Love, Chai and Other Four-Letter Words by Annika Sharma is the start of a new contemporary romance series. Information seems conflicted on whether this was released on September 21st or will be on October 5th (I think it was the 21st and got bumped up but not 100% sure). It appears that each book of the series will follow a different member of a group of almost 30-somethings in New York City. These friends are all of Indian descent although their background differ of where they grew up.
This first book follows Kiran who was born and raised in India and is now an engineer in New York. She falls for her neighbor Nash who recently moved to New York from Nashville. Indian culture and family obligations mean Kiran is supposed to marry who her family chooses which steers the plot of this pretty serious contemporary romance.
This book made me want to scream and throw my Kindle at a wall and not in a good way. I was so frustrated and annoyed when I really don’t think that was the intention. It wasn’t all bad so I’m going with 2 stars but really, this wasn’t for me.
Let’s start off with the good, I really got into the beginning of this book quickly. I sat down to start it by reading a little one night and somehow read almost 100 pages without realizing it. The beginning was good, I liked the CMC, the Indian rep was great, and the playfulness between Kiran and Nash was fun. My only issue in the beginning was a few random references to a post-COVID world that seemed thrown in to make the book seem recent, it wasn’t carried through the book or explored at all and will forever date the book while adding nothing to the story.
Kiran and Nash seemed like pretty good characters to begin with. They had a little chemistry to start (unfortunately never really grew). For once, a romance book had MCs that seemed like real people who actually had real jobs that you saw them go to and they scheduled their meetings around work. I really appreciated this.
After the first 100 pages or so, this book turned into a slog. It took me way too long to read and multiple days I just didn’t pick it up. It turned into a really angsty story in an attempt at a star-crossed lovers storyline. I’m really struggling with getting my thoughts on this into words because there’s such a fine line between my disappointment in how this story played out and my frustration that a culture could exist where women are forced to marry someone their family will approve of or risk an honor killing or being ostracized from their family forever. If that bothers you, just don’t pick up this book. The characters accept this entirely as the way the culture is and the only person who ever questions it (although he doesn’t really do it in a good way which seemed contrived to not really have this conversation about whether this is right or is just the way it is and Kiran needs to accept it regardless) is called a bigot.
Setting aside my issues with this, I don’t understand how it is used in this story. Kiran explains at the very beginning of the book that this is the way things are and she plans to stay in line. Then she falls for Nash, breaks his heart because her family tells her to (while saying truly terrible things to her), and acts like this is some big surprise. It’s written like I should pity her but really, this is all self-inflicted and just made me fell sorry for Nash that she led him on. I don’t like insta-love but this storyline may have made more sense with that trope. This really slow burn romance where her friends are urging Kiran to take the next step (those same friends who later on tell her she needs to dump him) just doesn’t make sense if Kiran truly believes she can’t be with him and never would be. They literally mentioned they had months of meetups on weekends before they even kiss. She led him on and this story never needed to happen.
The end of the book is pretty predictable and so sappy. After the rest of the story I had endured, it didn’t make a lot of sense and was just too convenient. It made the middle even more frustrating. I won’t go into details because of spoilers but oh boy, I could rant for a while about this.
Overall, I really didn’t like the way this story unfolded. It’s an interesting topic and made me think but if the goal was to explore this part of Indian culture, this was not the way to do it. Trying to mix this heavy topic with a romance novel and a character who really didn’t handle things well just didn’t work.
*I was given a free ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.