Recipe for Persuasion (The Rajes #2) by Sonali Dev
Last year I reviewed the first in the series, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors and I really enjoyed that book! I liked the way Dev took Pride and Prejudice and made it her own, I enjoyed the characters and the themes, but most of all I loved the multiracial characters of DJ and Emma. Growing up biracial there was never a lot of material to read or watch that touched on those issues and I am always happy to read one.
So when Dev said that she was planning on writing another book, this one being a retelling of Persuasion, I was jazzed. I could not wait to read it!
Then I finally got my hands on a copy, I read it all in one setting and I didn’t really like it as much as I thought I would. So I decided to let my thoughts steep for a while and think about what it was that made me not love the sequel when I had really loved the first book in the series.
This book is about Trisha’s cousin Ashna Raje. Ashna is an Indian princess; her father (a prince) married a cricket star, but was constantly getting into trouble and causing scandal, so he was sent away from India to to America to be with his older brother (who would hopefully help whip him into shape). There he built a home and a restaurant, cooking Indian and fancy cuisine.
Ashna lived with her father in California, spending most of her time living with her Raje cousins, as her mother was always gone as she traveled around the world trying to better women’s lives. Ashna’s father died when Ashna was graduating high school and after his death she decided to carry on his legacy and traveled to Paris to attend Cordeon Bleu (meeting and befriending DJ, from the previous story). When she returned home eager to put her education to work and carry on her father’s dreams, she discovered that the people she left in charge of the business had embezzled a large portion of the profits and fled, the resturant is dwindling in customers, and that nearly every time she tries to make something new or deviate from the original menu she has panic attacks.
DJ tries to help her revamp the menu, but she struggles trying to do anything. Her customers continue to dwindle and her sous chef leaves her for a better position.
Ashna feels alone and lost when her mother, who left her as a child, calls and makes her feel worse about her life and her choices (as always); along with trying to convince her to sell the resturant and do something else. Ashna becomes angry that her mother is again belittling her life choices and decides to do the one thing she never thought she would ever do, agree to be on her friend, China Dashwood’s, cooking show competition.
China Dashwood is producing a new show, Cooking With the Stars, that pairs a local chef up with a celebrity. Ashna was set against it, but being on the show will be good for business and help stick it to her mom, who Ashna has a lot of unresolved issues with.
Meanwhile, in England, World Cup Winner Rico Silva is trying to decide what to do next with his life. Rico was born in a favela in Brasil, the illegitimate son of a famous fútball star. When his mother passed away, he was sent to America to stay with his Tia. There he started playing soccer; along with meeting and falling in love with Ashna.
But Ashna was always ashamed of him and never wanted him to meet her father or family, always keeping him hidden from them and a secret, just like his dad treated his mom. One day, Rico went to see her father and he said horrible things to him and about his family. Ashna never spoke to Rico after that, completely ignoring all his texts and calls.
Now Rico is a famous fútball player who’s knee injury has forced him to retire. Feeling bad for himself at a friend’s bachelor party, he starts thinking of his string of failed relationships, as he has never been able to move past Ashna. He decides to google her and discovers she is going to be on a cooking show. Not making the most logical decisions, he decides to go on it too, be her partner, and get his revenge? Find closure? Maybe a mix of both?
Ashna is extremely nervous to be on the show, but when she sees that her partner is Rico, the man who broke her heart-she is so surprised she drops her knife, nearly slicing off her toes. Luckily Rico dives and saves her.
Ashna is uncertain how she will make it through this competition while being so close to Rico, this whole situation is so painful and brings back both good and bad memories. Meanwhile, Rico starts regretting being alongside someone who still has so much emotional power over him.
But even if both wanted to back out, it is impossible now as they are leading the charts with their chemistry. Ratings are a dream as everyone is tuned in to see what will happen next in the cooking romance. But can the two work as a team? Or is the heat between then too much for this kitchen?
So the story wasn’t bad but I wasn’t really as invested in these characters as I was with the ones from the previous book. It’s weird as I was really looking forward to having more Ashna, as I liked her in the previous book, but I felt like something was off in this. I think it is because the circumstances didn’t pull on my heart as much in this book as they did in the original Persuasion and in the previous book. In Persuasion, first we have the fear of loss of security as their family is running out of money and Anne’s father Sir Walter and sister Elizabeth are making no effort to change that. Anne gets a glimpse of her unhappy future as she stays with her horrible sister Mary and brother-in-law. In Recipe for Persuasion, there is the fear of losing her father’s resturant, but I had a harder time finding connection to that as she still has the property and the house-(both of which are prime Bay Area real estate), that she could sell. And if she did lose her place as she had too much debt that would be paid after the sale, she could always stay at the Raje family compound. Her family is amazing (unlike Anne’s) and she used to live with them, so it isn’t as scary an end. I mean it is still sad to have failed and to have lost your dream, but she wouldn’t be lost or alone as all would be willing to help her as she regrouped and figured out what was next.
Also in Persuasion, when Wentworth comes back successful and has both the Musgrove sisters fawning over him, he enjoys the attention, especially as it is in front of the woman who rejected him-while Anne definitely feels insecure and sad that she let him go. When Captain Wentworth realizes he still loves her, he is unable to do anything about it as he has found himself chained with all’s expectation that he was going to propose to Louise and the fact that he cannot abandon her in a injured state. He has to wait and see what happens giving him plenty of time to reflect on his actions and choices. an injured woman. In Recipe for Persuasion, there is no similar block to Ashna and Rico’s happiness, in fact Rico gets over his hurt fairly quickly and is trying to get with Ashna pretty early on in the book. The author does try to mislead us and Ashna with KDrama star Song and Rico growing close, but she isn’t a serious contender. She is never more than just friendly to him.
The other 1/3-1/2 of the book focused on Ashna’s mother’s story, Shobi, who’s storyline is very sad. The first part of Shobi’s story describes how she was in love with another man but her father wouldn’t let her marry a poor Muslim, and instead agreed to a marriage with the prince, Ashna’s father. The prince, Bram, is a horrible abusive man who rapes her on her wedding night. Having been in an abusive relationship, I felt they dealt with her story well. What bothered me was the way she justifies leaving her child to help children all over the world and the anger she has at her ex-husband blaming him for her and her daughter’s decaying relationship. Now I will never condemn someone for leaving their abusive partner, but the way she belittles not being there for her daughter because she had a “greater good” to serve really bothered me. Her husband did not paint Shobi in the best light to her daughter, but I felt that she also needed to take responsibility for the choices she made, especially after her husband died. Even without Bram she still hardly spent any time with Ashna, doesn’t listen to what Ashna wants, just drops in without warning Ashna that she is coming (believing that will fix everything), threatens to sell the resturant if Ashna doesn’t listen to her, etc. I think if the author would have included a scene when she acknowledges her failings as a parent to Ashna and how she should have put Ashna first many times in her life (like she could still help other children but remember her daughter’s birthday), instead of telling Ashna again and again these impoverished women are more important than her own daughter, I would have liked Shobi more.
I also didn’t like how easily Ashna and her mother Shobi resolve their issues. Ashna realizes that her being with Rico wasn’t what made her father commit suicide, but that her mother served him with divorce papers. That brought a bunch of memories of how horrible her father treated her mother and she instantly forgives Shobi and is happy to hear her mother is in a happy relationship with another man (who Shobi has been dating for practically all her married life). I understand what the author is doing and wanting to wrap up that thread, but I used to work with grieving adults and kids and it is never, ever that easy. This exact scenario happened with a preteen I was working with. The mom stayed with her abusive husband because of the kids, but was finally planning on leaving him. He found out and killed himself, the daughter being the one who found the body. The daughter hated her mom as she blamed her for the death, and idolized her father (just like Ashna) and after a lot of therapy and the art class they were in a better place; but she was still very angry with her mom, and it was a continual process. There were also adults who went to the grief class and had a similar scenario happen in their life and had never dealt with those issues. After the art therapy class they were in a better place with their parent-but still had hurt and blame over their mother “causing the death” of their father or ”replacing their father” with a new man. I found it extemely unrealistic that Ashna who has never been in any therapy regarding her mother was able to get over the abandonment of her mother; moved past feeling second best to her mother’s charity work, and accepted that this whole time her mother had a secret life/relationship with another man in an instant. What? I would have liked it better if the book ended with her mother and her starting to talk and then showing years later they are in a good place instead of it all fixed in one night.
There are also some interesting writing choices in this book as well. We have a chapter where we are in we are in Ashna’s POV and then it suddenly switches to her mom. It was a bit disorientating.
I also had a really hard time with all the Portuguese in this book. Being half Mexican I grew up with Spanish and Portuguese is not Spanish. This is nothing against the author or the language, I just struggled with it and cautioning other Spanish speakers/readers you too might have a bit of a struggle as well.
So that’s all that I did not care for, now what did I like? First of all I loved that again we have an interracial relationship with Ashna (Indian) and Rico (Brazilian). Growing up biracial there wasn’t a lot of media that had interracial or multiracial couples/characters. Anytime there is anything that has even a tiny shard of it, I am excited to see. I loved that scene when they blend Rico’s favorite dish from Brasil with pieces of an Indian recipe that Ashna’s grandma used to make. That scene was just wonderful as it made me think of my own life of blending traditions from both sides of my culture.
Like Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors, this book was also a love letter to food. I like how it highlights the comfort, love, and traditions of it. I also love how we have the two bond over cooking together. Rico, having only been a part to get back at Ashna, actually finds himself enjoying creating these different dishes with Ashna; and Ashna finds herself having a renewed interest in it, and finding herself once again being creative and not stuck in the past. In a sense, them cooking together really is what begins to help heal what transpired between them. And of course there is the constant Chais that Ashna creates and blends for her cousins. It made me want some real chai so bad.
And of course Rico writes Ashna a letter to convince her that he’s serious in his feelings for her. You know me, I’m a sucker for a character writing a love letter. It gets me every time.
I also liked how the author shared about the struggles women face in other places of the world along with Shobi’s struggle with abuse and marital rape. I think both of these issues are important and I’m glad that Sonali Dev didn’t shy away from it all.
So I didn’t hate it and I don’t think it was a bad story-there was just something missing for me…a missing ingredient that I felt the previous book had and this one lacked.
She just published a third book, Incense and Sensibility, and I have read and will be posting on it soon (I hope).
Because of the content of those book I want to end this post with this: Are you in an abusive relationship? Do you need help or assistance? If you are in need of help please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence so they can live their lives free of abuse. You can reach them at 1.800.799.7233
For more Persuasion, go to Jane in Love
For more Persuasion adaptions, go to Holiday Mix Tape
For more on The Rajes, go to Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors
For more Jane Austen adaptions, go to I Watched Northanger Abbey (2007) With My 13 Year Old Niece