REVIEW: The Second First Chance by Mona Shroff
Strength comes in many different forms.
Riya Desai and Dhillon Vora grew up together. Sharing secrets, hiding in their tree house, they were playmates, best friends and later—as teenagers—almost something more. Until the devastating house fire that ripped them apart, claiming the life of Dhillon’s father and Riya’s big brother, Samir. Riya and Dhillon have barely spoken since that terrible night, but they both made big decisions based on that fire.
Riya has chosen to fight fire with everything she’s got, but it’s not easy. As the only female firefighter and one of the only people of color at her fire hall, she has to prove herself over and over. Plus, she’s hidden her career from her family.
Dhillon wanted to heal things, so he became a veterinarian. When a chance encounter with a rescue dog throws Riya and Dhillon together again, he’s furious at her career choice. After what happened to them, how can she run into fires on purpose? For Riya, Dhillon’s anger is unacceptable: How can he not see that she’s protecting others from the very losses they both experienced?
CW – on page sexual harrassment, on page death of an pet from old age.
Dear Ms. Shroff,
When I read the blurb for this novel, I knew there was going to be some real conflict as well as a large amount of angst. Both Dhillon and Riya had faced horrible loss – due to a fire. But I could see both sides to their reactions to this. Dhillon was horrified that someone he has cared for – okay, let’s be more honest than he is – loved for years wanted to make a career of endangering herself. Meanwhile Riya wanted to help protect people and keep them from facing the losses that she and Dhillon had endured. And oh yeah, would they ever admit to the feelings that just about everyone around them can see they have?
Let me get the bad out of the way first. I liked a lot about this book but there were times when I wanted to shake Riya. And then times when I wanted to shake Dhillon. For a while it seemed to me that they were snipping and glaring at each other far more than scenes of them being nice or showing how much they care for each other. They growled and yelled and did silly things like issued ultimatums. I get it, they both had strong feelings about the situation and felt the need to express those but it got draining to read about.
Riya was the hardest person for me to like. Headstrong and determined to get what she wanted, she absolutely would not listen to people. It was fine if she was standing up to people telling her “you can’t be a firefighter” (yay for women following their dreams no matter how hard this is). It was not fine when her lieutenant and other seasoned firefighters were telling her (during a fire) “you have to follow safety protocols” and Riya just ignored them and did what she thought was best. Okay, sure she got a young girl out of the fire but haring off on her own could have gotten them both killed since Riya had no backup, another firefighter had to join her thus leaving yet another firefighter on his own. So yeah, mistakes were made and continued to be made by Riya. She also lied by omission to her parents about becoming a firefighter.
Dhillon also pissed me off a time or two with what he did such as when he arrived at the firestation and publically confronted Riya about her new job and let slip to her colleagues about the fire that he and Riya had in their past. Riya was understandably furious about the doubt this might have caused in the minds of the men at the station but then her own actions – multiple times – fueled this more. IMO in a fire situation, when lives are on the line, one person’s bulldog stubbornness that she can do the job does not trump actually being ready to do the job. More than once, Riya did not impress me no matter how passionate she was about firefighting.
The romance was both fun as well as angst filled. Dhillon and Riya knew each other well and had strong feelings – both positive and negative – about their relationship. Love and frustration were both woven through this for basically the whole length of the book with the relationship being in the middle of a tug-of-war between them. That was also before the third act conflict ramped up the emotion which unleashed some hissy fits from both Riya and Dhillon about it. Everyone around them was as frustrated as I was about it. This did give the two a lot of time to think about what they were mad and or frustrated about and I was convinced that they had come through the turmoil with a stronger, clearer view of the relationship but the journey there was rocky for them and for me to read.
Yet there was a lot that I liked here. Riya was stubborn but she put that to good use in her determination to get through the grueling Fire Academy in order to be able to do a job where firefighters go into burning buildings to save lives. I was sad that she felt she had to deal with sexual harrassment (from one person only) on her own rather than (in her opinion) appear weak by going to her superior officers about it. And dayum, she did deal with it so Go Riya. She wasn’t the only strong woman either. Both mothers of the MCs lost important people to a fire. Dhillon’s mother had to raise both her children alone (albeit with a strong support network). Dhillon’s sister took some serious lessons in kick-ass from Riya, too, and schools Riya in how much power Riya really has over Hetal’s actions.
Dhillon was an awesome vet. Seriously, the man seemed to be a pet whisperer. He also had a dead-pan sense of humor I liked. He might have pulled the “over protective big brother” act a time or three but ended up supporting his sister and his mother in their romantic relationships. I did wonder why Dhillon, who got chills at the thought of going into Riya’s firehouse, didn’t seem to have a problem continuing to live in the repaired townhouse where the major fire in his life had taken place.
The depiction of Riya and Dhillon’s extensive, supporting, and loving families was wonderful. The Rakshabandan ceremony was fun to learn about. This has been something I’ve enjoyed in all the books so far. Reading about the Gujarati food got my stomach rumbling with hunger, darn it! Points for including Gujarati terms in ways that make them self explanatory. The epilogue did address some of my concerns about Riya. who had realized that she needed to face her issues with the past fire, and the support of her firefighter brothers at the end was heartwarming. Balancing what I liked and what I had issues with, this was a C+/B- for me.