A Holly Jolly Diwali was heartwarming and own voice romance with South Asian representation. It is an enjoyable book to read this Diwali.
A Holly Jolly Diwali by Sonya Lalli
Publication Date : October 5th 2021
Publisher : Berkley Books
Genre : Romance
Pages : 336
Disclaimer – I received free e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. Many thanks to PRH international and NetGalley.
This post contains affiliate links.
One type-A data analyst discovers her free-spirited side on an impulsive journey from bustling Mumbai to the gorgeous beaches of Goa and finds love waiting for her on Christmas morning.
Twenty-nine-year-old Niki Randhawa has always made practical decisions. Despite her love for music and art, she became an analyst for the stability. She’s always stuck close to home, in case her family needed her. And she’s always dated guys that seem good on paper, rather than the ones who give her butterflies. When she’s laid off, Niki realizes that practical hasn’t exactly paid off for her. So for the first time ever, she throws caution to the wind and books a last-minute flight for her friend Diya’s wedding.
Niki arrives in India just in time to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, where she meets London musician Sameer Mukherji. Maybe it’s the splendor of Mumbai or the magic of the holiday season, but Niki is immediately drawn to Sam. At the wedding, the champagne flows and their flirtatious banter makes it clear that the attraction is mutual.
When Niki and Sam join Diya, her husband and their friends on a group honeymoon, their connection grows deeper. Free-spirited Sam helps Niki get in touch with her passionate and creative side, and with her Indian roots. When she gets a new job offer back home, Niki must decide what she wants out of the next chapter of her life–to cling to the straight and narrow like always, or to take a leap of faith and live the kind of bold life the old Niki never would have dreamed of.
Heartwarming and enjoyable book to read this Diwali
A Holly Jolly Diwali was heartwarming romance that revolved around Niki’s personal journey and holiday fling during her visit to India that turned out much more than just fling. The story was about connecting with roots, family drama, Indian culture and festival, friendship, and love.
Writing was entertaining, and fast paced. The story was written in first person narrative from Niki’s perspective. Her voice was interesting and some of the past chapters made me understand her better. The setting of India, Goa and Seattle was great.
Plot was interesting. First few chapters gave character background, Niki’s family, how she was brought up, her compliant good-daughter nature who did everything right and how she realized every practical choices of hers wasn’t right when she got laid off from her job and how that made her impulsively decide to attend her best friend’s marriage in Mumbai where she met hot and handsome rock star, Sam (Sameer) whom she instantly feel attracted to. The flirtations and attractions turn to vacation fling but as they spend more time together and as Niki’s time to return back nears they couldn’t deny their feelings for each other.
It was interesting to read how Niki would find India, would she feel connected to her roots, what will happen between her and Sam, what she would decide to do when her time in India comes to end, would she end relationship with Sam or would they find a way to keep it going.
Niki’s character was interesting. She was responsible, smart, and workaholic 29 yrs old Indian-American who was brought up like American who never visited India and also didn’t know her mother tongue and anything much about culture and festivals. Reading past chapters about her childhood, her observation of diaspore community and how her parents lived and brought her up made me understand her thought process, why she felt she was more American than Indian and why she felt insecure about label. Her jealousy towards her elder sister Jasmine was complex. Half the time I didn’t like how Niki thought about her behind her back but at the same time it felt natural looking at how less they interacted about their true feelings with each other. I liked how family relationship developed and Niki’s growth throughout story. It was great to read how Niki understood her sister who didn’t have it easy either and why she turned out rebel, how Niki realized she is her own person and she didn’t have to compare what Jasmine could have or could get away with had nothing to do with her decisions, how hard Niki was on herself and assumed things about her parents and her sisters than blaming it on herself, and most of all how she realized she wrong about boys she met in life and where she was wrong.
Sam was my favorite character. He looked like the player but never felt like one and I was surprised Niki assumed he was one. I liked he followed his dream of being rock star even though he had to go against his father’s wish. He was kind, caring, charming, and lovely person and amazing friend. I liked reading more about his background and his secrets, what he was going through because of his life choices and being Indian near to his father who didn’t support him. It was tough time for him and yet he was cheerful for his friend’s wedding. I like how he talked about it to Niki and it was sad how their conversation in climax went wrong. But I have to agree with Niki, he was an idiot for letting her go like that and not making effort.
What I loved most and how this was different from other South Asian own voice romances was, there were no toxic Indian Uncle or aunties (there was one but for brief scene and I don’t think that added much), no typical parents that are strict, try to force their kids to choose Indian boyfriend or attempted to fix marriage. Even in real life parents are not this open but yes now like this book parents have started being more open and flexible. Author included most of important topics that we deal in India- racism, classism, rape culture, harassment, threat of violence, gender and color discrimination, how most parents bring up their kids even outside India in traditional gender role. Diwali is my most favorite festival and I loved description of it, how and why we celebrate in India and it was interesting to see it celebrated in Mumbai by a character who was brought up like American and never visited India nor had much knowledge on it.
Romance was okay. It was Insta-love so those who don’t like this trope wouldn’t enjoy this aspect but still it wasn’t all bad. Just felt too Bollywood style. Banter between Niki and Sam in the beginning was good. sparks and chemistry was great from the beginning but it didn’t develop the way I wanted.
There weren’t many twists and turns. Climax was interesting with me anticipating some drama but thing that made them to break up was anticlimatic and just meh. I just couldn’t buy Niki didn’t want to discuss anything other than what she had in mind and it was unfair to Sam who wasn’t in right mind with his dream falling apart and was unsure what he would do with his life now. Everything that happened from Climax to end was also not what I expected. I agree with what Massoma said to Niki. big gesture before the end was good. End was feel good and lovely.
Why 3.5 Stars –
As much as Liked author making this different from books with Indian representation, I wouldn’t say this was accurate representation. Parents in this were much more flexible and open than they are in real life. Sam’s mother was okay for Niki to sleep with her son and they met only a week ago! So that was hard to digest. No Indian parents, even those living outside India would be okay with their son/daughter sleeping with person they just met.
There were other things that highlighted and was briefly mentioned that didn’t add anything to the story and those for some readers would portray negative pictures like, catcalling in street and harassment Niki experienced (It wouldn’t happen to every person no matter where they are from); Pandit warning family for not going forward with marriage as it’s in star bride won’t bear kids (nobody believes in that bullshit anymore, at least not elite to upper-middle class which was the case here); random aunty commenting Niki’s color and race (again that wouldn’t happen unless that aunty had something against your family); One thing that was hard to believe was Niki didn’t know any Punjabi word and didn’t know why Diwali is celebrated! (any Indian parents anywhere in the world would talk in their mother tongue and kids brought up outside India might prefer the language of that country but they definitely can understand their mother tongue). Another thing is When Niki asked about Diwali in Mumbai to many relatives, it was shocking nobody gave the right answer. Utterly unbelievable! (Every Indian grows up first learning about the festival then about their own mind and heart. it’s also in our study subjects. our elderly would beat us if we can’t even answer that simple question. So I don’t know how those Indians Niki asked to couldn’t answer her questions about Diwali).
Oh and Niki ran into Shah Rukh Khan in this book. SO typical Bollywood and yes that can happen in India but not recognizing him and calling him Uncle! I had to laugh at that.
I also didn’t like romantic aspect that much. It felt underdeveloped.
Overall, A Holly Jolly Diwali was heartwarming, lovely, and enjoyable own voice romance with South Asian representation.
I recommend this if you like,
South Asian representation
Indian culture and festival
Own voice romance
insta love arc
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Just in case you missed,,,
I’m not going to post tomorrow as it’s Diwali so in advance, I wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali.
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