Saturday, January 22, 2022

Review - - Ice Planet Barbarians

Ice Planet Barbarians
by Ruby Dixon
Ice Planet Barbarians - Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: November 30, 2021
Reviewed by Nancy


You’d think being abducted by aliens would be the worst thing that could happen to me. And you’d be wrong. Because now the aliens are having ship trouble, and they’ve left their cargo of human women—including me—on an ice planet.

We’re not equipped for life in this desolate winter wasteland. Since I’m the unofficial leader, I head out into the snow to look for help.

I find help all right. A big blue horned alien introduces himself in a rather . . . startling way. Vektal says that I'm his mate, his chosen female—and that the reason his chest is purring is because of my presence. He’ll help me and my people survive, but this poses a new problem.

If Vektal helps us survive, I’m not sure he’s going to want to let me go.


Nancy’s thoughts: 

Some elements in this book worked very well for me. Others, not so much, but that’s where subjective tastes come in. What didn’t work for me might be the very thing you like best. With all that said, let’s start by looking at the things I liked. 

The lead characters, Georgie and Vektal, are strong, smart, empathetic, and responsible. I liked them both a lot. Georgie becoming the de facto leader of the women from Earth was believable, and she’s an easy character to root for. When the alien kidnappers dump their cargo on the ice planet, Georgie ventures out to see whether there’s any help available. 

She finds rather more than she bargained for when she encounters Vektal. He’s the chief of a tribe that’s dying out because of its low female birth rate. We learn a bit about their history in a way that fits the story well, adds to it, and doesn’t slow things down. His intense devotion to Georgie fits with the way his tribe is established. I tend to prefer that fated mates not be so all-in about it immediately, but that’s a matter of personal taste. 

The story moves at a good pace with solid action scenes and alternating points of view. I’m not a huge fan of first person present tense, but it worked fine for me here. The stories after the end of the novel are a nice bonus. 

The supporting characters are not developed extensively, but giving them a lot of page space would take away from the main story. I was content to have Liz and Kira spotlighted among the Earth women and to have a general sense of each of the others. The same goes for Vektal’s tribe, with the healer, Maylak having the most attention.

The language differences and resulting communication problems are handled logically. The scene where the women scavenge clothing to protect Georgie in the icy wastes is well done though understandably unpleasant in places due to the state of the clothing and the reason it’s available. The tribal men’s longing for mates and their resulting eagerness to meet Georgie’s comrades makes perfect sense in context. The cultural differences about nudity and sex are well drawn and believable.

But those bring me to the biggest things that didn’t work for me, again matters of personal taste. 

This is a little bit of a spoiler, so I’ll try not to be too specific. 


I don’t like it when the hero or heroine has sex with a stranger. I doubly don’t like it when either one initiates sex with said stranger who is unconscious or asleep, and I triply don’t like it when the unconscious or sleeping one wakes up and decides this is all good. I also dislike frequent use by heroes and heroines of the P and C words for female anatomy. 

I found those aspects of the story really off-putting. I also realize other readers may be fine with them.


The ice planet is well drawn, and the references to Hoth from Star Wars are cute. While I generally like the worldbuilding, I have some issues. There are trees but not much else in the way of plants. This is not a climate hospitable to agriculture. So are all the animals carnivores? If people are drinking tea, what’s it made from? 

I found it odd that people deciding whether to leave their homes and lives behind forever don’t have more regret and grief over that, especially ones who refer to friends and family. It wouldn’t take more than a few sentences to cover that. Despite a different hard choice necessary for survival, I think actual people would be a little more freaked out about that result. Again, a few sentences would’ve dealt with that. 

Reviewers should judge a book on what it intends to be, not compare it to some other kind of book the reviewer has read. This book isn’t marketed as science fiction, where readers pore over worldbuilding details. It’s marketed as science fiction romance, where readers care much more about the character relationships than the world or, in many cases, plot details. 

Rating the book, I considered my qualms about character and choices, downplaying the four really-off-putting-to-me factors, and balanced those against the things I liked. If the four I mentioned early on are deal breakers for you, this book won’t appeal to you. If they’re not, I think you could enjoy it immensely despite my character issues. 

Overall, I recommend the book to readers who don’t consider those four factors deal breakers.



Friday, January 21, 2022

Review - - The Case of the Missing Botticelli

The Case of the Missing Botticelli
by Marilyn Baron
A Massimo Domingo Mystery - Book 1
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
Release Date: January 24, 2022
Reviewed by PJ

In this cozy mystery, American art history major Hadley Evans joins an art detective agency in Florence, Italy, working for Massimo Domingo, once a major player, now the Inspector Clouseau of the art world.

Determined to save the flailing agency and prove her worth, Hadley and her sexy carabiniere boyfriend, Luca Ferrari, take on a mysterious client behind her boss's back. While hot on the trail of a missing masterpiece, they discover a hidden cache of stolen Nazi art in a Venetian villa and encounter a dangerous enemy with a link to an evil past.

PJ's Thoughts:

It's been almost five years since my last visit to Italy, the country of my soul. Once I discovered that Marilyn Baron had set her new book there, it went straight to my must-read list. Situated primarily in Florence and Venice, with side trips to Lake Como and Milan, reading this story was like visiting my favorite places from my sofa. It's clear that Baron is both knowledgeable about and holds deep affection for Italy. The scenic, architectural, and cultural richness of the country shines through on every page. 

Something else that shines through is this author's appreciation for art, around which the mysteries in the book are centered, in particular, art with ties to WWII, Germany, and the Holocaust. I was fascinated by the blending of fiction with the obviously well-researched facts surrounding treasured paintings by European masters that were confiscated (stolen) from Jewish families in the 1930s and 1940s, some of which have been recovered and others that are missing still, as well as the ongoing struggle of surviving family members to reclaim their rightful property. I want to know more. 

There is a romantic thread that weaves through the story as well, featuring Hadley, the (American) main protagonist and Luca, an Italian carabiniere (police officer). It's entertaining and does continue to evolve throughout the story with Luca assisting Hadley in her art detective role. This is the first book of a new series so, if Hadley continues to have a leading role in future books, I'm hopeful we'll see her romantic relationship progress as well. There are already plenty of opportunities for both conflict and humor in cultural expectations as well as those of Hadley's and Luca's American and Italian families. Italian mamas and Southern Belles (Hadley's mother) do tend to have opinions and aren't hesitant to voice them. 

If you enjoy cozy mysteries, "traveling" from the comfort of home, engaging characters and fascinating historical facts, all centered within the high-stakes world of stolen art, give this book a try. I enjoyed it and will be looking forward to the next Massimo Domingo mystery. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Tour Review, Excerpt & Giveaway - - Lightning in a Mirror

Lightning in a Mirror
by Jayne Ann Krentz
Fogg Lake Trilogy - Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: January 18, 2022
Reviewed by PJ

Olivia LeClair's experiment with speed dating is not going well. First there was the nasty encounter with the date from hell who tried to murder her and now the mysterious Harlan Rancourt—long believed dead—sits down at her table and tells her she's the only one who can help him locate the legendary Vortex lab.

This is not what Olivia had in mind when she signed up for the Four Event Success Guaranteed package offered by the dating agency.  She doesn't have much choice, though, because her psychic investigation firm works for the mysterious Foundation and Victor Arganbright, the director, is adamant that she assist Harlan. There's just one problem—no one knows Harlan's real agenda. His father once ran the Foundation like a mob organization, and Harlan was destined to be his heir.  There's a real possibility Harlan has returned to claim his inheritance. 
For now, however, it's a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend because others are after the secrets of the long-lost lab. Unfortunately for Olivia, the one thing friend and foe have in common is that everyone is convinced she is the key. Her unique psychic talent is required to defuse the ticking time bomb that is Vortex.
Neither trusts the other but Olivia and Harlan soon realize they must work together to survive and unlock the Bluestone Project's most dangerous secrets before more innocent people die.

PJ's Thoughts:

Immersive. Compelling. Addictive. Those are the first three words that came to mind as I sat down to record my thoughts about Lightning in a Mirror, the third and final book in Jayne Ann Krentz's Fogg Lake Trilogy. 

As with the first two books in the trilogy, Lightning in a Mirror engaged my interest right from the start and then quickly engaged my emotions as well. Krentz's characters are complex, intriguing, and fully developed. They could be anyone you meet on the street except, of course, for their finely-tuned psychic talents. It's those talents that make them unique, highly sought after, and in some cases, very, very dangerous. 

What makes this story so addictive is the same thing that also makes it so compelling: the author's ability to create a world where paranormal talent is plausible. When I read a vampire story, I'm fully aware that what I'm reading is fiction. But when I spend time with Krentz's characters, the prevailing thought in my mind is that their abilities, and the dangerous situations they could lead to, are within the realm of possibility. At least, possibilities that I'm willing to be open to. The world within our present world that she has created is so vividly and realistically portrayed that I become completely immersed in it, watching it unfold across my mind as if I was sitting in a darkened theater, seeing it play out on a huge screen. I believe in that world. 

Once I began reading, there was no way I was going to be able to put this book down until I reached the end. I had to know what was going to happen on the next page...and the next...and the next. I cared about Olivia, her search for her mother's killer, and her stubborn resistance to her psychic destiny. I cared about Harlan and, believe me, after reading the entire trilogy, that came as a big surprise. And that wasn't the only surprise Krentz had in store for readers. I love it when an author keeps me on my toes with a variety of twists, turns, and unexpected detours. From start to finish, I was excited to discover what would happen next. This thrilling conclusion to the Fogg Lake Trilogy was all I could have asked for. I can't wait to find out what Krentz has in store for readers next. 

Each of the books in this trilogy can stand on its own but there is an overarching story that runs through all three books. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend reading the three books in order: The Vanishing, All the Colors of Night, and Lightning in a Mirror



Lightning in a Mirror

“If I disappeared tomorrow would you walk into hell to find me?” Olivia asked.

She did not look up from her phone. She wasn’t supposed to be on it. The rules of the speed dating event were quite specific about that. All phones, watches and assorted tech were to be powered down for the evening. But she had concluded the event was a waste of time, so she had palmed her phone from her handbag. She was now holding it under the edge of the cocktail table, where the event coordinator could not see it.

The knee-length burnt orange wool coat she was examining was stunning, but, sadly, the color was over-the-top for Seattle. Most of the outerwear on the city’s streets came in shades of gray, black, navy and forest green. If she were to stroll down Pine Street in a burnt orange coat, she might as well carry a sign that shouted tourist.

The man who had just sat down on the other side of the small, round table did not respond to the question. With a sigh, she looked up. It was obvious from his uncertain expression that he thought she was texting.

“I said, if I disappeared tomorrow would you walk into hell to find me?” she said.

“Excuse me?” He looked around and then leaned forward. He lowered his voice. “I think they said that we should turn off our phones.”

“Sorry.” She dropped the phone into her large handbag, wedging it between her turmeric-yellow wallet and the vintage camera. She took a closer look at her new date. The name tag stuck on his shirt identified him as Nathan.

“Hi, Nathan. I’m Olivia,” she said, going for bright and sparkly. “I’ll repeat my question. If I disappeared tomorrow would you walk into hell to find me?”

“Uh.” Nathan got a deer-in-the-headlights look.

She recognized the expression. Nathan was rapidly coming to the conclusion that she was weird. Within the next thirty seconds he would do what the previous dates had done—excuse himself and take off to find the restroom, where he would hide out until the bell rang.

It was not Nathan’s fault she had signed up for the Four Event Success Guaranteed package offered by the speed dating agency. So far most of the people she had met had been nice. A bit boring—but nice. The experiment had been a disaster for her, however.

She had purchased the package because it was 20 percent off. The first event had been a washout, but she had told herself to be optimistic. You couldn’t expect immediate success. But now she was midway through the second event and the prospects were looking even more dismal.

“I’m not sure exactly what you mean,” Nathan said.

He did a quick, furtive glance around the room. It didn’t take any psychic talent to know he was searching for the restrooms

She gave him another shiny smile. “The matchmaker said we are supposed to ask each other questions. That’s my question.”

“Oh.” Nathan cleared his throat. “Well, uh, I guess it would, you know, depend.”

At least Nathan was considering his answer, not running for the restroom. That was promising.

“What would it depend on?” she asked.

“How well I knew you. Whether or not you and I were, you know, close.”

“And if we were close?” she pressed. “Then would you walk into hell to find me?”

Panic sparked in Nathan’s eyes. He glanced at the table where the event coordinator sat. When he realized there was no salvation coming from that direction, he made a heroic effort to move forward.

“My turn,” he said, bubbling with artificial enthusiasm. “My question is, where do you like to go on vacation?”

“Hawaii. My turn. If I went missing would you walk into—”

“I guess I’d call your friends first,” Nathan said. He sat back in the booth, putting a little more distance between them. “See if they knew where you were. Then, uh, maybe call the cops. Hey, I like Hawaii, too. Do you snorkel?”

“No.” She leaned forward, closing the space he had just made. “How hard would you look for me?”

“Well, uh, I’m not an expert when it comes to search and rescue work. Don’t you need a dog for that?” Nathan shot to his feet. “Excuse me. Gotta hit the restroom. Be right back.”

And another one bites the dust. No, that wasn’t right, Olivia thought. I’m the one who just bit the dust. Again. She realized she didn’t care. The speed dating experiment was a failure. If she hadn’t bought the Four Event Success Guaranteed package she would leave right now. But she had made an investment, and the fine print was firm—no refunds.

From LIGHTNING IN A MIRROR published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Jayne Ann Krentz.

Have you read any Jayne Ann Krentz books?

Are you reading the Fogg Lake Trilogy?

Have you ever had any psychic experiences?

One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, January 23 will receive a hardback copy of Lightning in a Mirror.

*U.S. only

*Must be 18

*Void where prohibited 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Tour Review - - Wishing Under a Starlit Skye

Wishing Under a Starlit Skye
by Lisa Hobman
Publisher: Boldwood Books
Release Date: January 13, 2022
Reviewed by PJ

Glentorrin bakery owner, and lone parent, Caitlin Fraser, is single and finally ready to mingle.

With her daughter, Grace, about to become a teenager, and her friends all settling down, Caitlin decides she deserves a shot at happiness too.

Resisting the pull of dating apps, Caitlin embarks upon a series of disastrous singles events where she bumps into fellow villager, and astronomy buff, Archie Sutherland, who is nursing his own past secrets.

When Grace’s best friend’s father, handsome Lyle Budge, asks Caitlin to dinner, things progress quickly and she has a taste of what their future as a family could be, much to both their daughters delight! But when Archie makes a shocking discovery, and he turns to Caitlin for help, she soon discovers Lyle isn’t the sharing type, meaning prickly ultimatums loom for everyone.

Will wishing upon the stars over Glentorrin help Caitlin to figure out her way forward? Or is her hunt for romance like a once in a lifetime comet, easily missed in the blink of an eye?

PJ's Thoughts:

Lisa Hobman's village of Glentorrin on the Isle of Skye has become one of my favorite fictional places to visit. With each new book set there I feel like I'm catching up with old friends, meeting a few new ones, and welcomed back with warm hugs. It was fun catching up with couples from the first two books and meeting new villagers with future story potential. 

I've been looking forward to Caitlin's story and it did not disappoint. I loved the development of the characters in this book as well as the evolution of Caitlin's relationships. It's true that sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before finding your prince. Also true that sometimes that prince isn't the one you were expecting.

Caitlin's forays into dating at 40 were frequently humorous, sometimes awkward, and very relatable. I enjoyed the twists and turns her journey took. Of course, nothing you do in Glentorrin is done in a vacuum which means everyone feels they have a stake in the outcome of Caitlin's new adventures, including her friends and her 13-year-old daughter, Grace. All of it comes from a place of love though and they all have Caitlin's best interests at heart.  

I really enjoyed Grace, an evolving character who has a journey of her own. She and Caitlin have always been a team of two. Allowing new people into their family requires changes and the way those changes unfold (with some surprising twists) were both heart-tugging and uplifting. 

Archie stole my heart with his generous, caring nature. This is a man anyone would be blessed to have for a friend. I was surprised by a twist that occurred as a result of friendship but wouldn't have expected any less from this character. I really enjoyed his slowly-deepening friendship with both Caitlin and Grace. He's a gem and I was in his corner, cheering him on the entire way. 

If you enjoy close-knit communities, mature characters, plenty of humor and heart, some surprising twists, and well-deserved happy endings, check out Wishing Under a Starlit Skye. It can be enjoyed as a standalone but I also recommend Dreaming Under an Island Skye and Under an Italian Skye. Characters from both of the earlier books figure prominently in this one. 


Lisa Hobman has written many brilliantly reviewed women’s fiction titles – the first of which was shortlisted by the RNA for their debut novel award. In 2012 Lisa relocated her family from Yorkshire to a village in Scotland and this beautiful backdrop now inspires her uplifting and romantic stories. Her first title for Boldwood Dreaming Under an Island Skye was published in February 2021.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Review - - Must Love Books

Must Love Books
by Shauna Robinson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: January 18, 2022
Reviewed by PJ

Meet Nora Hughes—the overworked, underpaid, last bookish assistant standing. At least for now.

When Nora landed an editorial assistant position at Parsons Press, it was her first step towards The Dream Job. Because, honestly, is there anything dreamier than making books for a living? But after five years of lunch orders, finicky authors, and per my last emails, Nora has come to one grand conclusion: Dream Jobs do not exist.

With her life spiraling and the Parsons staff sinking, Nora gets hit with even worse news. Parsons is cutting her already unlivable salary. Unable to afford her rent and without even the novels she once loved as a comfort, Nora decides to moonlight for a rival publisher to make ends meet...and maybe poach some Parsons' authors along the way.

But when Andrew Santos, a bestselling Parsons author no one can afford to lose is thrown into the mix, Nora has to decide where her loyalties lie. Her new Dream Job, ever-optimistic Andrew, or...herself and her future.

PJ's Thoughts:

Must Love Books is a thought-provoking, well-written debut novel that, even though it made me uncomfortable in places, kept me turning pages. Sometimes, being uncomfortable is a good thing. Readers should be aware that this is not a classic romance though there are romantic elements and the potential for a HEA. I would classify it as contemporary fiction or even women's fiction as it centers on the life, struggles, and evolution of Nora, a twenty-something woman of color, unfulfilled, and underappreciated, searching for her path in life while stuck in what she thought was her dream job. 
Nora is similar to some of the young women in my life who have graduated from college, landed dream jobs, then discovered those jobs weren't all they had hoped. In addition to the downward spiral of her career dreams, Nora also struggles with her identity in a predominantly white working world, her self-worth, her ability to financially support herself, and her mental health. These lead her into some dark mental places and questionable decisions. While some of those decisions made me uneasy, and I could see the repercussions coming, I understood why she made them and appreciated the fact that she struggled with the morality of those decisions, both before and after. 
I found Nora to be very realistic in light of her circumstances and also a relatable as well as a sympathetic character. I applaud the author's open, honest look at mental health and the self-sabotaging actions that can follow in the path of anxiety, depression, and low self-worth. I also appreciated that she didn't give Nora any easy answers. Instead, we see a realistic portrayal of someone suffering the consequences of their actions, learning from them, and arriving at the point where they are ready to put in the hard work, with professional assistance, to move forward. I have high hopes for Nora and her potential for happiness - and love - moving forward. 
If you're in the mood for an introspective, thought-provoking novel of a young woman's journey of self-discovery, give this one a try. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Tour Review - - Undercover K-9 Cowboy

Undercover K-9 Cowboy
by Addison Fox
Publisher: Harlequin Romantic Suspense
Release Date: January 25, 2022
Reviewed by PJ

A by-the-book Fed…gone rogue for justice

To stop the drug epidemic ravaging Midnight Pass, FBI agent Ryder Durant reluctantly takes matters into his own hands. Poised to set a trap at Reynolds Station, he has to content with Arden Reynolds - who prefers Ryder's K-9 to the Fed protecting her family. As Ryder and Arden spar, embers spring into flame. And those flames are as dangerous as the crime ring lurking too close to home...

PJ's Thoughts:

It's been a while since I read a Harlequin Romantic Suspense book. Undercover K-9 Cowboy was a great one to re-introduce me to the line. It reeled me in quickly and held my attention right up to the breath-stealing conclusion. 

Fox skillfully blends romance, action, and suspense in this fourth book of her family-centric, Midnight Pass, Texas series. I was totally on board with the push and pull of the attraction and conflict between youngest Reynolds sibling, Arden and new FBI agent in town, Ryder. I loved how they challenged each other, how they opened one another to new viewpoints, unexpected feelings, and, in Arden's case, potential healing from emotional trauma that had directed her life choices. They are such a great match though it does take them a while to realize that. Of course, I fell head over heels for Ryder's K-9 partner, Murphy, his love for Arden, and his heroics. He's as much a hero as Ryder. 

The suspense portion of the book builds in intensity, with twists, turns, and a few surprises, until its climactic, edge-of-your-seat conclusion. It also brings the entire Reynolds family into the fray, including the three couples who were the focus of books one - three. Even though I haven't read those stories yet, I never felt confused or "out of the loop" while reading Undercover K-9 Cowboy. Instead, I found myself as intrigued by Arden's brothers and their wives as I was with Ryder and Arden. I've downloaded the earlier books and will be reading them soon. 

I don't know if Fox has plans to return to Midnight Pass but I really hope she does. There are some secondary characters begging for a story, drug runners who have yet to be brought to justice, and I'd be more than happy to check in with everyone at the Reynolds family ranch.
If you enjoy emotional romance, action-packed suspense, ranch settings, and close, meddling families, give this one a try. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Do you enjoy romantic suspense?

Do you read any of the authors writing for Harlequin's Romantic Suspense line?

Have you read Addison Fox?


Addison Fox is a lifelong romance reader, addicted to happy-ever-afters. She loves writing about romance as much as reading it. Addison lives in New York with an apartment full of books, a laptop that’s rarely out of sight and a wily beagle who keeps her running. You can find her at, or on Twitter (@addisonfox).



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Friday, January 14, 2022

Tour Spotlight on The Wedding Setup

The Wedding Setup: A Short Story
by Sonali Dev
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
Release Date: January 11, 2022
Reviewed by PJ

Ayesha Shetty lost her brother seven years ago, the same time she lost everything else important to her: her dreams, her fierce independence, and the man she loved. Not wanting to see her mother hurt anymore, she put her wild self away and became the dutiful daughter her mother needed and took on her brother’s role in the family business.

Now her best friend’s big, fat Indian wedding is a chance to get away from her endless duties at the restaurant and maybe even have some fun (if she remembers how). But a setup arranged by her mother, with a doctor no less, is the last thing she needs. The fact that he checks all her mother’s boxes just makes everything better…and worse.

Then Emmitt Hughes shows up. Her brother’s best friend. The love she once chose over family duties and her responsibilities. The one she asked to leave, and who did. The one who knows the real Ayesha. Torn between a love from the past that could cost her the only person she has left and her sense of obligation to her mother, will Ayesha find the strength to stop thinking about what everyone else wants and finally put herself first? Or is the old Ayesha truly gone for good?

PJ's Thoughts:

I enjoy short stories. They're quick bits of story, usually under one hour of reading time, enjoyable but typically not too deep, sometimes introducing a new series, wrapping up one, or bridging the gap between two books. I read them expecting to be entertained but not looking for the same depth I want in a full-length novel. Sonali Dev's The Wedding Setup took all my expectations and tossed them right out the window. 

This story is powerful, complex, and soul satisfying, with an incredible depth of emotion. I inhaled it, then went back to the beginning and read it a second time - slowly - savoring each perfectly placed word, each nuance, each unexpected twist, ache, laugh, tear, and sigh. It's an emotional journey of grief, lost love, family expectations, second chances, rediscovering one's passion in life, and love, and, ultimately, making the choice to move forward with joy. It touched me on so many levels. Already, I'm eager to lose myself in these characters and their story once again. 

Sonali Dev's The Wedding Setup is a quick, standalone read that is nothing short of a master class in how to craft an exquisitely-written, complex, unforgettable short story that packs a powerful punch. I highly recommend it.  

Do you enjoy short stories?

Have you read Sonali Dev yet?

Are you as excited as I am for her upcoming May 17th book, The Emma Project

Don't forget to scroll to the end of the Q&A to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway! 

The Wedding Setup


Goose bumps rose across Ayesha’s skin, one sharp dot at a time. 


That was it. Just that one word. Her name. In a voice that was its own ghost. 

She squeezed her eyes shut. One tight squeeze. Tight enough to hurt, tight enough to almost dislodge the false eyelashes Andre had pressed into her lash line one by one with the precision of a surgeon. Then boom! she was in control again and back to Ayesha on Ice. 

Eyes blank, face set, she turned toward the voice. 


The impact of him was a body blow. 

The entire universe stilled. Words weren’t a thing. Or sound. Breath? What was that? 

Ayesha! Get a grip. 

No grip. That’s how it had always been. She’d had no grip when it came to Emmitt Hughes. Not even a little bit. Not when she’d spied on him and Ajay playing Mario Kart and Minecraft and GTA for hours, for years. Not when she’d yearned and dreamed and spun stories with him at the center. 

I’ve made my love for you, my god. 

It was the cheesiest of lines from one of those Bollywood songs her parents had played on repeat at the restaurant. Amma had loved translating the over-the-top lyrics and explaining their nuances.

Back when Amma was full of stories and songs and laughter. Before Ajay. 


Her brother’s unspoken name fell between them like a glass bauble and shattered. 

“You remember Emmitt,” Edward had the gall to say. 

Bela shot him a glare. 

You didn’t tell me he would be here. Ayesha threw the silent accusation at her traitorous best friend, who gave her nothing more than another worried look. 

No, Eddie. Remind me again who he is? The snarky words stuck in Ayesha’s throat. Old Ayesha would have said them. Old Ayesha said everything. 

“Emmitt,” New Ayesha said, every feeling buried under her customer-is-king voice from the restaurant. “Nice to see you again.” 

His Adam’s apple bobbed in the long column of his throat. How was he still so darned beautiful? 

One swallow, and then he smiled back. Banking feelings where no one saw them had been his thing. Emmitt the Wall. That’s what Ajay had called him. Her brother had been best friends with him since Emmitt had moved to Naperville in fifth grade after his parents’ divorce. Years of friendship, and he’d still held Ajay at that slight distance he’d been so good at. Something she would always wish she hadn’t cured him of.

You broke me, Ayesha.You broke every defense I’ve ever had against the world. 

She, Ayesha Shetty—too tall, too dark, too outspoken, too intense, too ambitious, too everything for everyone else had been just enough to break through Emmitt the Wall. 

“It’s nice to see you too,” he said gently, sounding . . . she dug through her brain to come up with the right word. Grown-up? Contained? 

Good. Because Ayesha was all those things now too. Not a grenade with its fuse pulled, ready to blow up the world.

Interview with Author Solini Dev


The Wedding Setup may be a short story, but it is tremendously powerful. How would you describe it to readers?


Thank you. It’s the story of a girl who used to be a rebel who followed her heart and fought for what she wanted, and then her brother’s death leaves her responsible for her widowed mother. It’s about being knocked off your feet and getting stuck, and learning how to stand back up and reclaim yourself.


The story invites us to take an intimate look into a mother-daughter relationship. This is a universal theme, however, you also steep the plot in your own Indian heritage. Can you tell readers what this story means to you as a daughter? What it means to you as an Indian woman?

There is so much of my own relationship with my mother in this book. We’ve always been incredibly close. She’s outspoken and confident and she modeled some powerful behaviors for me growing up about owning her own body and her voice. But there were the other parts where she was a product of her time and culture, believing in absolute terms that it is a woman’s duty to nurture her family, to marry ‘at the right time,’ to be a certain kind of mother. These are things she pushed hard. Things I internalized but also fought to do on my own terms and not hers. Ayesha’s relationship with her mother used to be this way, and then a tragedy changes their dynamic. So, it’s an exploration of how battles for identity get derailed by tragedy and grief and what it takes to heal.


Ayesha’s mom describes her as obedient, responsible, and “always putting everyone else before her own needs.” After hearing this Ayesha (internally) feels hypothermic. Can you explain how these seemingly sweet compliments completely destroy your heroine?


The mother-child bond comes with a kind of intuitive understanding of each other that’s unique to that relationship. So, while Ayesha has lost her fiery spirit and both she and her mother have lost years to their grief and struggle to survive, her mother knows who her daughter is deep down and how much she’s buried. So there’s a very nuanced intent to these ‘compliments’ and they hit the nerve they’re meant to hit. Ayesha’s reaction to these words is her dead parts coming back to life.


It only takes a moment—one second—for Ayesha to break free from her ice…a single word from Emmitt has her coming back to life. Why does she have such a powerful reaction to someone she hasn’t seen in seven years?

Ayesha had a crush on Emmitt for many years before they got together. She’s always had a strong reaction to him. The years they spent together as young adults were years when she came into herself, and felt seen and cherished. Then she loses all of that when her brother dies and they break up. So, it’s a combination of things that come together when Ayesha meets Emmitt again. They have a natural connection, but also, with his return come all the memories of who she used to be and how much she used to let herself feel.


Ayesha has never forgotten how Emmitt turns “her messy, impulsive, unfettered emotion into something beautiful.” But she has forgotten the effect that she has on him. What buried memories are uncovered as she watches Emmitt react to their reunion?


Emmitt has always dealt with the world and the pain it causes him by keeping everyone at arm’s length. But Ayesha destroys his defenses with her ability to love (and do everything else) so fiercely. So, when he loses her he’s already lost his ability to protect himself. Their joint grief is what separated them, so, while they understand each other’s pain they both also understand the loneliness of not having each other to lean on. They’ve had to make the journey to healing individually, but meeting each other again brings up the piece that needs the other to heal.


How did you get to know your couple? How were you able to understand what was needed to heal their broken hearts?

The one theme that threads through all my books is finding yourself on the tightrope between personal freedom and responsibility to family and community. Healing is always about finding or rediscovering your love for yourself. So, I understand my characters through that lens: how have they lost themselves? What about themselves do they need to reclaim and fall in love with? A truly connected couple is one who aids this journey in each other, recognizes it, and supports it.


In a limited number of pages you not only give readers a living, breathing couple, but also an avalanche of equally interesting characters like Ayesha’s best friend, suitor, aunties…and you even create depth with characters that are no longer living. Why was it so important to spend time with these secondary characters? What do they reveal about your hero and heroine?


I believe that as humans we are a sum total of our relationships and the world we live in and build for ourselves. How someone treats other people and how they respond to how they are treated is what constitutes character. 

At its heart, every story is about a person who is somehow at odds with the world they live in or with themselves because of the expectations of their world, and the journey they make to resolve that conflict. Ayesha wouldn’t be Ayesha without her mother and Bela, her best friend and the community she was raised in. Bela has been her wild other half growing up, then their paths diverged, but they continued to be each other’s support. Her mother has become a crutch she uses to hold on to her grief. Emmitt’s grief over his friend has run his life for seven years too. So the secondary characters are just as integral to the story as the protagonists.


While the plot focuses on grief, there is also great joy to be found. After all, the backdrop of the story is a giant wedding. What do you personally find the most fun at a traditional Indian wedding celebration?

I’m always only there for the food and dancing! Fine, and getting to dress up. And the wine. Also, maybe the chance to hang out with family and friends I only see at weddings. And the drunk aunties and uncles.


After readers devour The Wedding Setup, which of your other books would you recommend they read next?

First, thank you so much for devouring The Wedding Setup! I’m incredibly proud of my Raje series, a set of retellings of my four favorite Jane Austen novels set in a politically ambitious Indian American family from Northern California. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is a gender flipped Pride and Prejudice. Recipe for Persuasion is a two-generational homage to Persuasion set on a Food Network show. Incense and Sensibility, the love story between a gubernatorial candidate and a yoga therapist who can save him but also destroy his campaign, pays tribute to Sense and Sensibility. And the upcoming The Emma Project (May 17th 2022), which is a gender flipped Emma that explores what it means when a person with tremendous privilege offers charity to someone who has much less.

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USA Today bestselling author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that explore universal issues. Her novels have been named best books of the year by Library Journal, NPR, the Washington Post, and Kirkus Reviews. She has won numerous accolades, including the American Library Association’s award for best romance, the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for best contemporary romance, and multiple RT Seals of Excellence; has been a RITA finalist; and has been listed for the Dublin Literary Award. Shelf Awareness calls her “not only one of the best but one of the bravest romance novelists working today.” She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, two visiting adult children, and the world’s most perfect dog. 

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