Published by Berkley Books on June 4, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Romance
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I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice for a new generation of love.
Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn't want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.
This modern Pride and Prejudice retelling did Jane Austen proud. It heartwarmingly portrayed family, love, and life in a Toronto Muslim community. The writing was engaging and the characters well drawn. Grab your cup of chai and settle in to be entertained.
The story starts out slowly and gently as it introduces the backdrop of the main players, their community of family, work, friends, and religious life. The author added in explanations so that I was never lost as a reader. She also hit on some serious issues that Muslim people face in their changing communities and even in the workplace. Arranged marriage was discussed from both Ayesha and Khalid’s perspectives, but also the older generations. Family and religious values were given due consideration. Khalid’s issue at work shocked me because of how over the top his boss acted. I don’t doubt it can and does happen, but I’m shocked it went as far as it did without anyone catching her out. But then again, it read like a Shakespearean comedy which were mentioned several times in the book by Ayesha’s grandfather and several of the characters in this one were extreme in their behavior. I didn’t mind the extra drama and found it amusing most of the time because it didn’t carry on too long.
The early conflict for Ayesha and Khalid was based on misunderstanding, but then, when it starts to iron out as they get to know one another, their friendship and budding romance gets seriously sabotaged by others who have their own agendas. The second half of the book gets into the deeper drama and the pace picked up and had me intent to know how it would all untangle. I confess that I had hoped to see a bit stronger retribution for one of the players who was thoroughly narcissistic (our Lydia figure) though the others definitely got a good dose of revenge served up and I was happy to see those comeuppances after all the mess they stirred up.
A great deal of this book had Ayesha and Khalid on the wrong foot with each other and the romance was slow burn and had its stops and starts as a result. Khalid stuck that foot in his mouth once or twice, but so did Ayesha in her own way. She calls him judgmental when he dismissed her after seeing her sitting in a bar with a cocktail in front of her pulling out a pack of cigarettes (cocktail was virgin and cigs weren’t hers). It gets her back up, but she had just gotten finished judging him for his conservative dress and appearance and later takes the word of a stranger she doesn’t even like with lies about Khalid and his family.
They sit in opposite opinions about arranged marriage and she constantly calls him a mama’s boy for respecting and obeying his mother’s wishes not knowing that he does it due to a family tragedy that still wounds him. Khalid apologizes profusely when he learns his error and he struggles to change where he feels he was in the wrong after listening to Ayesha, Clara, and others. He was such a sweetie and, for all his awkward blundering, he was a very romantic figure. I loved that pivotal scene in Ayesha’s home with her grandmother teaching them both how to make a traditional dish, paratha, and dispensing sage advice over chai and the food. And, his relationship with his older sister and how he tried to take care of her as best he could left me swooning.
But, for all the enjoyment I took from this story, I had one niggle. I never saw Ayesha more than mildly remorseful when her mistakes came out and Khalil seemed to do all the changing. I don’t mean to say that she’s bad or I didn’t like her- in fact I did and I could relate on some levels as she searched to figure out what she wanted and understand more about love. But I felt that she owed Khalid words of apology in a candid conversation since she had no trouble delivering words of condemnation on more than one occasion and half the time she was wrong particularly in the painful way her lie about who she was hurt Khalid deeply.
There were some good twists and big scenes in the last half that had been building for a while. I had to chuckle over some of it and yes, I was cheering hard to see Khalid shine as the hero in the end. The ending had me smiling and sorry not to be able to stick around to see what came next to get the gossiping and matchmaking aunties chattering over the chai tea and desserts.
All in all, is was an engaging story and a fabulous tribute to Austen, Shakespeare, and the Muslim community. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, if you enjoy stories about family, friends, and a colorful romance pair, give this one a go.
My thanks to Berkley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.