Accidentally Engaged: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Accidentally Engaged by Farah HeronReena Manji’s finance career bores her, her parents are constantly setting her up with eligible Muslim bachelors, her relationship with her sister still hasn’t recovered after her sister blew up Reena’s food blog (in a very bad way). But there is one thing Reena has always had under control: baking bread.

With a complement of sourdough starters, recipes galore, and a fair bit of know-how in the kitchen from her food blogger days, Reena is a whiz at baking bread which, luckily, is the one thing that still lets Reena escape the rest of her problems.

Reena is fully prepared to add new neighbor Nadim Remtulla to that list of problems when she finds out that he’s in Toronto as part of a business deal between their fathers. Except . . . he’s a lot more fun–and hot–than Reena expects a cog in her father’s real estate business to be. Best of all, Nadim seems to love eating her bread as much as Reena loves baking it. Reena has no intention of marrying anyone her parents pick for her, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends with bread benefits, right?

When Reena’s career hits yet another roadblock, it seems like the perfect time to enter a TV cooking competition where Reena can prove her chops and win a free ride to the artisan bread course of her dreams. There’s only one catch: the show is for couples who cook together. When a drunken quest for homemade snacks leads to a surprisingly cute audition tape, faking an engagement with Nadim seems harmless. It’s not like her parents or her sister will ever watch the show.

But faking feelings for Nadim in front of the camera, leads to a lot of feelings behind the scenes. As they grow closer, Reena knows her fake fiancé is keeping secrets of his own. She isn’t worried because a fake engagement can’t lead to anything real. Except secrets getting out is almost as inevitable as sourdough starter growing, and feelings–even half-baked ones–make for a recipe that’s hard to ignore in Accidentally Engaged (2021) by Farah Heron.

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This standalone romance is set in Toronto, Canada. Reena and Nadim are both Muslim. Reena and her family are Indian. Nadim grew up in Dar es Salaam and attended an English boarding school before landing in Toronto which adds layers to his character and his feelings as a twice immigrant. Readers who enjoy Reena’s support system of friends should also check out her previous novel The Chai Factor, which focuses on Reena’s best friend Amira. Accidentally Engaged is a lot of fun on audio as narrated by Soneela Nankani who nails Nadim’s British accent and immediately draws listeners into Reena’s world.

After years trying to maintain distance between herself and her family, Reena is forced to confront how many of her life choices were inspired by wanting to go against her parents and how many might have let her get off track. With Nadim’s unflagging support throughout the competition Reena is able to fully embrace her passion (and talent!) as a chef while finding her way back to her favorite activity. Their new friendship and (spoiler) romantic relationship also help Reena re-evaluate other areas in her life as she reconnects with her family and her heritage. Along the way, Reena also finding healthier coping mechanisms for life’s inevitable curveballs which would previously have her running to the nearest bar.

Heron perfectly balances weightier topics like Nadim’s fraught relationship with his father and the complicated history Reena has with her sister with humor. Accidentally Engaged is upbeat and fast-paced. When I read it last year this book was exactly what I needed to get through a very hard time as I followed Reena dealing with her own challenges (and competitions). Snappy dialog and obvious chemistry between Reena and Nadim make Accidentally Engaged delectable. Be sure to read Accidentally Engaged with a snack (or two) nearby because Heron’s descriptions of Reena’s culinary creations are guaranteed to make your mouth water.

Possible Pairings: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake, The Dating Plan by Sara Desai, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho, Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel, The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

An Emotion of Great Delight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh MafiShadi means full of joy in Persian but Shadi’s life is filled with personal sorrows. Her brother Mehdi is dead–killed in a car accident. Her father is probably dying in the hospital after his second heart attack; Shadi privately thinks he is getting exactly what he deserves while her mother and older sister Shayda do everything they can to take care of him.

Shadi used to find refuge with her best friend, Zahra. But Zahra has dropped her. The way everyone seems to now.

Shadi knows there are bigger problems in the world. It’s 2003. Neighbors look at her askance because of her hijab. The United States has officially declared war on Iraq. The Muslim community is reeling from news of undercover FBI agents infiltrating local mosques.

But Shadi’s brother is still dead. Her best friend still hates her. She still misses the life she had before.

When it seems like nothing can ever get better, Shadi wonders if she’s found the way her story ends. Until Zahra’s older brother, Ali, makes an overture to renew their friendship. And maybe start a tentative romance.

Trapped in a morass of grief and isolation, Shadi will have to reclaim her right to happiness and peace if she wants to move forward in An Emotion of Great Delight (2021) by Tahereh Mafi.

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Mafi’s latest novel reads like a time capsule cracked open, immediately drawing readers into Shadi’s life. This quiet story offers an introspective look at Shadi’s experiences as an Iranian American teen in 2003 where her personal dramas play out against the larger backdrop of world events impacting the Muslim community.

Flashbacks to life before Mehdi’s death cast Shadi’s present isolation in stark relief as she hits bottom and slowly begins to realize she has to let go of her anger and grief before it eats her alive.

An Emotion of Great Delight is a sparse story filled with lyrical prose, pathos, and ultimately optimism; a visceral read that cements Mafi’s place in the YA canon.

Possible Pairings: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Tamar Budhos, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Yolk by Mary HK Choi, All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, My Heart Underwater by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu, The Love and Lies of Rukshana Ali by Sabina Khan, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

It All Comes Back to You: A Review

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz RishiKiran Noorani has life after high school all mapped out. She’ll stay close to home in Philadelphia for college so she can be near her dad. Being a premed freshman at UPenn will be challenging, of course, but Kiran she and her sister Amira will be able to make up for lost time when they move into an apartment together near campus. It won’t be perfect because Kiran’s mother will still be dead. But it will be close.

Except Amira has been dating someone for months without telling Kiran. Someone she might want to move all the way to California with even though she barely knows him. Kiran wants the best for her sister and she’s already certain this mystery man is not it.

Deen Malik couldn’t be happier when he hears that his older brother, Faisal, has a great girlfriend. It’s no less than Faisal deserves–especially after everything he’s given up for Deen.

Deen is less enthusiastic when he realizes that Amira’s sister is Deen’s secret ex. No one knew when Deen and Kiran dated three years ago. Which is fine. It’s long over between them. But Deen is determined to make sure Faisal’s own romance doesn’t meet the same fate.

While Kiran does everything she can to sabotage this relationship, Deen is just as determined to keep the romance on course. With the two of them so busy obsessing over their siblings’ relationship, will they miss their own chance at closure and maybe something more in It All Comes Back to You (2021) by Farah Naz Rishi.

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It All Comes Back to You alternates between Kiran and Deen’s first person narrations in the weeks leading up to Amira and Faisal’s wedding. Chats from the MMORPG that Kiran and Deen both play and text messages help flesh out the backstory that broke up their secret relationship three years ago. Kiran and Deen (and their relatives) are Pakistani American and Muslim.

Rishi packs a lot into this story that centers around the whirlwind wedding preparations. Kiran is still grieving her mother’s death the year before while trying to reconcile her premed plans with her love for dance Deen, meanwhile, is struggling to care about his freshman coursework and determined to self-destruct before anyone can expect better of him.

Although the two couldn’t be farther apart in real life, anonymous chats in their MMORPG game Cambria are a touchstone for both protagonists as they pursue their singular goals. Kiran and Deen both mean well and want the best for their siblings. They also both make some really terrible decisions to accomplish what they think is best. Kiran, in particular, is hard to cheer on while she works so hard to sabotage the wedding, expose secrets that aren’t hers to tell, and otherwise make sure Amira stays on the path that Kiran wants her to follow.

It All Comes Back to You is a fast-paced contemporary romance that is as focused on family as it is on second chances. Recommended for readers looking for a new hate-to-love romance and two main characters who have a lot of room to grow throughout the story.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

A Place For Us: A Review

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen MirzaSiblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar could not be more different. It’s always been like this. Their father saw it with the way Amar always saw life as a game where the world was against him. Their mother saw it in Amar’s sensitivity and the questions he asked about Islam as a child.

Now, the family is gathered for Hadia’s wedding–a love match in the face of years of traditionally arranged marriage. Steadfast and dependable Huda is there, always the reliable middle sister. But if Amar will show up, and what state he will be in if he does, remains to be seen.

As the wedding progresses the entire family reflects on the moments that brought them to this moment, together, as well as the moments that quietly and irreparably tore them apart in A Place For Us (2018) by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

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This ambitious debut novel has shifting perspectives following Hadia, Amar, and Huda as well as their parents in close third person. The wedding serves as a starting point with the story moving both backward in flashbacks and forward after the wedding in a complex narrative.

A Place For Us skillfully balances its large, multi-generational cast and a plot spanning decades to deliver an engrossing family epic exploring themes of memory, choice, faith, and belonging.To talk about any one aspect of the story would diminish the reading experience but even a year after reading it, I feel like there’s still so much to find in this story and so much to learn from these characters.

A Place For Us is all about meeting people where they are, and where they need to be met. And sometimes not making it. Recommended for fans of family sagas and stories where there is more than meets the eye.

Possible Pairings: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Red at the Bone by Jhumpa Lahiri, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum, Digging to America by Anne Tyler, Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin