Sunday, December 15, 2019

Review: A Distant Heart

The reason why I picked up A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev is simple enough - it was time for me to download a new audio book listen. I had added it to my "listen to it one of these days wishlist" and it was available with no wait, and viola!  What I didn't know going in is that it continues a story that began in a previous book, A Change of Heart.  For that reason I started this one a little behind the eight-ball.  Dev caught me up, and there's a possibility this may have been a "richer" reading experience had I been familiar with that previous book - but you know what? That's splitting hairs.  I freakin' loved this book.

Kimaya was a miracle baby.  Born to a Bollywood royal couple after a series of painful miscarriages.  She's a pampered princess, with a hyper-overprotective mother and a doting father, who is now in politics.  But it all unravels when Kimi hits grade school.  Her immune system is severely compromised to the point where she becomes the girl in the plastic bubble. Stuck in her room, with the latest medical equipment money can buy, cloistered, protected.  Her mother turns to religion with a fervor of a zealot and her father would literally do anything to save his little girl - ranging from throwing money around to allowing her to have a best friend.

Her best friend is Rahul Savant, whose police officer father was killed in the line of duty protecting Kimi's father from an assassin's bullet.  Rahul is now the man of the house, filled with grief and rage, and yet ends up accepting the help of Kimi's father (he resists at first, ultimately caving because the man's connections mean a better life and education for his two younger siblings).  But Rahul is prideful and insists on working off the debt, which is how he starts washing windows at the Mumbai mansion and how he meets Kimi.  They become fast friends and eventually (unsurprisingly) complicated romantic feelings start clouding their friendship.

There are layers of conflict in this story.  You wouldn't know by looking at the cover art, but this is also a bit of a romantic suspense tale.  Leftover from the previous book, there's a gangster (currently hospitalized after Rahul emptied his gun into him...) who has been dealing in black market organ "donations."  As in, murdering people to harvest their organs.  Kimi's medical issues ultimately mean she has to have a heart transplant, the donor and procedure being in Hong Kong.  No connection right?  Well...the gangster is threatening her, taunting her to find out the story behind her heart, and seems bent on revenge against her father for some reason.  Before you think you know the obvious solution to this - let me assure you, um you probably don't.  Because I thought it was obvious and ended up stunned (in a good way) when the denouement's a doozy.

What I loved about this romance is how emotionally messy it is.  Rahul being the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, beholden to Kimi's father, and loving her even knowing they can never be together.  Kimi, the princess in the tower, isolated, hungry for adventure, loving a man so scarred by loss, so beholden to her father, and frantic that one wrong decision on his part could literally upend her precarious health.  Kimi's parents, desperate to save their miracle child, torn apart by it - a mother lost in religious zeal and her father who is desperate to save her.

The book does utilize flashbacks, with the story flitting between Kimi and Rahul in younger days and leading up to the resolution of the gangster story line and the happy ending.  I suspect some readers may find it a little over-the-top at times, but it was Wendy Catnip, with all the emotional angst and a borderline soap opera suspense plot (I know black market organs are a thing in real life, but it can't help but sound fantastical).

I loved the emotionally messy romance, I enjoyed the suspense, and I gasped at the denouement.  It's been a while since I've wanted a happy ending this badly for a romantic couple and I couldn't tear myself away from this book during the final stretch.  I'm late to the party, but I sure am glad I'm finally here.

Final Grade = A

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