Looking for a Light Escape? Read 'The Dating Plan'

And no, you don't have to read The Marriage Game beforehand!

the dating plan by sara desai
(Image credit: Design by Morgan McMullen)

These days, we could all use a light escape read, and the #ReadWithMC community agrees Sara Desai's The Dating Plan is just that. The romance novel follows Daisy and Liam who, after unexpectedly running into each other 10 years after their last encounter, plot a fake engagement à la Bridgerton to appease their own interests. Some characters are included from Desai's previous novel, The Marriage Game, but you don't have to read it to understand this story.

Though readers had mixed reviews about the book, overall they appreciated the South Asian representation in the characters, the interracial relationships, and the ability to forget about reality for a bit. As one reviewer noted, "I’m glad I have access to books now where South Asian characters aren’t ashamed of their background and their families aren’t a burden to them. I loved that Daisy loved her family and that even though she would be frustrated with how overbearing they could be, she still wanted to respect them. I am always, always, always here for some joy."

Aren't we all? Find out exactly what readers loved and didn't love about Marie Claire's April book club pick, below.

"When a book combines two tropes that I enjoy, fake dating and enemies to lovers, it is definitely one I can't wait to read! Daisy was a favorite character of mine from The Marriage Game, so I was excited that Sara Desai was giving us a book that focused on her. I really enjoyed this book and I loved that you get to catch up with Layla, Sam, and other characters we met in The Marriage Game.

Daisy and Liam's fake relationship was both funny and emotional. Ten years prior when Daisy was in high school, she was in love with Liam, her older brother's best friend, but after he stood her up on prom night, she hasn't seen him since. Daisy was justified in having her walls up around Liam when he resurfaced in her life and once the reason behind Liam's abrupt departure was explained, I liked how slowly Daisy started to learn to trust him again. I felt for both characters there was tremendous growth throughout the book since they both had family and career drama to deal with.

This book can be read as a standalone, since you are caught up with what happens in The Marriage Game, but I highly recommend reading that book as well.

CW: Mentions of child and physical abuse" —@alysonbookishthoughts

"The Dating Plan follows the story of Daisy and Liam, who become fake fiancees to help Daisy get her matchmaking relatives off her back and Liam fulfill the terms of his late grandfather's will.

C: 'I loved this one so much! Daisy and Liam's relationship was totally believable to me and I loved how Desai weaved their families into the story as well. It also was super fun reading a book that took place in SF!'

E: 'This enemies to lovers romantic comedy was a great beach read and had me laughing out loud throughout! I loved Daisy's character—she was so ~real~—and like that it took place in the Bay Area and that Daisy and Liam both worked in the Silicon Valley world! I also really enjoyed both of the family's dynamics.'" —@canwegoreadnow

"[CW: domestic violence, abandonment, anxiety]

When we have a Tortured Hero who’s also The Older Brother’s Best Friend, we’re in for a good time. Marriage of convenience isn’t a trope I really gravitate towards, but the enemies to lovers and fake dating in this drew me in. I also read this the weekend after January 6th and it was a perfect and necessary escape from *gestures wildly.*

For me, reading about characters that look like I do means everything. Growing up, I read a grand total of three books with South Asian main characters and they were either about the immigrant experience or about first gen kids who wanted to fit in (which in these cases meant be white). Those are absolutely valid stories, but I love to see myself represented in things like romcoms.

I’m glad I have access to books now where South Asian characters aren’t ashamed of their background and their families aren’t a burden to them. I loved that Daisy loved her family and that even though she would be frustrated with how overbearing they could be, she still wanted to respect them. I am always, always, always here for some joy." —@tothineshelfbetrue

"The story opens with drama and I love it! Imagine running into the ladies room only to find your ex with your former boss hooking up behind one of the bathroom stalls. Then the pad machine malfunctions and starts making noise, spitting out pads. So you grab the pads and run out as your former boss asks if someone is there. Then you come out of the restroom, only to find your match making auntie 'in the neighborhood' and wants you to meet a potential husband. Then you nearly fall and the man of your dreams (who also broke your heart 10 years back) breaks your fall! This is how chapter 1 opens! The book starts right away with humor and a fast paced, but realistic storyline.

I am so infatuated with love stories that involve people having a friendship or knowing each other from grade school. There is so much history and understanding between the main character Daisy Patel and her high school crush Liam Murphy, who is also her brother Sanjay’s old best friend. Although a story like this is unlikely to ever happen in real life, many of the events that took place in the beginning were surprisingly realistic (for me anyways). I like that Daisy and Liam get to know each other again and open up about things from the past, contributing to their commitment issues.

My critiques:

-The last four hours dragged on a little too long for me, especially for a predictable ending.

-Sanjay’s voice sounded too similar to Liam’s voice. The narrator, however, did well with the female voices.

-It got a little too sappy for me at the end.

-Some of the things that stayed silent/secret for a span of 10 years was a little unrealistic.

Other things I loved:

-Interracial relationship (Daisy is Indian and Liam is Irish).

-Themes of family, food and culture.

-Steamy romance scenes.

-References characters from the previous book: The Marriage Game. I am interested in reading this book now.

This could totally be a Netflix series or a movie." —@mae.rox.wanders

"Daisy is a software engineer with no interest in love but wants to keep her meddling family off her back. After stumbling into her old crush Liam, the two agree to be fake engaged so he can secure his inheritance and help keep her matchmaking relatives away.

This was a cute and sweet romance and it had me hooked with its fake dating storyline. It's a bit cheesy, but there's also fun banter and it'll leave you feeling good. I liked the STEM representation in Daisy's career, and enjoyed seeing the closeness of her Indian family and their traditions.

Some of the character stereotypes and family drama felt a bit over the top, and Liam and Daisy's arguments seemed to both escalate and de-escalate very quickly. Overall it's a fun, quick-read romance, but not particularly memorable." —@whatstephisreading

"First book finished of the year was #thedatingplan by @saradesaiwrites. Honestly, I fell in love with the characters in this book. I want to read her first book now. This was a sweet and spicy romance that made you want more after it ended. The characters were well thought out, it discussed challenges of interracial relationships, and how family choices impact us in big and small ways." —@blackbookishbabe89

"A fake relationship trope? Say no more. I was on board with The Dating Plan the moment I saw it as an early release @bookofthemonth choice. Liam Murphy was Daisy Patel’s childhood crush and brother’s best friend, who became part of the Patel family, but when he stood her up as her prom date he became her enemy. Years later, the two run into each other at a business conference and a fake engagement for mutual benefit and convenience is formed.

I sooo enjoyed Sara Desai’s writing style, and the storyline between the two love interests began immediately, so I was hooked from page one. I found this book really cute! It was light, had lots of humor, and was the perfect combo of rom-com and steam. As an employee at a dress company, I loved how the author highlighted Daisy’s dresses and shoes (just a small tidbit I noticed and appreciated).

Of course there were some super corny parts (and I am getting worn of the 'I’m not like other girls' main character), but I thought Daisy was likable and it was really refreshing to read about a character with a strong identity tied to her culture and family that was weaved into the story! I caught myself smiling at the pages more than once and could totally see this as a movie. Finally, when I finished this book, I realized that Sara Desai’s first book, The Marriage Game, takes place in this same 'world' and Daisy’s cousin Layla was the main character of that book featuring her own love story! It does not affect how this book reads though, so I am definitely going to backtrack and pick that one up too!" —@read_instyle

"I really wanted to like this book! Especially because I love the fake dating trope, and this one has an Indian-American protagonist!

There were lots of inaccuracies when it came to the cultural representation, and it felt like the author cherry picked food, language, and customs from all over India and blended them together into one weird generalized character and a weird generalized family that both felt like caricatures. It felt like this was written for a non-Desi audience and had tons of tropes. It felt like there were lots of opportunities for the author to do some additional research and that wasn't done.

Additionally, Daisy, the main character, feels a bit like a 'pick me' girl, who frequently asserts that she's nerdy and not like the others—which isn't something that makes her particularly likeable or relatable. The book has its sweet moments, and the fake dating trope itself is fun, but overall isn't something I'd recommend to others or want to re-read." —@bhavanareadsbooks

"I honestly had mixed feelings about this book. Ten years ago Daisy’s childhood crush, older brother's best friend, and basically her dads second son ditched her on prom night breaking her heart and then went rogue not only abandoning her, but her entire family too. So she’s in for a real shock when she bumps into THE Liam Murphy at a tech conference.

Now that they’ve reconnected they’ve realized they can use each other for their own personal gain, Daisy can use his connections to save her company and finally get the marriage-obsessed aunties off his back, and Liam can use to get his inheritance from his late grandfather who left him his distillery, but only if he’s married. So they enter a fake relationship to have a real marriage of convenience, but they soon realize that maybe this isn’t just about practicality.

So on one hand this book was entertaining enough and fun escapism with desi rep which is all great, on the other hand the writing wasn't that great and the characters were kinda dumb and the dialogue was way too on the nose. It started out strong, but my interest waned as it progressed.

Also if you’re fake engaged and trying to convince everyone that it’s real, why would you tell literally every single person you talk to that it’s just fake?? Also at first I was like really you’re still not over your prom date?? But now I realize that they had more history than that.

I really liked some parts, but some parts were so cheesy or just cringey. It’s one of those books that can be good as long as you don’t think too hard about it. To balance it out I’d give it 3/5 stars which isn’t bad, but not amazing." —@riasbookstagram

"This book was such a fun read! I loved the enemies to lovers trope, how it's set in San Francisco, and how the main characters worked in jobs that I don’t typically see represented in books. Desai brought Indian culture into this book so well and I couldn’t help but chuckle at all the scenes with Daisy’s nosy but well-meaning aunties. This book also had a big emphasis on the importance of family and the power of forgiveness both towards others and yourself, which I found heartwarming.

I did wish that it was a bit less predictable, but it is a romcom after all. 😂 I’d recommend this book if you’re looking for a cute and lighthearted read with likable characters!" —@one.sitting

"The Dating Plan was a cute and steamy romance with some refreshing representation.

Daisy Patel is a software engineer who runs into her brother’s ex-best friend who broke her heart 10 years ago. During their reunion at a conference, they fake-kiss and tell her pestering aunties that they’re engaged. The Dating Plan follows them through this fake engagement.

Let’s start with the bad news first—this book plays so heavily into stereotypes. It’s all i could think about as I read. Of COURSE the software engineer is anti-social, loves the marvel universe, and is super organized and quirky. And of COURSE the 'bad boy' drives a motorcycle and has a short temper paired with a traumatic past. I understand sometimes stereotypes are a bit unavoidable, but this one was chock-full of them.

There were also a LOT of events in the book that just felt dramatic or downright unrealistic. I know it’s fiction, but I like to walk that fine line in romances to where something like this MIGHT happen to someone, you know?

On the other hand, I LOVED the representation in this book—I feel like software engineers and venture capitalists aren’t usually the type of characters we usually see in books to begin with, and I loved that Daisy was a woman of color. Reading about her family and her culture added to the reading experience for sure.

I also really enjoyed the themes that were explored in this novel. From exploring the effects of childhood trauma, to how your career should (and shouldn’t) dominate your life, and the importance of accepting yourself and your worth, I think there was a lot of good stuff packed into this one.

Overall, I think this one is worth the read if you’re into the fake-dating trope and steamy romances.

CW: anxiety attacks, violence, domestic abuse, maternal abandonment, car crash, violence" —@kfix_reads

Missed out on our April book club pick? In May, we're reading Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. Read an excerpt from the book here.

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Rachel Epstein
Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.