THE HEART PRINCIPLE by Helen Hoang – double review!

A woman struggling with burnout learns to embrace the unexpected—and the man she enlists to help her—in this heartfelt new romance by USA Today bestselling author Helen Hoang.

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. 


Title : The Heart Principle
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book three/companion)
Format : e-ARC / eBook
Page Count : 304
Genre : Contemporary Romance
Publisher : Corvus/Atlantic Books
Release Date : September 2, 2021 / August 31, 2021

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / unrated 


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Love is messy
Grief is messy
Life is messy

My expectations coming into The Heart Principle were altered by things I’d seen on the author’s social media. I came into this expecting it to be different from the previous two in the series…and it was…and I’m okay with that. This story was definitely Anna’s book, Anna’s journey with some Quan on the side. I think some readers will miss that he wasn’t the full focus but I really liked Anna, her realisations, her evolving self awareness and her vulnerability. I could definitely have managed more Quan focus because as a character and great human, he was superb.

Anna’s character and her new diagnosis felt utterly raw. Anna’s reaction to the diagnostic news really resonated with me (not the same diagnosis), how she reacted, how it floored her, I could really relate to that. Later, how Anna grieved felt tangible and while some of that inertia of grief isn’t the most engaging thing to read about, it was and felt real.

I couldn’t stand Priscilla, I hated that dismissal she aimed towards Anna and having experienced that from my own mother, I seethed on her behalf. So much of this story that was personal to the character and author, felt personal to me too. This really isn’t your average romance, it’s messy and complicated but it’s rich.

There’s a lot of processing to do reading this and coming out of it; it still has me thinking. I will say that I wanted a little more depth in the closing quarter of the book but overall, this was a memorable journey and the most gritty of the three books. Helen Hoang really brought a portion of herself to this book and I am the richer for reading it.

Thank you to Corvus Books for the review copy.


Hollis’ unrated review

This is such a complicated reading experience and I’m really going to struggle putting some thoughts down, I think, and urge you to try this for yourself no matter what I come up with. Just know this might not be what you expect of it.

I knew pretty early on in the unfolding of this story that this was going to be very personal. Just from following the author, her struggles — all posted on public platforms — I could see the writing on the wall with this one. And she goes on to confirm it in the author’s note, too, just incase you think I’m reading too much into it. So the thought of “rating” or expressing dislike on something that is all but half a memoir is kind of uncomfortable. But if you go into this book expecting a romance ala what the cover is selling? You might end up with some buyer’s remorse.

Lately we’re seeing more and more romances toe the line of women’s fiction (or whatever you want to call it) where the romance is central, yes, but there are other topics that play just as (if not more) prominent a role. In this case I think there is equal page time given to both.. however, because of the structure of the story, you take turns reading about one thing and then another. The first part? Romance. Delightful. Sweet. Sexy. An irritating character or two. Some cameos. Everyone is having a good time and if we just quietly side-eye how quickly one of these two is moving and feeling? That’s okay. We can roll with it. The second part? Devastating. Uncomfortable. Frustrating. Hard to read. Over the course of a few different issues, really. Romance is on the back burner. And part three? A really rushed resolution that gives us a happily ever after but doesn’t resolve every single issue — which is often the case in women’s fiction but somehow, in this romance, feels.. unsatisfying? Not because I needed a bow tied on everything but I felt wound up so tight from part two and I wasn’t given enough time to decompress and process and see the character do the same. I don’t know how to explain it. But suffice it to say, yes, rushed.

That said, I am not calling this women’s fiction, nor am I hating on that genre — this year alone I’ve rated at least two of them five stars — it’s just that this feels a little bit of both, but not quite either.

Thus.. it’s an odd reading experience. But it’s obviously also a very personal one. Is Anna’s creative burnout, the fear of failing those who are watching her so closely, the author’s own manifested fear post-success of The Kiss Quotient? So much of Anna comes from the author (which she also explains was her reason to switch from third person to first) and the more I think about the elements of this story, the realer and realer is seems. And I haven’t even touched on the more obvious real-life elements she put onto the page.

I’m sure aspects of this will mean a lot for all sorts of readers or make them feel seen. I don’t want to dismiss that representation or impact. I just don’t know how it works as a whole when each section didn’t feel tuned to the same frequency.

What I’ve also yet to mention is that if you are expecting this to be Quan’s book? It isn’t, really. If you’re expecting the character represented by the woman on the cover to exude the energy she’s giving us with that pose? You won’t get it (this happens more and more due to illustrated covers, I think we’re all getting used to it, but it bears mention). This is a lot of things but between expectations and marketing I’m not sure it all lines up. And hey, it is what it is, I imagine the author did not anticipate her own circumstances to go the way they did during the course of writing this book, either.

So, again, how does one rate this? If you’re me, you don’t.

I absolutely don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this. I love this author, I love her works, and there is so much courage in putting these experiences out into the world in the form of fiction for people, like myself, to critique. I will absolutely read whatever else she puts out. But was this satisfying? Worth the wait? Everything I wanted? A great experience? I would say no. But the why of that no is due to all the aforementioned reasons above.

THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang – double review!

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.


Title : The Bride Test
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book two)
Format : eARC / paperback
Page Count : 315
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley / Atlantic
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

She got you a mail-order bride from Vietnam, Khai.
Why do you say it so it sounds so bad? She’s not a ‘mail-order bride’. I met her in person.

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I loved THE KISS QUOTIENT. I was so excited when Hoang announced a companion to her world that would not only feature a male lead with autism, though would not be quite like what we experienced with Stella, but would be equally diverse, too. And I really did enjoy being inside Khai’s head. When he wasn’t breaking my heart, that is. Esme, too, was a wonderful heroine. Strong and determined but taking chances, and risks, not for personal gain — or, rather, not only for it — but for her family.

She didn’t need a rich man. She just needed someone who was hers.

The conflicts in this story, Khai’s belief that he’s unable to feel emotion (and, conversely, his inability to handle soft touches and how instead he needs to be handled firmly, held tightly), and Esme’s self-worth as an uneducated immigrant, feel genuine and real; and reading the author’s note helps to explain why these characters resonate so strongly. Khai’s brother, Quan, is a character I want to know more about, too, because he all but leapt off the page at me. Plus, yeah, I want more.

It was easier to keep people at arm’s length when it was for their own good instead of his. That way, he got to be a hero instead of a coward.

However, I’ll admit that this read didn’t consume me the way THE KISS QUOTIENT did. While I so loved when these two got together (hell, even the build-up and the way Esme’s presence wreaked havoc on Khai was fabulous), even if they weren’t yet on the same page, even if they had yet to divulge all their secrets, it was something of a slower start, and as much as I loved these characters, I think I still wanted.. more. I did love the epilogue, though, which I thought to be a much more reasonable ending after all the dramatic excitement just before the final chapter. But that’s all I’m saying.

He was strange and tactless and very possibly an assassin, but when she looked at his actions, all she saw was kindness.

Should you read this? Absolutely. Will it overtake your love for the THE KISS QUOTIENT? To each their own. It’s definitely a sweet, funny, swoony, and a totally worthy addition to the author’s little universe.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

How do I follow up Hollis’ and many others’ reviews of this rather special book? I don’t know but I’m going to give you a snapshot of my experience. Hold on while I gush because a mail-order bride story with diverse representation, you say. Signed up.

What starts off as an interesting Vietnamese character, My, quickly transports to the US where My renames herself Esme, ready to take on the challenge of being the wife-to-be for Khai. Esme was a ball of self-proclaimed inadequacy, desperate to provide for her family. The slow transformation of a twinkling of Esme’s self-belief and beginning to live for herself was beautiful as it unfolded. I was drawn to her humility, her heart on her sleeve and genuineness.

“Sky and earth, she wanted to taste that smile. And each of those dimples.”

Khai didn’t feel or emote and despairing, his mother went on a special mission to find him a wife, a companion. Khai didn’t know what he wanted or needed, he lived by his routines and the satisfaction in intellectual tasks. However, in little ways, Khai was a stand-up guy for his brother and his mother that gave insight into the caring man he could be. This book brought such believable character development as he navigated the heart connection and sexual attraction.

There wasn’t one thing I didn’t enjoy about this story. It was engaging, it represented topics that we need to read and hear about more, such as, immigration, autism spectrum disorders, poverty and access to education. Helen Hoang wove these issues seamlessly without pontificating, through real lives. Most of all, I adored Khai and Esme, together, apart, awkward and yet natural together, fish sauce and all.

“Her curves fit to his hollows, soft to hard, smooth to rough, the perfect debit to his credit.”

Thank you Atlantic books for the review copy, I feel lucky to have read this early.