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Group Review: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev

Thoughts on heroine

Lou: This book is very different in tone to The Bollywood Affair, which had a wonderful and humorous tone. The Bollywood Bride is the total opposite. It’s a compelling and super angsty read with its heroine, Ria Parkar, holding onto many family secrets for most of her life, and one (of two) harrowing experiences that shot her into Bollywood superstardom, which resulted in Ria losing the love of her life. I really liked Ria. She was kind, warm and loving in her private life, a stark difference to her professional appearance in which she was known as an Ice Princess. Ria’s childhood was very sad and tragic where she was a victim of a terrible beating from her mother, who suffered from a severe mental illness. I enjoyed this book but I spent a long time going over the mental health aspect, especially Ria’s belief that she held madness within her because of what happened to her mother.

Has:I really liked Ria. She built a thick emotional and psychological wall around herself because of her past, and it was a way to protect herself from being vulnerable and powerless. So I could understand her reticence and reluctance to be close to anyone or to revive her relationship with Vikram who she wanted to protect from her own issues, and I found that poignant and sad. People assumed she was a cold person when in fact she cared too much for those around her, and it really showed how sensitive and caring, as well as the self sacrifice she enacted to shield her family and Vikram. But I also had the same feelings over the mental illness subplot which affected Ria’s family in tragedy.

Marlene: I agree with Lou that the book was super angsty. I liked Ria, and was also frustrated with her as a heroine. While I intellectually understood why she withheld so many secrets from others, she also seemed to be hiding them from herself. Her self-talk drops clues about her past, but she doesn’t even reveal the truth within her own head for a long time. The mental health subplot was heart-rending, but also a bit crazy-making, no pun intended. That Ria believed that she was doomed to suffer the same fate as her mother without a whole lot of modern research to back it up made me wonder. I understood totally that she believed it at 18, but at 28 she seemed to still be taking it on faith. In today’s world of googling everything, that seemed less likely.

E: I enjoyed Ria. Scarred in childhood by adults she should have been able to trust and then partially healed by another child. Scarred again as a young adult by other adults and then exploited while vulnerable she never really healed just covered everything over with a thick sheet of ice. My heart broke for her so many times as her past was brought to light to me as a reader and then as other events continued to unfold. I thought she was a very strong and caring heroine who was willing to sacrifice her happiness for what she saw as protecting those she loved. The mental illness subplot was heart wrenching. It really made me think about the stigma still associated with mental illnesses today even in casual conversation and how much further the world as a whole needs to move.

Thoughts on hero

Lou: Vikram was very, very harsh towards Ria for the first 30% of the book. I understood his anger, especially the attack he suffered, but I also had a moment where I was like, dude, you were young adults when all this transpired. Ease up on Ria, why don’t you. When his anger cooled and he became less hateful, I really liked Vikram. He was warm, funny, and so loving. He put all his anger away and managed to become friends with Ria again after what she did to him. The tension and sexual attraction Ria and Vikram experienced was incredible and it was one of my favourite parts of the book.

Has:I could understand why Vikram was so angry and bitter towards Ria. She clearly betrayed him to push him away from what she viewed as a curse surrounding her and her family. It was heartbreaking to read because you wanted to root for them to succeed despite their issues and problems because their relationship was so sweet and loving. The ugliness and dark fear was a huge obstacle for them. Despite the years of bitterness and mistrust, I loved that they were drawn towards each other and they both made overtures to be with each other. While I was reading, I was mentally cheering for them to kiss and make up and so totally did when they finally locked lips.

I also loved the fact that Vikram didn’t chase after Ria and allowed her to make the first move and that he realised she was hiding a secret that created a wall between them. He was a fantastic hero, understanding, patient and sweet and I LOVED how their relationship developed in the book.

Marlene: Vikram is not a likeable hero for the first third of the book. But it was easy to understand where he was coming from as more of the past was revealed. Ria didn’t just break up with him, she did everything in her power to make sure he hated her – that she succeeded is hard to blame him for. She apparently is a damn good actress. But their relationship had so much unfinished business because she got him to leave her because of a lie. Nothing about their breakup made sense from his perspective, and 10 years later he’s still hurting. Once he stopped reacting to his own anger, and started to react to the person actually in front of him, he changed for the better, and so did Ria.

E: I had mixed feelings about Vikram. He was so purposefully cruel towards Ria in the beginning but as the story unfolded and I saw her actions through his eyes and the eyes of others around who only knew pieces of the story I understood the complexity of his feelings. However, as he began to open back up and I could see the caring, passionate, driven elements from his childhood manifest as an adult I started to really enjoy his character.

And by the end I absolutely LOVED how he demonstrated the depth of his feelings and understanding towards Ria. I was cheering as he reassured her about one of her biggest fears.

Your favourite scene in this book

Lou: I have lots of favourite scenes and mostly involved Ria and Vikram in their angsty scenes where the sexual tension was amazeballs. But I adored the imagery Sonali Dev created, especially the scenes in the tree house, and I adored the wedding preparations, especially with Nikhal and Vikram clothes shopping with Ria. There is some lovely humour in the book (I wanted more lol) and I adored the family interactions.

Has:I also loved those scenes, especially the scenes in the tree house and clothes shop. But I think for me the scene that resonates the most is the scene towards the end when Ria is at her lowest and Vikram appears and they finally talk about her past and fears.

Marlene: I’ll admit that I loved the scenes in the shops at least partially because I’ve been there. The district on Devon Avenue that the author described is exactly as pictured. But for the book, the scene that resonated the most with me was the same as the one that got Has’ vote. At the end, when Vikram appears like magic at the moment where she needs him the most.

E: I am going to go along with Has and Marlene and say my favorite scenes were at the end when they talked everything out and Ria was able to see Vikram’s love for her was greater than what she considered were cultural norms.

What did you dislike

Lou:I was conflicted on how mental health was portrayed, especially Ria’s mother and the words used to describe a mental health hospital in the UK, such as “asylum” and “sanitorium” as they are no longer used in the UK. The imagery reminded me somewhat of Jane Eyre and the imagery of the crazed and maddened woman didn’t sit well with me at times. The impact it had on Ria was done well though, especially her fears because Ria worried it was hereditary. I just wish Ria’s mother was humanised instead of this monster picture that was used.

I was also confused about what Ria did with the director when she pushed Vikram away. I was waiting for it to be explained but there was no talk or explanation between them.

Has:The only aspects of the book I didn’t really like was elements of how mental illness was portrayed. I understood the cultural stigma of suffering from mental illness with Ria’s background because I have experienced a similar thing with my own culture. But I wished there was more research done. I felt it was anachronistic and generalised, especially towards schizophrenia. I felt Sonali Dev explored the emotional and psychological impact really well, but certain terms used just added to the issues I had about the portrayal of Schizophrenia. And I agree with Lou about the Jane Eyre imagery which lessened the impact of the illness for me because it made it so overwrought and unrealistic. Another aspect was the plot was vague over Vikram and Ria’s first break-up and I wished that was explained further because I felt there was chunks missing from the story that led up to their split.

Marlene: I also did not like the way that the mental illness was portrayed. All of the references to Ria’s mother felt like they came from another century, and I agree that it was the 19th and not the 20th. While Ria’s fear and unwillingness to look at her possible condition with a doctor felt like a trip down the river of denial, I wasn’t sure whether it was denial of how bad it could be, or misplaced guilt – that she didn’t deserve preventive or palliative care because everything was all her fault.

Also, and this is a personal pet peeve, I don’t care for the plot device of self-sacrifice for other people’s uninformed good. Again, at 18 it’s not a surprise, but that she intended the exact same behavior at 28 I found less believable. I kept waiting for her to tell Vikram at least some of what was going on, and was disappointed when the plot had to act as deus ex machina to do it for her.

E: I am disagreeing with Lou and Has here. I thought the cause of the first break-up was clear but maybe because I have read other stories where the heroine/hero was “expected” to do certain things to get a big role on screen. I thought the depiction of Ria’s mom and the reaction of the other adults fit the world-building and made me see the impact of not talking about mental illness.

My biggest dislike was Vikram’s mother and how evil and spiteful she along with her cronies were. To me that was the biggest betrayal to both Ria and Vikram, even though her actions and words were key for a lot of the later elements.

Summary and grade

Lou: I have such conflicted feelings about how mental illness was portrayed, but did I enjoy this book and the romance and angst between Ria and Vikram kept me glued to the pages. Sonali Dev is such a talent with her imagery and beautiful prose. The romance is sexy, tender, sweet, and dark all at the same time.

I give The Bollywood Bride a B-

Has:Overall, I really enjoyed The Bollywood Bride. The romance between Ria and Vikram was sweet and brimming with fantasting chemistry that lit up the page even though this was a darker toned romance. The ending left me completely satisfied and I think Sonali Dev has cemented herself as an autobuy author for me because she has a great gift in creating lush, memorable romances with feeling and colour.

I also give The Bollywood Bride a B-

Marlene: I have the same mixed feelings about The Bollywood Bride as my fellow reviewers. Upon reflection, I loved the dark and angsty romance between Ria and Vikram. However, I found the reasons for all that darkness and angst, rooted as they were in seemingly 19th century attitudes about mental illness to be very disturbing. On my third hand, the ending was utterly lovely.

I make it a trifecta. I also give The Bollywood Bride a B-

E: I enjoyed The Bollywood Bride. I thought the images Dev painted were very vivid and she evoked some very strong feelings. There were times I wanted to just cuddle both Ria and Vikram and say “there, there things will be ok,” because they experienced some really extreme highs and lows.

I give The Bollywood Bride a B

By Lou

One thing that Lou loves most is her HEA in romances.

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