Review: The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

 

Title: The Heart Principle {The Kiss Quotient #3}

Author: Helen Hoang

Published: 31st August 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

 

I adored Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient and enjoyed The Bride Test. The Heart Principle is her third novel in the loosely linked romance fiction series.

On reading the Author’s Note, in which Hoang writes of her personal connection to the characters and events in The Heart Principle, any criticism of the novel risks seeming presumptuous and petty. And to be honest I have one or two issues with the story, including that this is not the ‘romance novel’ I was expecting.

The thing is, I’m not sure why that matters. I’ve never much cared for genre rules, and my own reading is fairly eclectic. In itself, I think The Heart Principle is a great read, but I definitely felt the gap between what I expected of the genre, and therefore the mood of the book, and what Hoang gives.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the romance here. The development of the relationship between the protagonists- Quan, who has appeared in previous novels, and Anna Sun, a violinist in the midst of a professional and personal crisis is swoony and steamy, and though of course it has its complications, there is a happy ever after ending for the couple. As a whole, however, the romance feels sidelined in favour of the serious challenges faced by Anna and her journey to overcome them.

Professionally, Anna is struggling with self doubt, and reluctantly seeing a therapist in an attempt to resolve it. When said therapist suggests her issue stems from a set of behaviours that indicates Anna is autistic, Anna is surprised, but recognises diagnostic traits in herself such her use of masking – imitating neurotypical behaviours to fit in. Anna’s family, who have always been critical of her, immediately rejects the notion, but any further exploration of the topic is shut down when Anna’s father is incapacitated by a stroke. Caring for her father, who will not recover, places Anna under an intolerable amount of pressure, and her subsequent meltdown results in estrangement from her family, and an emotional collapse.

I have nothing but praise for Hoang’s authentic, honest characterisation of Anna, and for the genuine depiction of her experiences, including autistic burnout and caregiving for an invalid family member, but there is also so much raw emotion, it makes for quite a harrowing read, and I found it a little overwhelming because I wasn’t expecting it.

So here is my recommendation, before you pick up The Heart Principle, throw out your expectations of genre and take this novel as it comes. It is sexy, heart-rending, intense and poignant.

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Review: The Bride Test {The Kiss Quotient #2} by Helen Hoang

 

 

Title: The Bride Test

Author: Helen Hoang

Published: July 1st 2019, Corvus

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

I loved The Kiss Quotient, it was such an unexpected delight that I was very much looking forward to reading The Bride Test. Hoang’s second contemporary romance novel, which can be read as a stand-alone, features Khai Diep, who was introduced briefly in The Kiss Quotient as Michael’s cousin.

Khai, a successful business owner in his mid twenties, is content to focus all his energy on his work, convinced that he is incapable of ‘normal’ emotions, and therefore destined to be alone. His mother however is determined that Khai will marry, and travels to Vietnam to find a him a bride whom she will present to her son as a fait accompli.

Mỹ Ngoc ‘Esmeralda’ Tran is a a young woman of mixed Vietnamese/American parentage who works as a hotel maid to support her daughter, mother and grandmother. Though surprised by Cô Nga’s unexpected invitation to spend time with her son in California with a view to marriage, Esme realises that it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. She has the summer, she is told, to convince Khai to make her his bride, or she will be returned to Vietnam.

It’s an inauspicious start to a love story. Esme’s motives can be construed as mercenary, she wants the chance of a better future for both herself and her daughter, and is willing to seduce Khai to secure it. It’s to Hoang’s credit that she manages to evoke sympathy for Esme, but I wasn’t keen that Esme kept so many secrets from Khai, it meant that there was a lack of honesty in their emotional connection which I did find disappointing.

However I wanted the relationship to work, in large part because Khai deserves to find the love and intimacy he believes he is incapable of reciprocating. Though Khai knows he is on the autistic spectrum, it’s clear he doesn’t quite understand what that means in terms of how he experiences emotion, and his response to a tragic incident as a teenager meant he formed an erroneous belief of himself. Khai’s perspective feels authentic and his struggle is actually very moving, even more so I think because his concern is not for himself.

My favourite scene in The Bride Test involved Esme giving Khai a haircut, it was both intimate and very sweet. I loved how Khai found the courage to explain about his needs, and Esme responded in a manner that was matter of fact. This occurs not long before their first kiss, almost halfway through the book.

I didn’t particularly care for the epilogue though which I thought was over the top. Given that we know a third book (most likely to feature Quan) is coming, Hoang could have given us a more subtle update, as she did here when Esme and Khai attended Michael and Stella’s wedding.

I did enjoy The Bride Test, and it has some funny, sweet and sexy moments, but I have to admit that the relationship between Khai and Esme felt uneven to me in a way that Stella and Michael’s did not.

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Click the cover to read my review of The Kiss Quotient

Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

 

 

Title: The Kiss Quotient {The Kiss Quotient #1}

Author: Helen Hoang

Published: Allen & Unwin June 2018

Status: Read March 2019

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My Thoughts:

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I finally picked up The Kiss Quotient from my TBR pile, but it wasn’t the racy, romantic and entertaining novel I discovered.

Thirty year old Stella Lane has everything she needs – a successful and satisfying career as an econometrician, plenty of money, and an orderly daily routine. However her mother wants grandchildren, and Stella wants to oblige, despite a lack of suitors and an aversion to intimacy. Recognising the need to overcome both of these issues, Stella approaches the challenge in her own unique way – she hires an escort to tutor her in the art of lust, and love.

The plot of The Kiss Quotient is, in part, a twist on the classic movie, Pretty Woman (if you aren’t familiar with, watch it asap!),. Though Hoang gives it her own creative flair, the novel offers the same delightful sense of unexpected romance, drama and fun.

Fair warning, there are no fade to black scenes in The Kiss Quotient, there are several explicit sex scenes between Stella and Michael. I was surprised to find such explicit encounters in a mainstream romance novel but I thought they were tastefully written, and sexy, as opposed to tawdry.

I thought Stella was a wonderful character. I’ve read several books lately that feature a neuroatypical character and I felt Stella’s voice was one of the more authentic, something that was less surprising when I learnt the author herself, and her daughter, are on the spectrum.

Michael has an interesting backstory, and though it could be said that he personifies the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ trope, I thought he was a well rounded character. I had to google Daniel Henney (whom I recognised by sight if not by name), and I certainly can’t fault Stella’s taste in men.

A charming and thoroughly modern romance novel, The Kiss Quotient is an enjoyable and engaging read.

 

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