Review by Gabrielle

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“I licked my lips, trembling, and when Sam kissed me, my mind went blank. Every thought and question and doubt slipped away, and all I could feel were his lips pressing against me.

Happy Diwali friends! Sonya Lalli brings all the delights of the festival of lights to readers in A Holly Jolly Diwali.

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.

I could not put this book down and read it in one weekend.

Niki makes a wonderful main character. A dutiful daughter, talented analyst and great friend, she always thinks before she acts so it is nice to see her get outside her comfort zone after she is let go from her job and make a last-minute decision to fly to Mumbai for her friend’s wedding. Through the experience we get to see Niki learn more about herself, develop confidence to choose for herself what her life will look like, and finally acknowledge that she deserves more in the love department. I like great character development and Sonya nails it with her character Niki.

For his part, Sam is definitely a swoon-worthy book boyfriend. I loved his whole ‘hot musician but really not a player’ thing. Bonus points for excellent parent figures in this book. I loved both Niki’s sweet and caring parents and Sam’s mom Aasha Auntie, the Tollywood movie star. 

The chemistry between Niki and Sam is instant and well constructed. I sometimes have a hard time with love at first sight stories, but I was all in for this one. I absolutely loved their witty banter and how their relationship develops. The story is only told from Niki’s point of view so we don’t always know what Sam is thinking which helped me buy into the ‘will they or won’t they’ vibe.  

The setting couldn’t be any better. Mumbai for Diwali? Yes please! I enjoyed all the descriptions of the festivities they participated in and the city itself. As Niki learns about her culture and Diwali, so does the reader alongside her. I especially loved that each person she asked about Diwali had a different answer about why it was special to them. After Mumbai, their group of friends travel to Goa for a group honeymoon and I equally enjoyed that setting. The next best thing to travelling yourself is travelling through a character’s eyes!

Overall, A Holly Jolly Diwali is a wonderful read full of great characters, excellent locations and a heartwarming HEA.