Welcome to STYLE Canada’s Boreal Book Club: a monthly meeting narrated by Erin Catto, (reviewer at Girl Well Read), for bookworms who are looking to scour new pages. Each instalment of our Boreal Book Club will feature a Canadian author and their latest title. Be sure to use the hashtag #BorealBookClub to share with us on social!
Kamila Knows Best is a fresh and modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. Set in Toronto, it features a vibrant cast that is enhanced by Bollywood movie nights and mouthwatering food.
Our heroine has an incredible flair and sense of style but when it comes to her personal life, she’s not as polished. Between her family obligations, volunteering, and her career in a predominantly male industry, Kamila doesn’t have a lot of time for romance. And to further complicate things, her nemesis is back in town and has her sights set on her longtime family friend, Rohan.
The relationship is both enhanced and complicated by Kamila’s familial expectations—caring for her father, as well as trying to honour his wishes, comes at the expense of going against her own aspirations. She is a strong personality and a character with incredible depth.
Through its witty banter, off-the-charts chemistry, and delicious descriptions of food, Heron’s latest contemporary offering is an absolute delight!
Tahira in Bloom is a coming-of-age romcom that addresses some of the larger issues that teenagers face, like the pressures of social media and the struggle to find your identity. But Heron does this through the lens of a modern Muslim teenager who also faces microaggressions, racism, and lack of representation.
When seventeen-year-old Tahira Janmohammad’s coveted fashion internship falls through, her over-involved parents have a backup plan. They have arranged for her to help at her aunt’s boutique—it’s only for the summer and she’ll gain the experience she needs for her college application.
The only problem is that it is not in trendy Toronto, it’s in the small town of Bakewell, the flower capital of Ontario. Even though Tahira is allergic to flowers, she decides it won’t be that bad. That is until she meets the boy next door. Although he’s super handsome, Rowan Johnston is rude, obsessed with gardening, and has terrible fashion sense.
Tahira discovers that the floral sculpture competition at the annual flower festival may be the in she needs with a famous New York City streetwear designer. In order to win, she needs to find a way to work with Rowan.
Turns out the floral design is actually pretty great and so is Rowan. But Tahira is about to find out what she’s made of and made for—she plants her dreams and begins to bloom.
The characters are vibrant and layered. Heron writes her leads on equal footing and bases their attraction on mutual respect—Tahira and Rowan both admire each other’s talents. Her drive stems from her strict and hyper-focused parents, and the goals that she sets for herself are as lofty as her parents’ expectations. Although they come off as strong, her mother and father are incredibly supportive. The secondary cast of characters are well-developed and diverse—they are just as memorable and completely worthy of their page time.
Tahira in Bloom is a fresh YA romance that’s filled with fashion, flowers, and witty banter. Highly recommend!
Scroll to learn more about romance author Farah Heron in an inclusive interview with STYLE Canada!
GWR: What does your writing process look like? How many hours a day do you write?
FH: I don’t have a set routine, but I tend to do more actual writing at night. During the day I get all my promo and business stuff taken care of. Right now, with everyone at home, it can be hard for me to turn off my brain enough to focus until everyone else has gone to bed.
GWR: Is there a particular author/work that inspired you to become a romance writer? Who are some other authors that are especially good with writing relationships and/or friendships?
FH: I was inspired to write by several writers. Back in the 90s (I know, I’m dating myself here) I loved rom-coms in the chick-lit craze. One of my favourites was Marian Keyes for her ability to blend very serious topics with romance and humour. Then a little later in life I discovered historical and contemporary romance. As I read more of them, I had trouble turning off my own stories in my head, so I started writing. Around then I discovered the work of Sonali Dev. Before her, I didn’t know that there was a market for romances with Indian characters and Indian culture with specificity. Since then, I have written stories set in my own culture.
GWR: If you could tell your younger self something about writing and becoming an author, what would it be?
FH: I would have told myself to start writing instead of just telling myself that I should try writing one day. I didn’t start writing fiction until 2016, when I was nearly forty. Things moved quickly for me in my writing career, but I wish I had taken the plunge before then. But at the same time, publishing in the past wasn’t what it is now, and I’m not sure I would have been able to get published with my Indian-Canadian rom-coms before now.
GWR: How did you come up with the concept of Kamila Knows Best? Is a modern retelling something that you have always endeavoured to write?
FH: I have been a Jane Austen super-fan for years, and I’ve loved retellings, so I always knew I wanted to try my own one day. I picked Emma, not because it was my favourite Austen (that would be Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion) but because I thought Emma would be such a great challenge to try to adapt. Emma is a very hard character for many to love, and it’s such a balance to make readers root for a character who is at the same time very image conscious and meddling, but also generous and playful. And yes, I did find it incredibly hard—mostly because modern stories need to have goals and motivations that were often absent in older books. But I loved the way it turned out, and I hope readers fall in love with Kamila as much as I did.
GWR: Your novels are both enhanced and complicated by cultural and familial expectations—for example, in Kamila’s case, she is conflicted with her desire to both fulfill and defy her father’s wishes and in Accidentally Engaged, Reena is trying to balance personal fulfillment against the pressure of her culture as well as family duty—why is it important for you to include these topics in a romantic comedy?
FH: I think whether I want to or not, I will always write about families and family expectations in my stories. Family is such a big part of the lives of immigrant communities, and it’s almost impossible to write a south Asian story without family being a part of it. I personally find the push and pull between our culture’s collectivist thinking, and North America’s individualist way of life, brings so many story possibilities.
GWR: Tahira in Bloom is your first foray into YA. Did you approach it the same way as your other works?
FH: Not at all! My adult rom-coms are about millennials for the most part. And even though I am a bit older than that (aging myself again!), I am pretty much writing my adult characters from my own worldview. But my teen characters are gen Z. They are basically my own teenage kid’s worldview. I used to be a youth counsellor, so I also drew on my experiences there to get the “teen brain” right. Another difference is my adult books are about the children of immigrants (for the most part). The characters have that culture clash between their immigrant parents, and their North American upbringing. But my YA books are about the grandchildren of immigrants, again, like my own kids. They don’t have cultural confusion or cultural struggles. They have Canadian-born liberal parents. But that doesn’t make them less Indian. This was something that was hard for me to find in YA—most books I came across with South Asian teenagers were about immigrant families, and they were about cultural struggles. I wanted to write a story with kids more like my own.
GWR: What was the inspiration behind Tahira in Bloom?
FH: My inspiration was the teen romances I used to read and re-read as a child. These were primarily low-angst, coming of age stories about first love, and they often had small town settings. I set out to write something like that, but with more diversity. I was also inspired by Schitt’s Creek for the fish out of water setting.
GWR: I love that the attraction between Tahira and Rowan is based on mutual respect in that they both admire each other’s talents. Did you set out to have your leads on equal footing or was this something that evolved as you were writing?
FH: I did set out for them to each have their own passion that they would admire the other for. I settled on flowers for Rowan early, as I had just binged Netflix’s Big Flower Fight, and I was entranced with the elaborate floral sculptures. My son suggested fashion for Tahira, and I thought it would work well because I wanted to make her a city girl through and through. It also was easy for me to write about fashion and fashion design, because I not only used to work in the industry, but I also was once a hobby sewist, and used to design and sew dresses for fun.
GWR: Can we just take a moment to appreciate the food in your books? You seem to know your way around a kitchen—are you a cook/baker? What are some of your favourite things to make or favourite pairings?
FH: I love to cook! I call myself the queen of hobbies because I pick up a new one and become completely obsessed with it every few years. A while back I was obsessed with bread and sourdough. I grew out of that hobby right before I started writing Accidentally Engaged, so all the bread baking there was based on my own experiences. I still bake, but not as much as I used to. I also really love making the Indian food I grew up with, and thankfully my family loves it too. It’s a great way to connect to my culture, and the food is so comforting! But I am also a huge fan of Chinese and Thai food, and it’s probably the most common food we eat at home.
GWR: What are you working on now?
FH: I have a few projects on the go right now! I will start edits on my next YA soon. It will be released in the fall. It’s set in the same family as Tahira in Bloom and is about Tahira’s sister Samaya. Samaya is nothing like Tahira, though. She’s a math genius, and a bit of a video game nerd. I’ve paired her with Daniel, a hockey player who wants to study pastry arts after high school. They make pies and play video games together. But it’s really a story about class differences, moving on after heartbreak, and learning to tune out high school gossip to focus on what’s important. And I recently announced my next adult book, Jana Goes Wild, which is a second chance romance set on a Tanzanian safari. I think we’re all looking to armchair travel right now so writing something set on a dream vacation has been super fun.
Last modified: February 10, 2022