Incense and Sensibility (The Rajes #3) by Sonali Dev
I thought what better way to commemorate or commiserate (depending on your point of view) the California Governor Recall Election than with a book that is about a California Gubernatorial Election.
Incense and Sensibility is the third book in the Raje series. The first, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice and I really enjoyed that book. It had biracial characters, it kept to the story while at the same time allowing the author to tell “her” story, and it had wonderful descriptions of food (depicting the tradition, love, and culture weaved into the making of it.
The second book, Recipe for Persuasion, is based on Persuasion. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous one. I liked the diversity of the characters, but I didn’t feel as connected to the people.
I had seen on Instagram that the third was going to be published soon and as soon as it was added to the library I immediately checked it out.
This book is based on Sense and Sensibility, and focuses on Trisha Raje’s brother (mentioned in both previous books) and a new character, India Dashwood. In the previous books we were given some information about Yash; he is the eldest brother of the Raje family and was in a horrible accident that caused him to lose his ability to walk. Originally told that he would spend the rest of his days in a wheelchair, he proved all wrong and was able to walk again.
However, even though this is a miracle he still felt very insecure and has never let anyone look upon his naked body and see his scars. His dream was to always go into politics, but again he faced another hurdle. At the bequest of his sister Trisha, he offered a job to her best friend Julia Wickham. Julia Wickham turned out to be a truly horrible person, (of which there are no words to describe how horrible); who used his generosity to grow close to him, drug him, rape him, and then blackmail him (as she was underage), and the Raje family. Yash never properly dealt with that trauma, but become not only more suspicious and closed off from others, but all thoughts of a relationship with a woman was pretty much gone forever as the experience left him with severe trauma.
At his sister, Nisha’s, wedding he met his cousin’s friend India Dashwood. He and India had a wonderful evening together, Yash allowing a new person into his life, and made plans to get together when he returned from an already scheduled trip. But when he arrived in Singapore for a wedding, he was convinced to pretend to be engaged to his best friend, Naina Knightley. Naina convinced him it would help them both as her parents do not see Indian women as having any other role than married and she will be able to continue her dream of running her own nonprofit. For Yash he can have someone to be by his side for important events and not have to worry about people focusing on his sexuality over his political agenda. (This makes me think of Kevin Kikey, someone running for governor of California who is single. Everyone is trying to figure out if he is gay, asexual, is involved with a married person, or just hasn’t found his dream mate.)
Even though this trade off helped his friend (and him), while Yash was okay with it in the beginning-it has been grating on him. But Yash is a professional and sets all that aside as he prepares for a new speech given at a rally. As he goes on stage to begin his speech, a shot rings out. Yash’s bodyguard Abdul takes the brunt of it and is put in ICU while Yash is grazed and has a concussion.
When he has recuperated enough to be released he find himself, for the first time in a very very long time, at a loss of what to do. He doesn’t feel anything, every time he tries to give a speech he has a panic attack, he is angry and guilty that his bodyguard is lying in a coma, he wants nothing to do with the farce of a fiancée, and he doesn’t even want to be governor. His family is worried about him, and as Ashna has suffered from panic attacks in the past (previous book), she encourages him to see India Dashwood, her friend and yogi-the last woman he ever thought he would see again.
India Dashwood’s family came to America, and the Bay Area, to start a barbershop. India’s great-grandparents hired an Indian immigrant, Ram, to be an assistant who also taught them Yoga. What none planned was for their daughter, India’s grandmother, to fall in love and become pregnant. Ram was fifteen years older and left town due to fear of what would happen to him, and India’s grandmother raised her daughter, Tara, changing their business from barber shop to yoga studio. When Tara was old enough she went abroad to search for her father, but was unable to find him. Instead she returned home with a baby she adopted, continuing that two more times. Her son Siddhartha is from India, her daughter India from Thailand, and her other daughter China from Kenya. All the children had cleft palates, but she didn’t care and adopted them anyway.
Out of the children, only India was the one to carry on the family’s traditions of the Yoga studio as her sister China is a TV producer and their brother a photojournalist. The family is in a bit of a financial strain as India used what money they had saved to do some much needed renovations, and now her mother has grown seriously ill. So when Yash comes back into her life after dropping her all those years ago, she would like to reject him and hurt him (a bit like how he hurt her), but instead agrees to help him, not just for the money, but to help him through his trauma. Will these two find a way to maneuver through the trauma, overcome hurt feelings, get through youthful decisions made for the wrong reasons, stalking paparazzi, and become something more?
Meanwhile, China Dashwood has everything coming up roses. Her cooking show is going great and she is dating KDrama star, Song Ji Woo. True, she doesn’t like having to keep it hidden, but understands that Song can’t reveal her homosexuality as it would end her career. The two spend all their time in hotel rooms, at China’s apartment, or China’s mother’s house. China encounters Yash’s new body guard, former marine Brandy and tbe two do not get off on the right foot when Brandy fails to let China inside the building. The two have a bit of a better relationship after China meets Brandy’s daughter. Brandy and her best friend were heading toward one direction, but her friend ended up marrying an abusive man. When her husband murdered her, Brandy was given legal custody of their daughter and adopted her and raised her as her own. When Song has to return to Korea, China decides to give up her life in America and follow her to Korea. Tara, India, and Brandy try to caution her and convince her to wait and see-but China won’t be dissuaded. Will she get her heart broken ? Or have her happily ever after?
So as always I like to start with what I didn’t like and then move onto what I did like about the book.
First of all I don’t enjoy the political part of this book, as I read to escape. I understand that the author has a particular story she wants to tell and there are opinions she wants to express and share with her readers-I have no issue with it. Just for me, I like to read to escape the world we are in and this book had too much real world for me personally. Especially as I happened to read this book when a real election was going on.
I also find the absence of Latino people from this book to be really odd. Yash started going over with Rico the different political groups on his side and it seems strange to me that Yash discuses the African American vote and working with thE BLM, but there is no mention of a Latino vote, even when they discuss immigration. Not only am I Mexican, but I was born in California, grew up here, lived in the area the books take place and the more and more I think about it, the absence of Latino people in this book is extremely weird. I mean if she decided not to make a Latino a main character, fine it’s your choice and your story, but Yash is running for governor of California and there is no mention at all of the Latino vote or a Hispanic alliance group? It seems strange that both Nisha and Rico who are supposed to be extreme experts have decided to ignore the largest non-white racial demographic in California, especially as his only rival is white and anti-immigration. It seems to me that the smart thing would be to use that to show why the Latinos should vote for Yash.
I also think it is odd that the issue the book and Yash focus on are health care, it is partly what pushes him back into running for governor after his near death experience. I know that is an important issue, but is that the number one Californians are facing? I’m surprised that Yash doesn’t focus on any of the huge CA issues that those running for Governor usually go over (I mean I know because not only have we been going through the recall election but also I remember when governor Newsome was running a few years ago.) One of our biggest issues are water rights and farming rights, something that has carried over every with drought concerns get worse and worse, yet Yash doesn’t even focus on this or talk about it. Nor does he focus on the wildfire crisis even though the deadliest fire was in 2018 in Butte County (Camp Fire) and the biggest CA wildfire was the August fire in 2020. But even if the book was going through revisions there was the Mendencino fire in 2018. And then what about homelessness? We have one of the highest homelessness levels in the nation. I know health care is important, but again it seems strange to me that it was the only issue he seems focused on besides immigration.
I also felt that Song wasn’t really a a very good Willoughby. Willoughby used a woman, got her pregnant, and left her! Then he romanced Marianne only to leave her with no explanation when his aunt threatened to cut off his inheritance, and he decided he needed a woman with money. Song on the other hand is in a harsh reality of the fact that she has no choice in her life. KPop and KDrama stars are owned by their companies and have to be single as their boyfriends and girlfriends are their fans. If they start dating someone they are dropped as the fans don’t want them, and they lose everything. I mean it is CRAZY how obsessive their fans are and how they treat them. If they found out she was in a relationship, her life and career would be over. One woman got married without approval of her agency and she was dropped, blacklisted, and the only way she could make music was her husband had to buy a company. When fans found out that this one KDrama star had a girlfriend and she was pregnant, he was dropped by the fans and his agency. He and his girlfriend got married and I believe it has been five years and he is just barely being allowed to act again. Not to mention that Korea is super conservative and if people found out she was a lesbian that would be even worse for her. So while she doesn’t treat China as nice as she should, Korea is very different from America. And unlike Willoughby, Song is providing for her family. She’s providing money for them and they probably still have debts to the company they belong to that she still needs to pay. Willoughby was a jerk that thought only of himself, while Song is in a completely different situation. For me I would have made Song an American or British actor, or have had her made the crossover into American film and TV (beyond a cooking show), as I feel that the way she treats China and her wanting to keep them hidden would have been more a clue to Song’s behavior rather than her complete lack of control over her relationships.
So what did I like? First of all, I thought the story line and the characters were more engaging than the previous one in the fact that the plot propelled forward and made me want to read more. I also felt that there was conflict and more on the line for every character’s decision.
I like the multicultural/multiethnic families A LOT! As someone growing up biracial, there was hardly anything out there for me, so I love that we have that in here.
I also like that the Marianne character in this isn’t just a flighty, silly, unintelligent girl. So often authors get the spirit of Marianne wrong and make her just all froth and no substance.
I liked that in this China (Marianne) was passionate and gave everything all of her, no holding back, but that she was also intelligent and a hard worker (not a bubble head like they usually write her). I thought that Dev making her a workaholic really did well for the character as I could see someone who is so passionate about their job to be just as passionate in everything else they care for, such as a new relationship. But while I enjoyed those parts of her character I didn’t care for the romance with Brandy. China barely interacts with Brandy, actually spending more time with Brandy’s daughter (who ends up working at the Yoga studio). She is pretty much just rude to Brandy when she is around her, moves to another country to be with Song, it doesn’t work out, she returns home, and then she and Brandy watch a few movies and are now a couple in love? It felt extremely fast as they hardly shared any scenes or time together in the book. At least in Sense and Sensibility, Marianne and Colonel Brandon spent time together. I think she should have fleshed that out more as the book only takes place in like two months. It really felt like Brandy was just a rebound instead of a “love” as she just returned home like a week ago “being fully committed” to Song and now she’s with someone else?
I also really, really liked how she wrote Yash. The trauma he encountered was horrendous, and the way he closed himself off to people-choosing the easy way out of love and relationships by agreeing to this fake relationship, made perfect sense for his character. I’m not a big fan of Edward Ferrars, but I did enjoy this Yash version of him. Dev dealt with this subject extremely well, although I still think he should have continued his therapeutic help, and it should be with someone he’s not having a relationship with. I understand the security issue of it as they didn’t want the media getting wind but him having India help him fix everything in a couple months and then he ending up with his “therapist”, rubs me wrong. I just think it isn’t a good foundation for a romance, and it feels unethical as well. I also am not a fan of the one night together and then years later, just a couple months and they are “in love”. I prefer my romances to happen over a period time, so that wasn’t for me.
I also enjoyed the character of Tara as I thought she was extremely interesting and I wish we had a little more of her. Growing up biracial, trekking across Asia to find her father, adopting children from across the globe, her strange illness/healing stories, etc. She was the right amount of unusual and relatable. She also was a more active mother than the original Mrs. Dashwood, yet recognized that her children needed to make their own decisions and mistakes.
I enjoyed this book more than the second one, but I still liked the first one best of all.
The one thing that really confused me about this book was that Yash’s fake ex-fiancé is Naina Knightley, so I’m assuming that the book Emma is next on the adaptions schedule, but Naina’s actions don’t seem anything like Mr. Knightley at all. I mean she is manipulative, takes advantage of Yash, and exhibits truly horrible abusive behavior as she tries to force him to stay with her. I’m not excited at all for the next one if it features her.
For more Persuasion, go to Achy Breaky Heart: Austentatious (2015)
For more Persuasion adaptions, go to Sense and Sensibility (1995)
For more on The Rajes, go to Recipe for Persuasion
For more Jane Austen adaptions, go to I Was Asked to Be a Guest on the Podcast P.S. I Love Rom Coms + My Review of their Bridget Jones’ Diary Episode