From the publisher:
One of Oprah Magazine’s Most Anticipated Romances of 2020
A high stakes wager pits an aspiring entrepreneur against a ruthless CEO in this sexy romantic comedy.
After her life falls apart, recruitment consultant Layla Patel returns home to her family in San Francisco. But in the eyes of her father, who runs a Michelin starred restaurant, she can do no wrong. He would do anything to see her smile again. With the best intentions in mind, he offers her the office upstairs to start her new business and creates a profile on an online dating site to find her a man. She doesn’t know he’s arranged a series of blind dates until the first one comes knocking on her door…
As CEO of a corporate downsizing company Sam Mehta is more used to conflict than calm. In search of a quiet new office, he finds the perfect space above a cozy Indian restaurant that smells like home. But when communication goes awry, he’s forced to share his space with the owner’s beautiful yet infuriating daughter Layla, her crazy family, and a parade of hopeful suitors, all of whom threaten to disrupt his carefully ordered life.
As they face off in close quarters, the sarcasm and sparks fly. But when the battle for the office becomes a battle of the heart, Sam and Layla have to decide if this is love or just a game.
This has got to be one of the best romance debuts I’ve ever read!
Sam is a man shouldering a lot of guilt. His sister is in a wheelchair after a possible altercation with her ex-husband, a prominent surgeon, and Sam’s mentor. Theirs was an arranged marriage, and Sam is the one who introduced them. The surgeon denies all, but Sam is bound to avenge his sister. Meanwhile, he feels like a failure as a son and a brother, and his way to deal with the guilt is to push away his family, his career, and his culture.
Like Layla, Sam is Desi-American, a term that was new to me. Their families are from India, and while they live in San Francisco, like most of us they brought with them their culture and their food. In fact, Layla’s parents own a Michelin starred restaurant, but it is struggling in their new location in a business district.
Layla has been living in New York, working at a job she doesn’t particularly like, and dating an Instagram influencer. Until she catches him doing blow off the bodies of two naked supermodels. She goes nuts, a video of her throwing his stuff off a balcony goes viral, she loses her job, her home, and her dignity. It’s time to move back with her family where she feels safe.
Layla tells her parents she wants to open her own business and they are eager to help. Her father tells her she can have the office above the restaurant, rent-free. He will let the new tenant know the deal is off. Layla eagerly accepts, except before her father can tell the new tenant to look elsewhere, he has a heart attack and is hospitalized.
In the only plot point in this book that I had a real issue with, Layla’s father gets a pacemaker but for some unknown reason is put into a medically induced coma. It’s convenient for the plot but makes no sense to anyone who has ever dealt with or had a family member deal with any sort of heart condition, especially a pacemaker. But it really is a minor thing, and I was so drawn into this story I tried to overlook it. (I guess I didn’t totally succeed because now I’m complaining about it!)
Sam is the new tenant, he has given up the practice of medicine since his sister’s accident and is now a corporate vulture. His company helps other companies downsize, and he spends his days firing people. His moral center is slightly askew at this point, but at least he still has one, unlike his partner and friends.
Sam and Layla immediately butt heads over the office. Then Layla is shocked when a young man arrives looking for her. He tells her he has set up a meeting with her father through a dating site. Apparently, her father put up her profile on an arranged marriage type dating site, sifted through hundreds of responses, and selected a list of ten men for Layla to meet. Sam agrees to help her with the dates she is going to have, and they make a game of it. If she marries, she will leave and he gets the office.
Enemies to lovers is always a popular trope in romance, and this one is done exceedingly well. Throwing in a big, extended, nosy family and the arranged marriage with its parade of kooky suitors adds a lot of laughs to this heartwarming and sexy story. I got so caught up in the story and with these characters that when the boy-loses-girl part came along, I could barely read it. I swear I had one eye closed! I kept putting it down and picking it back up because it was so painful to read. I was able to talk myself off the ledge and back into the book because it is a romance, and I knew the happy ending was coming.
I love it when I get that caught up in a book. I love learning about cultures that are different from my own. I especially love learning how many cultures are more similar than different – their foods and religious practices may differ, but family is still family and that is pretty much the same everywhere.
I loved this debut novel, and I hope everyone reading this will pick up this book and love it as much as I did. It is sweet and sexy and funny and a total escapist read. Don’t miss it!
6/2020 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE MARRIAGE GAME by Sara Desai. Berkley; 1 edition (June 9, 2020). ISBN 978-0593100561. 352 pages.