Lillie Vale’s The Shaadi Set-Up might be in my top ten second chance at love trope romances. The book is frustratingly uneven, but what it does well, it does very well.
Rita and Milan started dating very young. They dated through high school and into college until Milan abruptly broke up with Rita in a voicemail right as they were supposed to go to Paris together. Six years later, Milan’s abrupt abandonment is still painful for Rita, but she has moved on with her life. Mostly. She’s flailing a bit. She has her own business, but it’s small and unpredictable, and she seems reluctant to move out of her rut, even though she is dissatisfied. She’s dating Neil, who she met on Tinder, but that’s also not making her as happy as she would like. Rita seems like she’s treading water – not happy with where she is, but also not sure where she wants to go. Neil wants to tell their families that they are dating, but bad blood between her mother and his makes her reluctant (this is where the possibly unnecessary MyShaadi.com scam comes in). His mother wants him to settles down and marry a nice Indian girl. Her mother wants her to reunite with Milan and her mother is going to orchestrate a situation that forces them to work together.
I half expected Neil to turn out to be awful, and I’m so grateful that Vale didn’t trod that well worn path. There are not terrible parents (maybe Neil’s, but we never meet them), no awful exes. No one is bad. Everyone is a complicated, fallible human. I love that Rita had all of the concerns about starting with Milan again that I have when I read second chance romances. I love that Rita set boundaries and refused to allow the people in her life to dismiss her concerns.
Vale creates some wonderful moments between Rita and the people in her life that made me want all of the good things for her. And I loved that only one of her dogs was charming and chaotic. The other was a standoffish chonk who insisted on being carried around. Rita, her puppies, and her best friend Raj were the strongest parts of the book. Milan didn’t always convince me that he respected the woman Rita had become, but he (mostly) pulls it off at the end.
I do have to say because it drove me a little crazy, there is no ferry service out of New Bern. Fortunately, Rosalie Island isn’t real, so I set The Shaadi Set-Up in an alternate reality where New Bern does have a ferry. No stars were lost for this departure from reality.