Heat Factor: Closed door
Character Chemistry: I have always loved you but can’t say anything because we have too much history and also our families do everything together
Plot: Dhillon doesn’t mind his damn business
Overall: This book commits the cardinal sin of being boring
I really wanted to like this book, for a very niche reason: it takes place in Howard County, MD. I grew up in HoCo, so I recognize the references enough to know that things are specific, but I haven’t lived there in years, so I don’t notice if small details are inaccurate. (I hate it when I notice inaccurate details.) Also, Shroff does a great job of balancing specificity with story, so that the sense of place is real but not overwhelming.
Unfortunately, this book really didn’t work for me. I found it a slog to read.
So the basic set up is that Dhillon and Riya have been best friends since they were five. They almost got together when they were in high school, but there was a fire in their homes (they grew up in a townhouse with a shared wall), and both of them lost a family member. Ever since then, their relationship has been weird and stilted. Now it’s ten years later and Dhillon discovers that Riya is working as a firefighter and he flips the fuck out.
Here’s my first problem: Dhillon and Riya have seen each other at least once a week over the intervening years, and they never, once, in that entire time, managed to have a conversation? If they are really that estranged, then the fact that Dhillon feels entitled to tell Riya that her decision to change careers is pretty unacceptable. On the other hand, if they have maintained enough of a connection that this conversation is even moderately acceptable, then I can’t buy the awkwardness between them. Basically, I don’t believe the catalyst for them coming back together.
My second problem is that once they start interacting, everything is slooooow. And not in a delicious slow burn kind of way. More in an I (the reader) don’t have all the information kind of way. That summary of their backstory is doled out in drips and drops of flashbacks, so Riya and Dhillon spend a lot of time thinking about how they made a move long ago and it was ruined—without telling the reader what the parameters of the betrayal were. Sidenote: the betrayal was that Riya needed Dhillon’s support as she processed her grief over her dead brother but Dhillon needed to process his grief over his dead father in a different way. Both of their positions are completely valid and the fact that their friendship was strained because of it was believable. However, the way that these two reflect on that moment from the present (before telling the reader what happened) makes it seem like something big and dramatic happened between them, rather than something big and dramatic happening to them. My point is, they are up in their own heads a lot, but not in a delicious way.
The final point that killed this book for me was the truly egregious black moment. Some backstory is necessary, so bear with me. Dhillon’s younger sister decides that she, too, wants to be a firefighter. Riya agrees to mentor her through the process because being a woman in a male-dominated field is tough. (There’s a whole sideplot about Riya’s struggles with fitting in with her crew and the fact that there isn’t a women’s locker room at her assigned firehouse. Considering my local firehouse was recently renovated to add a women’s locker room, I absolutely believe this detail.) One evening, Dhillon’s vet practice catches on fire. His sister is there, and while trying to get one of the dogs out, is trapped in the fire. Dhillon blames Riya for his sister being in danger; if Riya hadn’t made firefighting seem glamorous (by being so cool, basically), then his sister would not have tried to save the dog. Even worse, Riya agrees with him!
Like. What? Maybe Dhillon should blame himself for not properly maintaining the building his practice is in. He talks several times about wanting to remodel because everything is outdated—maybe the wiring might be outdated, Dhillon. Also, it’s not like his sister ran into the building; she was already inside and struggling to get an animal out. Plus she is a grown-ass woman who maybe just wants to help people and being a firefighter has nothing to do with her split-second decision. And I get that Riya feels sad and upset and guilty that this woman was hurt, but she should have stood up for herself and her decision to work as a mentor. Being a mentor was not about convincing a young woman to become a firefighter, but rather to help her navigate the process of becoming one once she had already been convinced.
As you can see, I’m getting all worked up about this. Not gonna lie, it made me mad. Which after a few hours of slowly slogging through some emotions that made no sense and weren’t that interesting, was not a great way to end the book.
A final note: In case a lot of emotions plus a female firefighter plus a childhood friends to lovers sounds great to you, please note that a dog does die in this book. Of old age, not fire. But it’s still very sad. (The writing is on the wall for this good boi from the very beginning, so I was not surprised.)
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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