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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★