Let’s be honest – we don’t really pick up romance novels looking for an unpredictable, genre-bending read. We enjoy the happy endings and the journey that gets us to them. As a long-time fan, I can say that there is an amazing, awe inspiring amount of creativity that can happen within that equation, but sometimes the stories are simply a fun, if predictable, way to spend an afternoon. If you’re looking for the latter, Accidentally Engaged may be the book for you.
When Reena Manji first sees Nadim Remtulla enter her apartment building she is impressed with her hot new neighbor. Nadim asking her out minutes after their first greeting has her heart soaring – but it quickly plummets to earth seconds later. Once Nadim learns her name, he tells her something rather embarrassing for them both. It turns out Nadim is meant to be Reena’s new fiancé, an engagement arranged by her parents without her knowledge. Since Reena definitely doesn’t want to be married, especially to someone her mom and dad have chosen for her, she advises him there is no chance she will ever wed him and then keeps a polite but friendly distance from him, hoping Nadim will quickly go back to where he came from.
This being a romance novel it doesn’t, of course, work that way. One night Reena locks herself out of her apartment just as Nadim arrives at his. Seeing this lovely damsel in distress, he invites Reena to wait for the friend who has her spare key at his place. They share dinner and under the influence of alcohol, open up to each other a lot more than they would when sober. One of the secrets that comes out is Reena’s dream of winning a local cooking competition which would enable her to leave the boring world of finance and (possibly) live her bliss as a cookbook writer or café owner or baker. The only problem is that the program is about home family cooking and any audition tape sent in needs to have a couple who are either engaged or married. That’s a pretty limited way to look at family in the twenty-first century but, I digress. Nadim and Reena decide it would be fun to do a demo of them cooking together and they submit the resultant video to the contest site.
Naturally, their intoxicated selves have amazing chemistry and the food they make turns out picture perfect. Their clip is gold, the producers love it and Reena quickly receives an email informing her they’ve made it to the next round, which means she finds herself asking Nadim for a huge favor: will he pretend to be her fiancé for the duration of the competition? He, of course, says yes. The two start hanging out together for the sake of the show and I’m quite sure you know what happens next.
What works in this novel is the excellent prose and the fact that the story really captures the joy of meeting someone special and making the magical, life changing discovery that they are ‘the one’. Both Reena and Nadim were unlucky in love before meeting each other, and they take a lot of pleasure in figuring out just how right they are together. The tale also does a nice job of resolving the issues within Reena’s family; they love each other but have a difficult time communicating. When events force them to actually start talking to each other, rather than just at each other, they develop the close, open relationships they’ve always longed for.
Unfortunately however, I never really connected with the hero and heroine. I struggled with Reena because she has a tendency to blame others for her problems; for example, she blames the blog written by her younger sister about the trend towards healthier cooking for costing Reena’s carb rich blog sponsorships, thereby forcing her to close it. Seriously? Where has this woman been? Cameron Diaz was bemoaning not eating carbs as early as 2006 in The Holiday. Later, Reena believes her mother lost her a job she wanted when that wasn’t at all what occurred. Reena struggles to accept any responsibility for her own troubles.
I liked Nadim a bit better. He’s funny and charming and perfectly amiable, and he deals with Reena’s moodiness with patience and compassion. He seems able to get along with anyone and everyone and has a positive outlook on life, even when it isn’t going well. I did have a small issue with him though, and that is that he plays fast and loose with the truth – often. He prevaricates endlessly and as the story progresses, so does the scale of his deceptions. Once we get to know Nadim we realize why he so readily agrees to be Reena’s fake fiancé – much of his life has been about faking it.
I was also a bit disturbed by the fact that he’s come to Toronto planning to marry Reena, yet he hooks up with someone else almost immediately after getting to town and then tried to hook up with Reena before knowing who she was. That seemed a tad sleazy to me.
Nadim and Reena both share a unique cultural background: they are Guarati-Indian in Canada by way of Tanzania. The book doesn’t really examine what that means except through “these recipes, passed down from our mothers and grandmothers” which apparently “are like the cornerstone of our culture.” As a result, apart from some of the food mentioned, the book reads pretty much like the story of any other thirty-something couple with interfering families. Which is actually why the novel hasn’t received a higher grade – it reads like a lot of contemporaries, with nothing to really set it apart. Even the characters feel as though they come from central casting.
That said, there are a lot of books like Accidentally Engaged out there because fans of contemporary romance novels are looking for these kinds of tales. So I would cheerfully recommend it to anyone in the mood for well written familiarity with a dash of multicultural flair.