Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev

Title: Recipe for Persuasion
Author: Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes, #2
Pages: 464
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: May 26th 2020

TW: suicide, death of parents, PTSD, panic attacks, alcoholism, abuse, marital rape resulting in pregnancy (a character learns this is how they were conceived)

      “From the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors comes another , clever, deeply layered, and heartwarming romantic comedy that follows in the Jane Austen tradition—this time, with a twist on Persuasion.
      Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen?
      Rico Silva, that’s what.
      Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster.
      FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her.
      But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico. Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…?
      In Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev once again takes readers on an unforgettable adventure in this fresh, fun, and enchanting romantic comedy.”

Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev’s second novel in The Rajes series, inspired by Austen’s Persuasion, finds a balance between heavy topics and a touching second-chance romance. Ashna Rajes’s entire life revolves around her late father’s restaurant, Curried Dreams. With its future in the balance, Ashna agrees to take part in a new show, “Cooking with the Stars”, which pairs chefs with celebrities. What she doesn’t anticipate is being paired with Rico Silva, international soccer star and the first boy Ashna ever loved. Their meeting sets off a series of events that forces Ashna to confront her relationship with each of her parents, the choices she’s made, and the things she’s given up in order to satisfy the ghosts of her past.

Ashna carries a lot of guilt stemming from her parents’ unhappy marriage and her father’s suicide. She’s built walls around herself to protect herself from the hurt, but this also keeps her from truly experiencing happiness. Ashna has spent years bottling her emotions and though she freely shows the people she loves kindheartedness, she keeps the darker parts of herself hidden. She has sacrificed her present and her future in order to make amends, but can never really do so when the one she is trying to make it up to has already passed. The one and only time she truly let herself be selfish was with Rico. They learned to be vulnerable with one another and found solace in each other, but after Ashna’s father discovered their relationship, everything fell apart.

All of Rico’s soccer dreams have come true, but an injury has forced him into an early retirement. A friend’s impending nuptials has him reflecting on how he’s been approaching romantic relationships. He’s been unable to fully commit and this realization brings him back to Ashna. He seeks closure, but finds this new Ashna to be far different than the one he left behind. The more time he spends with her, the more the memories and feelings from the past begin to resurface. And suddenly, he finds himself desperate for Ashna to let him in again. Ashna and Rico’s reunion is tension-filled. They are both angry at how things ended and every interaction is weighed down with unsaid things. Dev writes angst so well, the amount of tortured longing is just enough to make the reader beg to see these two make their way back to each other, but not too much where it begins to get too frustrating.

Recipe for Persuasion deals with a lot of trauma (see trigger warnings). These characters have not had easy lives and so much of who they’ve become is the result of tragedy and abuse. Navigating all kinds of different relationships can be extremely difficult when so many past experiences have changed the way they emotionally engage with others. One pleasant surprise though is that the novel’s true love story is actually centered around Ashna and her mother, Shobi. These two have long been alienated from one another. Shobi’s choice to leave her daughter and pursue her passion might have been the only way for her to survive her marriage, but it left Ashna with a controlling parent who never could meet her needs. There is a lot of resentment, regret, and secrets between Ashna and her mother. They have to learn to overcome these things and allow the other to truly see them before their relationship can be mended. I feel like I should address that this isn’t a light-hearted romance by any stretch of the imagination. The book deals with a lot of trauma and while I do think it handles these well, I wish I had known how heavy it was going to be going in.

Sonali Dev’s delivers one of the most emotionally complex books I’ve ever read with Recipe for Persuasion, the second novel in The Rajes series. If you enjoy second-chance romance and complicated mother-daughter relationships, Recipe for Persuasion is a must.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Mini-Reviews: Where The Rhythm Takes You + Now That I’ve Found You

How far behind am I posting reviews? Both of these are reviews of books I read way back in February! One of these was my first five-star read of the year and while I’ve had a few since then, this one renewed my need for more Jane Austen retellings by BIPOC (if you have any recs, I will gladly accept them in the comments).

Title: Where the Rhythm Takes You Author: Sarah Dass Series: N/A Pages: 352 Publisher: Balzer + Bray Release Date: May 11th 2021

TW: death of a parent, cancer diagnosis, grief

"Seventeen-year-old Reyna has spent most of her life at her family’s gorgeous seaside resort in Tobago, the Plumeria. But what once seemed like paradise is starting to feel more like purgatory. It’s been two years since Reyna’s mother passed away, two years since Aiden – her childhood best friend, first kiss, first love, first everything – left the island to pursue his music dreams. Reyna’s friends are all planning their futures and heading abroad. Even Daddy seems to want to move on, leaving her to try to keep the Plumeria running. And that's when Aiden comes roaring back into her life – as a VIP guest at the resort. Aiden is now one-third of DJ Bacchanal – the latest, hottest music group on the scene. While Reyna has stayed exactly where he left her, Aiden has returned to Tobago with his Grammy-nominated band and two gorgeous LA socialites. And he may (or may not be) dating one of them… Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, Where the Rhythm Takes You is a romantic, mesmerizing novel of first love and second chances."

Sarah Dass debuts with an engaging YA romance about second-chances and learning to let yourself be happy. Where the Rhythm Takes You is a Persuasion-inspired novel that takes place in Tobago. On the cusp of adulthood, Reyna is grappling with her past and the uncertainty of her future. Her best friend is bound for London while Reyna stays behind, trying to keep her mother’s hotel afloat. Her father seems content to hand over the reins of the hotel to someone else, but Reyna can’t quite let go of the last thing she has of her mother’s. When Reyna’s first love returns unexpectedly, his presence throws her carefully curated world into disarray. She is forced to come to terms with her own life decisions and how she has let grief steer her away from her dreams. Easily in my top five Jane Austen retellings, Where the Rhythm Takes You is perfect for fans of second-chance romance. Reyna tries to keep old feelings at bay, but the more time she spends around Aiden, her old flame, the harder it becomes to deny those feelings. But she is also angry and hurt and it isn’t always easy to untangle all these emotions. Mutual pining and tension make this a compulsory read. I also really loved exploring Reyna’s relationship with her mother who passed away two years prior. A lot of the responsibility Reyna places on her own shoulders is tied to this relationship in particular. Reyna hasn’t allowed herself to dream beyond the hotel for so long and she isn’t sure she can when its fate feels so tightly wound to her mother’s memory, even if some of those memories are painful. Love, grief, and second chances each have their turn in this one and will keep romance fans engaged throughout.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Title: Now That I've Found You Author: Kristina Forest Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Roaring Brook Press Release Date: August 25th 2020

"Now That I've Found You is a YA novel about searching for answers, love, and your eccentric grandma in all the wrong places. Following in the footsteps of her überfamous grandma, eighteen-year-old Evie Jones is poised to be Hollywood’s next big star. That is until a close friend’s betrayal leads to her being blacklisted . . . Fortunately, Evie knows just the thing to save her floundering career: a public appearance with America’s most beloved actress—her grandma Gigi, aka the Evelyn Conaway. The only problem? Gigi is a recluse who’s been out of the limelight for almost twenty years. Days before Evie plans to present her grandma with an honorary award in front of Hollywood’s elite, Gigi does the unthinkable: she disappears. With time running out and her comeback on the line, Evie reluctantly enlists the help of the last person to see Gigi before she vanished: Milo Williams, a cute musician Evie isn’t sure she can trust. As Evie and Milo conduct a wild manhunt across New York City, romance and adventure abound while Evie makes some surprising discoveries about her grandma—and herself."

Kristina Forest delivers a winning sophomore novel with Now That I’ve Found You, a YA contemporary with a focus on a grandmother-granddaughter relationship. Evie Conoway has big dreams for herself. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, Gigi, a legendary Hollywood starlet. After a video leaks of Evie mocking a famous director, her career is completely derailed. Unsure of her next step, Evie reaches out to one of her only constants, her grandmother, who she is hoping can help revitalize her career. But before Evie can find the courage to ask for her assistance, Gigi disappears. Now, with the help of Milo, a young musician who has befriended her grandmother, Evie embarks on a search to find her and save the tattered remains of her career. Now That I’ve Found You is a journey of self-discovery. Evie is forced to examine her own motivations and to reevaluate who she has become in recent years. The more she learns about her grandmother, the more she begins to realize that the loneliness she’s been feeling is reflected in her grandmother as well. This novel also deals with a friendship breakup and how a betrayal of a friend makes it harder to open up and trust again. Evie’s relationship with Milo is unexpected and sweet, even with its ups and downs. I really enjoyed getting to know Milo’s band and how it gave Evie a taste of what having a supportive friend group is like, something she has never had. Now That I’ve Found You really stands out amongst YA contemporaries as a novel that focuses largely on the main character’s relationship with her grandmother. Kristina Forest’s second novel is a must read for those looking for a coming of age YA that centers familial relationships.

★ ★ ★ ★

Mini-Reviews: Race to the Sun + Black Sun

Hello, friends! I have another set of backlog reviews for you. I really need to sit down and edit all these reviews I have sitting in my drafts. The only good thing about this is I haven’t been writing a ton of new reviews lately, so it’s nice to know I won’t run out of reviews to post anytime soon. Today, I am bringing you reviews for two books both by Rebecca Roanhorse. I picked up her middle grade, Race to the Sun, when I couldn’t get a hold of the audiobook for Black Sun, but I finally managed to pick up the latter as well. Both of these were stellar reads and I just love when writers can write for multiple audiences so well.

Title: Race to the Sun Author: Rebecca Roanhorse Series: N/A Pages: 306 Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents Release Date: January 14th 2020

TW: racism, bullying, homophobia

"Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he's Mr. Charles, her dad's new boss at the oil and gas company, and he's alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he's a threat, but her father won't believe her. When Dad disappears the next day, leaving behind a message that says "Run!", the siblings and Nizhoni's best friend, Davery, are thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, all disguised as quirky characters. Their aid will come at a price: the kids must pass a series of trials in which it seems like nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the House of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. But it will take more than weapons for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be . . ."

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun is a daring thrill ride whose heart lies in a family-centered story. Nizhony Begay is your normal seventh grader with one exception. She isn’t the best at sports or school, but longs for some sort of recognition. She can also see monsters, but it’s not a secret she likes to share. When her father is taken by a wily monster, Nizhony, along with her brother Mac and best friend, Davery, must go on an epic quest to not only save him but also the world. Nizhony has a great youthful and humorous voice. She longs to be special, but is unsure if she has what it takes to be an actual hero and monster slayer. With help from various beings, Nizhony and company are faced with almost impossible odds. But Nizhony is far braver and selfless than she gives herself credit for. One storyline that particularly had me enthralled was Nizhony having to deal with her mother’s abandonment. It’s heartbreaking, but also full of hope. Nizhony must deal with her anger and sadness while also trying to understand that sometimes people are faced with impossible decisions, but this doesn’t negate their love for you. Race to the Sun, with its page-turning action and Navajo-inspired storyline, is sure to delight readers of all ages.

★ ★ ★ ★

Title: Black Sun Author: Rebecca Roanhorse Series: Between Earth and Sky, #1 Pages: 454 Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers Release Date: October 13th 2020

TW: forced prostitution, suicide, homophobia, racism

"The first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic. A god will return When the earth and sky converge Under the black sun In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain."

Rebecca Roanhorse builds a world like no other with her latest high fantasy series. Inspired by pre-Columbian times, Black Sun, her first book in the Between Earth and Sky series, follows the ascent and descent of several characters as they approach the day known as Convergence. In Tova, the Watchers, priests of different orders, are revered and paid homage. But there is plenty of distrust of their governance. The Carrion Crow clan in particular has clashed with the Watchers on numerous occasions. Carrion once held fast to the old religion but its followers were deemed blasphemous and hunted down and slaughtered on the Night of Knives. But there remains a small, devout group, still loyal to the Crow God, who hopes to see their God return and exact revenge. Serapio has known his fate since he was a boy, the first moment his mother gave him his first hatah, a tattoo symbolizing who his body belongs to. Now he must fulfill his destiny and return to Tova to confront the priests who slaughtered his people. Roanhorse’s fantasy novels are so enriching, always painting a vivid and lush story. The characters always feel like products of their worlds, each with their own desires and motivations. I love that we are introduced to several different characters and loved seeing how they interact and how each of their paths are destined to collide. Religion plays a vital role in this world, but it is often mixed with politics. Truth is often snuffed by those in power in an effort to hold on to said power. There is also really interesting mythological elements as one character is introduces as Teek, beings with strong ties to the sea. They are powerful, but are often discriminated against because of the mythos that surround them. With Black Sun Rebecca Roanhorse has risen as a powerhouse fantasy writer and if you are not reading her work, you are missing out on some of the most intricate and groundbreaking fantasy publishing has to offer.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Snapshot Review: Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan

Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June C.L. Tan
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 12th 2021

TW: self-harm, child abuse

      “In an empire on the brink of war…
      Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
      Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
      When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
      But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.
      Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.,/b>”

  • Ahn – Ahn has spent her life trying not to want more than she has. Abandoned as a child, Ahn has no memory of her parents, of what her life was like before Grandma Jia found her and took her in. Everyday has been a struggle to survive. Ahn is also harboring a secret that could get her and the people she loves killed. During the course of Jade Fire Gold, Ahn has to contend with all the voices inside her. Her magic feels reckless and uncontrollable, but it also makes her feel powerful. And power is so very enticing for someone who has lived such a powerless life.
  • Altan – Altan’s journey has been defined by revenge for so long, it’s difficult for him to see any other path for himself. He lost everything he loved years ago and for him, taking his throne back and killing those responsible for his family’s death is the only option for him. Altan is willing to go to extreme means to take down the usurpers of his throne, but his anger often blinds him to what is right in front of him.
  • Magical system and politics – I really loved the elemental magic in the novel especially how it intertwined with the politics of this world. Though magic has been banned in the Empire, there are a certain sect of priests who are still allowed to practice. They play a vital role in who holds power in the Empire. It was also interesting delving into the politics of history, how truth gets buried when those in power want to erase the past.
  • Time jumps – One of my major issues with the novel is the time jumps. I feel like as a reader we miss out on so much because of this. Ahn in particular goes through a lot of changes as she goes from living in poverty to living in a palace. But those changes feel very abrupt with a time jump and I really wanted to see things slow down, especially when Ahn begins to develop new relationships that I, as a reader, am supposed to feel invested in as various other storylines come to fruition.
  • Minor Character developmentJade Fire Gold has so many interesting minor characters, but we never really get to know any of them. I was really disappointed that we didn’t spend more time with Tai Shun, the current prince and Altan’s cousin. 
  • Romance – I wish I could say I enjoyed the romance in this novel, but most of the time I felt that it got in the way of both Ahn and Altan’s individual development. In the end, I think the book would have been better without it.

June CL Tan’s Jade Fire Gold has incredibly epic action scenes, but I couldn’t help but want more in terms of character and relationship development.

★ ★ ★