Friday, February 19, 2010

Feature Review: "The Sari Shop Widow," By Shobhan Bantwal

By Tracy Montoya, RBTB Contributing Editor

When I’m deep into a book, I don’t often process how an author treats setting. Some rely so much on character and dialogue, readers barely notice where the story takes place.

Then there are authors like Shobhan Bantwal, who elevate setting into an art form. In "The Sari Shop Widow," Bantwal’s gorgeous writing and careful attention to sensory detail transported me to another world. Just a few pages in, you can practically smell the saffron and cardamom wafting from the family kitchen, run your fingers over the cool silk saris in the heroine’s shop, and admire their dazzlingly brilliant hues. But it’s the story itself that truly dazzles.

Anjali Kapadia is a young widow who has moved back in with her Indian-American parents since her husband’s premature death. It’s a decision made from equal parts tradition and practicality, not because she’s hiding from the world. Even though the pain of losing a spouse never goes away, Anjali has taken charge of her life, dedicating herself to updating her family’s sari shop into an innovative, chic boutique catering to Edison, New Jersey’s Indian population.

But just when her boutique is starting to show some promise, her parents blindside her with bad news: Due to her father’s poor financial decisions, the boutique is in serious trouble. Anjali is in danger of losing the center of her world for the second time in her young life.

Desperate times require desperate measures, so her parents call in Anjali’s rich uncle, who flies from India to bail them out in exchange for a majority share in Silk & Sapphires. But Anjali wonders if saving the shop is worth the price—Jeevan is boorish, overbearing, and not a little selfish. To her, it feels too much like a deal with the devil.

Especially when that devil brings along his business partner Rishi Shah to help overhaul the shop. Number one, the fact that he’s partnered with her self-centered uncle probably means she’ll be dealing with two overbearing alpha males for the price of one. Number two, Rishi is sure to mess with Anjali’s carefully thought out business plan, turning her dream of a one-of-a-kind boutique into a cookie-cutter chain. Number three, Rishi is much too handsome and confident for his own good, and the obvious attraction between them makes her really nervous.

As they all work together, Anjali is surprised by how much Rishi respects her ideas for the shop—everything he proposes reinforces her creative plans, rather than crushing them. He’s a calming force on her over-the-top uncle, and just as brilliant in business as Jeevan had promised he’d be.

But then he turns his charisma—not to mention a pair of striking green eyes—in her direction, and Anjali’s first impulse is to bolt. Can she trust Rishi with her fragile heart, when all signs point to the fact that he’s a love-’em-and-leave-’em kind of guy—one who’s set to return to the other side of the world in a matter of weeks?

"The Sari Shop Widow" is an emotionally complex, beautifully told tale of a quirky, tight-knit-family; a strong heroine who’s been through more than her share of emotional trauma; and the one man who can complete her already full life. You’re in for a treat when you …

Buy the book.

I confess, I’ve never been a fan of romances where a business partnership figures prominently in the plot, but The Sari Shop Widow gripped me from page one. Have you ever been surprised by a book, where you expected to be sort of “meh” about it and ended up passionately loving it? What turned the tide for you?


Leigh Duncan said...

Ooooh, that cover is lovely! And your summary of the book only reinforces the urge to run out and buy a copy.

Vanessa Kelly said...

This book has been in my TBR pile for months. I think it's time to pull it out and give it the reading it deserves!

Tracy, I have had those "meh" to "fantastic" moments any number of times. They usually occur with a much-loved author who is switching genres, or trying something different. I buy the book out of loyalty, let it sit for months, and then force myself to read it. It's a great relief when I realize that these authors are just as wonderful as always, and sometimes even better for switching it up.

pjpuppymom said...

I've had my eye on this book, Tracy. Your review clinched the deal!

Becke Davis said...

Leigh, I agree, that's a beautiful cover!

Vanessa - even the word "TBR pile" puts me into a cold sweat.

Tracy - this is a wonderful review! It really gives me a sense of the book, the setting, the characters, the romance.

I don't think I would have bought this book because the cover -- while gorgeous -- looks women's-fictiony to me and I don't always trust women's fiction to end well. But I'm going to have to read it now.

I've had a lot of "meh" moments that were transformed, too. When the book "Garden Spells" came out, it got so much hype I had a negative reaction and thought for sure I'd be disappointed.

By the time I finally read "Garden Spells," Sarah Addison Allen had a second book out, "The Sugar Queen." That didn't look all that appealing to me either.

But several of my friends liked "Garden Spells," so I finally read it. I LOVED it, and I loved "The Sugar Queen" every bit as much. I'm now eagerly awaiting her next book.

Has Shobhan Bantwal written other books? Because something tells me I'll be looking for those, too.

amy kennedy said...

What a lovely review Tracy -- and I know an Anjali! She's only 7, but still.

I read all of Karen Marie Moning's Highland books and loved them (Michelle was the instigator in that) then she wrote the first Fae/fever book and I just wasn't interested...until another /girlfriend said, "read these, or I'll kick you." So, I read the first one -- now, I'm practically in rehab waiting for the final book out this spring.

Anonymous said...

I love Indian culture, food and clothing! One of my very favorite movies is a Bollywood film called Monsoon Wedding. I am so glad this culture is getting some serious recognition in the romance market. This was a lovely review.


Tracy Montoya said...

Leigh, you won't regret it--promise!

Tracy Montoya said...

Vanessa, I SO hear you. I still have one of Connie Brockway's contemporaries sitting in my TBR monolith. And I'm sure that once I bite the bullet and read it, I'll love it. : )

Tracy Montoya said...

PJ, ditto what I told Leigh. : )

Becke Davis said...

Gia - I LOVE that movie! I'm a huge fan of Bollywood movies. Bride & Prejudice is really good, so is Bollywood/Hollywood, Bollywood Dreams, When Hearts Collide - lots of them!

Tracy Montoya said...

Becke, this is so weird--I've been having that same reaction to The Sugar Queen. I didn't hesitate to read Garden Spells, because I lucked into an ARC at a conference and there was no hype, but I keep wondering if The Sugar Queen can possibly measure up. I obviously need to get over myself!

And I was just having this conversation with Michelle--a lot of Asian and Latina trade paperbacks do have strong romance plots. I think we must sell better that way, rather than putting us into mass market romance. Who knows why? Long story short, if you see a trade "India lit" or "Latina lit" that seems to have a strong romance plot, don't be afraid to take a chance!

Tracy Montoya said...

Amy, I totally understand! Do try to stay out of rehab, though. : )

Tracy Montoya said...

Gia, I love Monsoon Wedding! I'm sure you've seen Bride & Prejudice, which is a Bollywood take on Pride & Prejudice--way fun.

Tracy Montoya said...

Becke, I forgot to answer your question. Yes, Shobhan has written two more books, and she has another coming out this year. It's more women's fiction than romance, she says, but her 2011 release is a romance. I've already badgered ... er, politely requested that she send me a copy.

Becke Davis said...

Tracy, thanks so much for introducing us to Shobhan. *sigh* This doesn't add one book to my TBR pile; when I find an author I like I end up adding every book they wrote to the pile. Eventually I'll read them all, but if I don't stop buying books (and receiving lovely ARCs), I'll have to live to 150 to read them all!

In some ways I like The Sugar Queen even more than I loved Garden Spells. Both books have the woo-woo that I always love, but where Garden Spells has the magical tree, the magic in The Sugar Queen is related to books. I adore that book.

Gannon Carr said...

Tracy, this sounds like a lovely book. It's going on my TBB list!

Shobhan Bantwal said...

My heartfelt thanks to every one of you who posted such warm and supportive comments to the wonderful review posted by Tracy. And she did a fantastic job of the synopsis, too. Love you for the praise, Tracy!

I have two other books prior to this one, THE DOWRY BRIDE and THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER, Both are women's fiction with strong romantic elements. Since very few Asian authors write romances, I decided to start a new genre, what I call "Bollywood in a Book," romantic fiction that entertains as well as educates with rich cultural elements from India. Oh yes, there is plenty of romance!

My fourth bookm, THE UNEXPECTED SON, is slated for release on Aug 1. While it is women's fiction, it has romance and the end is totally a fulfilling romance-type ending.

People who read the manuscript loved it, so I would encourage every one of you to try it and see what you think. There will be two more books after that one. Feel free to contact me through my website:

Tracy, thanks once again for the review and Michelle, for opening up your blog to showcase my book.

Happy Reading, everyone!

Shobhan Bantwal
Author of The Sari Shop Widow

Tracy Montoya said...

Gannon, it is lovely. You won't be disappointed!

Tracy Montoya said...

Becke, I asked Shobhan to come and talk more about her books, so there you go! Shobhan, thanks for joining us! I'm looking forward to reading more of your work--this one was a gorgeous book.

Tiona said...

Yes, in fact, I have totally been surprised by Kresley Cole. In fact, it's the one I'm rereading now, called 'If You Decieve' a historical before her amazing IAD. I just expected it to be your typical revenge story, but was totally awed. Not only is the heroine a unique independent, surprisingly funny, smart-mouthed and practical, but the hero is to die for! Ethan is over-protective, possessive and totally not in touch with his feelings. Until it's too late, of course, hehe! I've been addicted to her books ever since. Love it!

Tracy Montoya said...

Wow, that's quite a recommendation, Princess. I'll have to check her out!

Becke Davis said...

Shobhan - it's so nice to meet you! Your book sounds wonderful.

Mitzi H. said...

Wow, what a great review!!! I'm adding this book to my shopping list!!!

Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Great review, Shobhan! I already had this book in my sights but will do more than my best to find it.

To Gia and Becke - ladies, thank goodness for fans like you! There are a lot of Indian-culture writers out there who doubt about putting out cultural romantic stuff because fans are not vocal enough about liking it and pubs do not take a bet then. Thanks (okay, confession, I'm an Indian cultural fiction author too...)

Tracy - this was a wonderful review!

Cheers & hugs!

Lucy Monroe said... takes a lot to get me wanting to try a new author lately. I've got so many autobuys my bookshelves are holding up my walls, not vice-versa. :) That said,'ve made me think I have to read this book and I love the "Bollywood in a Book" idea, Shobhan. :)

As for books I expected to be meh and turned out wowie-zowie...most recently that would have to be Wren Boudreaus's "Ice Cream on the Side". It's a gay romance with a stalker subplot. I don't like stalker plots...they're just not my thing - maybe because they've been done so much? Anyway, I bought the book because I loved the cover (which I never do LOL) and thought I ought to read it. It was fabulous, not a cliche'd moment from page one to the end.

Becke Davis said...

I sent a copy of Shobhan's book to my daughter last night, in addition to ordering a copy for myself. I look forward to reading The Unexpected Son when it comes out!

Hey, Lucy - great to see you here! I know you've been at B&N's Romantic Reads a lot, but did you ever do a B&N book signing at Linda Keller's store in West Chester, OH? I keep thinking I met you at one of those awhile back.

Tracy Montoya said...

Mitzi, I bet you'll love it!

Aasiyah, I hear you. I know a lot of Latina authors feel the same way. But I think it's so necessary to have diversity in romance fiction, as well as fiction as a whole,so I hope you don't stop!

Tracy Montoya said...

Lucy, you have to read this book. It's better than Cats.... ; D

The Wren Boudreau book sounds so interesting--I love when a book can surprise you like that!

Lucy Monroe said...

Becke...I'd tried posting on the B&N boards for Michelle's topics and could never get in. Strange as I had no problems with the other topics. Anyway, I'm happy to be able to finally join the discussion. LOL

I know I feel like I've met you too, but while I've sent some author goodies to the store, I've never been there. Did you attend Lori Foster & Dianne Castell's get together in 08? I was there...maybe we met then. :)

Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...


Thanks for your lovely words. It's good to hear readers giving us writers some validation and asking for 'something different'.