungodly hot the air felt like it had all been boiled red. We were both staring down the barrel of an ancient, creaky .32 that could kill us just as dead as a really nice gun could.

I thought then that I had landed in my own worst dream, not a love story… And yet, seventeen seconds later, before I so much as knew his name, I’d fallen dizzy-down in love with him.

I’ve never had an angel on my right shoulder; I was born with a pointy-tailed devil who crept back and forth across my neck to get his whispers into both my ears. I didn’t get a fairy godmother or even a discount talking cricket-bug to be my conscience. But someone should have told me. That afternoon in the Circle K, I deserved to know, right off, that I had landed bang in the middle of a love story. Especially since it wasn’t— it isn’t— it could never be, my own.

Dear Ms. Jackson,

I’ve read your blog a bit and always enjoyed your humor but had never tried one of your books. When Jane sent me our paper arc of “Someone Else’s Love Story” it was fate. Well here I finally am, writing up a review and I can say it’s what I expected and not at all what I expected – in a good way.

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Recommended by Jayne ( A | BN | K | S | G) * Women’s Fiction

Set in Georgia, I love that the characters aren’t stereotypical “Southerners.” They just are Southerners. There are no double first names, no one is mentioned as driving a pick-up truck, wearing a cowboy hat or boots. It starts out in a rural town but quickly moves to Atlanta. There’s no attempt at writing “Southern” dialog and no one sounds like a hillbilly. For all this, I thank you.

Shandi and William are layered, complex people without being written as prostrate with angst though honestly they are entitled to be. Both have issues from their past which must be examined, worked through and dealt with before they can move on. And these issues aren’t shallow, or turned cutesy, or easily taken care of. There are major and heartbreaking events each has endured and which must be gone through in order to get to the other side and move into their futures.

William views the world differently due to his high functioning autism. His scientific gene specialty research puts Shandi on the road to resolving her past issue. Meanwhile, Shandi helps wake William up and bring him back into daily living and away from the numb shell he’d lived in for the past year.

As the story progressed, thinks weren’t quite adding up as I’m used to seeing happen in a romance. I began to wonder – was the book instead women’s fiction? Or – worse still – just fiction with no guarantee of a happy ending? Since the book had “love story” in the title I was holding out for someone getting a HEA. Yet I was still confused as there were elements of romance and fiction but the book wasn’t fitting completely into either.

There are twists at the end I wasn’t expecting. They are not exactly hidden or out-of-the-blue but one did surprise me very much. It also reminded me that there were only 30 pages left to go to sort every thing out. At this point, I truly had no idea where you were going to go with both Shandi and William. When I discovered, all I could think was “thank God I didn’t peek at the end the way I sometimes do” because the impact of half the book would have been lost on me.

For those who wish to know, yes people find their HEA at the end of the book. But most of the book will not seem like what romance readers are used to. The bulk of the story is William and Shandi coming to terms with past events in their lives, often with each other’s help, with a romantic thread woven into this. It’s not exactly what I was expecting but it’s satisfying all the same. B


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