Two Houses by Suleena Bibra
10/5/2021 by Carina Press
Review by Melanie
Two Houses, the charming debut novel by Suleena Bibra, is your classic enemies-to-lovers trope. Priya Gupta and Gavin Carlyle work at competing auction houses, each owned by their respective families. Having known each other for years, attending the same schools, and running in the same social circles, Priya has always hated Gavin, her long-time nemesis. But as the famous saying goes, there’s a very thin line between love and hate. And when Priya and Gavin constantly keep popping up in each other’s orbits, it’s easy enough for that thin line to get blurred and maybe even disappear.
Priya Gupta is desperate to take over her family’s auction house. She has a passion for the arts and for business and is clearly the obvious choice to take over for her father. That is obvious to everyone but her father. One of the hardest things about this book was the absolutely misogynistic attitudes expressed by her father. When Priya and her twin brother are kids, her father takes her brother to the office, leaving behind Priya to stay with her mother and learn how to cook. As they get older, he gives Priya a courtesy job title while grooming her brother to take over the business. The problem is that Priya, who is clearly the one meant to run things, turns her made-up position into a real one, putting on successful shows and making a name for herself in the industry. Meanwhile, her brother has zero interest in running the actual business and mainly wants to focus on creating his own art, and is too afraid to come clean to their father.
Enter Gavin, handsome, rich, also being groomed to take over the family business, and also having issues standing up to his dad. In any enemies-to-loves, there’s usually one MC who secretly has been pining for the other MC the whole time and I really don’t think it will surprise anyone to learn that in this scenario, the piner is Gavin. But, as is the case so often in this trope, instead of being open and honest about his feelings, he spends his time antagonizing Priya and she gives as good as she gets. There is a slew of examples of how these two constantly undermine each other and steal clients from each other – some of it pretty funny, some of it downright gross and immature, and all of it leading me to wonder how these two manage to maintain their professional reputation in public.
The plot in this book picks up when Priya and Gavin, competing to land the same highly coveted collection, are summoned to spend a week at the country home of the billionaire they’re both trying to impress. At this point, the book takes a slight left turn and devolves into the kind of English house party more commonly found in regency era histroms, but make it modern and place it in upstate New York. The two, along with a few other guests and the host family, spend the better part of a week indulging in fancy 9-course meals and all manner of rich people’s games, including shooting, horse riding, tennis, and yachting. Alas, there is even a hunting trip planned for the week but sadly, has to be canceled. It is kind of hysterical really, how many of the classic regency era histrom tropes pop up in this book that is set very much in the 21st century. There is even an evening when the party of 8 are taught old-timey dances including the quadrille and the waltz.
Juxtaposed against all of this opulent elegance, are two very modern characters who engage in all manner of chicanery all the while trying to fight their growing attraction to each other. It all comes to a head (er, no pun intended) in the very dubiously named sex room (a room filled with erotic artwork), when Priya and Gavin partially give in to their growing attraction by engaging in mutual masturbation in a scene that is delightfully steamy and filthy. In fact, strangely enough, though the scene does not involve either character touching each other, it is by far the sexiest scene in the book, far hotter than any of the scenes where the two actually have sex with each other.
While the two may have given in to their physical desires, Priya remains unconvinced that this could actually go anywhere. As a woman, and especially one in a very patriarchal society, she knows she has to work much harder to impress her father, and consorting with the enemy is not the best way to get in his good graces. Gavin, however, is fully on board, determined to see if their relationship has the possibility to go the distance. Never mind the fact that they work for competing auction houses, their fathers despise each other, oh, and the reason they’re both at this house party is to try and land the same client.
While much of this book is charming despite the retread of histrom themes in a contemporary setting, it’s a series of missteps leading towards the ending that actually doesn’t work all that well for me. Priya’s father’s misogyny pops up in a very terrible way, leading Priya to decide to walk away from the family business. While she’s going through this extremely emotional upheaval, Gavin decides to profess his love in a moment that is so ill-timed that the second the words left his mouth, I was like “oh, Gavin, NO.” And really, the only thing that saves it is that Priya lets him have it, a brutal verbal takedown that he more than deserves for making her pain all about him.
Obviously, this is a romance and so, there is a HEA, and surprisingly, it comes about with the help of Priya’s mom and a very surprising reveal. I feel like that particular reveal if it had happened earlier, could have basically resolved one of the major plot points in the book. I’m actually not sure how to feel about it but I will say, I’m glad that particular point is not how Priya’s relationship with her father is resolved.
I also have to add, I really liked the side characters, specifically Priya’s cousin, Sonia, who is also her assistant/best friend. Their relationship is delightful and their exchanges are really amusing and I would be ok were Sonia to get her own book.
All in all, I think it’s a strong, solid debut, uneven in parts but the two MCs make up for it. Priya is smart and competent and despite spending much of the book trying to antagonize her, Gavin’s respect for her abilities is never in doubt. Watching these two fight their feelings for each other and then fall for each other is a pretty fun ride.
Content notes: As stated, there is some misogyny in this book alongside some toxic parental relationships.