Secrets & Saris
by Shoma Narayanan, contemporary (2013)
Harlequin Mills & Boon, AUS$14.99, ISBN 978-1-743-06969-1


Secrets & Saris is released together with The First Crush Is The Deepest by Nina Harrington in a single volume edition in the Southeast Asia and Australasia.

Ah, India. I'm Malaysian. I grew up in a village where roughly half the folks were Indian, and some of my best friends throughout my childhood and teenage years were Indian. Our families knew each other, so, in many ways, I am familiar with their culture. Of course, the Indian culture in Malaysia is not completely similar to that in India, but there is enough here in this story that I recognize, the way you would read a story set in a local hometown and go, "Hey, I know about that! Cool!"

Perhaps that is the reason why this book and I have a rocky relationship. Take away the "exotic" elements - at least, they would be exotic, maybe colorful and fascinating, to someone who isn't so familiar with the many flavors of Indian culture - and I get a story that is actually quite mundane and uninspiring.

Shefali Khanna is still burning from the public embarrassment of being left standing at the altar by her bridegroom-that-isn't-to-be. Things get worse when people start to whisper and point at her behind her back, because, you know, clearly there is something wrong with her when she can't keep her man. When a teaching job is available in Jabalpur, she doesn't hesitate to seize it and say goodbye to Delhi. Naturally, there is another whirl at romance waiting even in Jabalpur, of all places, in the form of Neil Mitra, a local TV personality who may be just the thing Shefali needs to celebrate her newfound independence from her parents.

The author has a way with light humor and comedy, but here, the balance is bit off. Shefali is a bit too bratty and immature here, and I have a hard time believing that this lady is an adult. As a punchline, she occasionally works, but as a romance heroine, she rates high on the cringe-o-meter too often for my liking. Neil is the foil to her "little girl playing at being a chick-lit diva" antics: he often seems far more patient with her than most people. But that's why he's the hero, I guess.

Characterization is super lightweight here. The heroine has some issues, while Neil has some baggage from a previous relationship, but the angst is barely there. The author has a tendency to create conflict and then resolve it within a few pages, so any drama concerning personal issues never has a chance to develop in a meaningful way. The fact that the conflicts show up one after another also gives the story a contrived feel, as if the author is just passing some time making her characters go through a laundry list of things to thump their chests superficially about before she can end the story.

As a result of all this, I end up with a story that, while pleasant to read, leaves so little impact on me that I actually have to read this book again before I can write this review. And I read the book the first time just a day before.

Rating: 63


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