The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book hits right in the heart! I’ve been not-so-patiently awaiting The Heart Principle for literally years…and finally got my hands on it. It was well done and written with love.

Anna is a violinist stuck in a loop. After a viral video made her music famous, she can’t seem to make it through a full song without thoughts of what others think just crowding in. After her boyfriend asks for an open relationship, she decides it’s time to make some changes, and seeks a new relationship and some revelations of her own.

Quan survived a diagnosis that left him feeling less than whole, and it’s ruined his carefree lifestyle and relationship style – until now. Looking for one night to get him back on the horse, he finds Anna, and falls head over heels for this woman.

When tragedy strikes Anna’s family, and she comes face to face with a diagnosis of her own, things become too much, and it threatens the one good thing Anna and Quan always have: each other.

I’ve got to say right off, I didn’t love this book as much as I’ve loved Hoang’s other novels, and I actually feel bad about it. The Heart Principle feels kind of like a cross between a romance and a contemporary/literary fiction novel. There’s a lot of focus on the story, the character development, and relationships outside of the romantic relationship, that are more present in literary fiction. However, this book also follows the arc of a romance novel. I’m not dissatisfied, certainly, but if you’re reading this review and seeing four stars like it’s a four star romance, I don’t mean it in that way. It’s a four star book overall.

This book focuses heavily on mental health and caregiving. I don’t want to spoil any big details, but it’s split up into three parts revolving around a major health event, and then the caregiving that comes after. These parts felt the most meaningful to me: as much as I love any Hoang romance, the author’s interaction with the story during these parts definitely had a deeper quality to it, and for good reason. After reading the book, I was met with the author’s note, which explains that Hoang wrote the story over the three years she was acting as a caregiver for her mother. These parts of the story are raw and real because they’re based in reality for her, and I definitely felt that as the reader.

The romance portion is where my star is lost. I think it’s really nicely done, and I think Anna and Quan’s support for one another even in the hardest of times is emotionally heartwarming and sweet. However, it doesn’t live up to the standards of her previous books in this sense. Don’t read it expecting it to be the main event…but certainly read it. I still very much recommend this book, but be aware that it is far heavier than any of her others, and take care of yourself while reading.

A copy of The Heart Principle was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It will be available August 31, 2021.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hey all! I’m going to preface this review by saying…this book is wicked sad. I cried several times. It was reminiscent of reading In Five Years, but I was very taken with Lydia’s story and the beautiful cast of characters that make up her life.

Lydia Bird’s fiancé has died in a car crash. In the months after Freddie’s death, Lydia is struggling hard to move on with her life in her emotional turmoil. And then, miraculously, some sleeping pills she never intended to take connect her to a world where Freddie is still alive, and their world keeps spinning. She falls quickly down a spiral of sleeping just for the chance to see her love, and live her life as it should have been.

But as she falls deeper and deeper into this fantasy, the real world is slipping away from her. It can’t compare to the hours she spends in another universe, even when it shows that this world, too, has its faults. As Lydia is forced to confront her grief with this added curveball, it becomes clear she cannot exist in two lives, as two Lydia’s.

The plot of this novel is absolutely artful. It’s truly a masterpiece. I want to follow Josie Silver around and just clap for her for like a straight 24 hours. I’m in awe of her ability to not only portray grief and loss, but for her ability to navigate the question “what would I do with one more chance?” with creativity and heart. It. Is. Beautiful.

Another thing I’m absolutely loving about Lydia Bird is the messiness of it. The plot can feel a bit scattered at times, but when you step back and process those pages, it becomes obvious that Silver has simply crafted real-life. Which is messy, and sad, and you don’t always make the right decisions – but you eventually get where you need to be. The cast of characters Silver has created, from Lydia’s mother and sister, to her lifelong friend Jonah who was Freddie’s best friend, and with him at the time of his death, to her coworkers, and Kris and Vita, who provide friendship exactly when Lydia needs it. Looking back, I’m shocked by just how many characters actually do play a pivotal role in this story…which only reinforces the idea that grief, loss, and life are messy, and it takes a village to get through it.

Lydia is lucky. The people around her are here for her, 100%, and they lighten the load of the real-world as she slowly adjusts from these shell-shocking events. The familial love laced in every page makes this book warm to the heart, despite the cold and sad loneliness that haunts it. I cannot stress enough that this is a work of art! Amazing.

I’m warning you now, this book is dense. It took me days to get through primarily because of its emotional weight. Take time to process, and take time to take care of yourself. Lydia’s feelings feel so real, which is a positive thing, but feels heavy for the reader.

I am just absolutely enthralled by Lydia Bird. I highly recommend! Special thanks to Willow for letting me borrow her copy ❤ ! The Two Lives of Lydia Bird was released on March 3, 2020 and is available now. Enjoy! 🙂

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Ugh, GUYSSSS. This book was SO SAD. I’m going to be real upfront with you, this book is not what I expected, whatsoever, and I’m going to do my best to not spoil it for you either. I think there’s something magic in the book I expected to get, becoming the book I got – and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone. Whoever wrote this synopsis did a lovely job. Specifically, “In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.” It certainly was not.

Dannie is a corporate lawyer, living exactly the life she planned for herself in New York. Her best friend is her total opposite: free-spirited and loving and flitting from one thing to next. But Dannie is okay with that; she’s content with her own life and knows Bella’s is far different.

Until the night she gets her dream job and gets engaged, when she falls asleep and wakes up in what is certainly not a dream but most definitely a vision of the future – five years from now, in a different apartment, with a different man. When she returns to her present, she lives with this haunting memory until the day she meets that man in person, four and a half years later.

Honestly, that’s really all I can tell you without spoilers! But if this description sounds good to you, buckle up. This is not the ride you think it is.

Somewhere around the halfway point of this book, things took a sharp right turn, I started sobbing, and I haven’t stopped since. I cannot relay to you the beauty of this book in words, and how it made me feel. The characters were incredible and whole, and while I felt at first that they were too perfectly cast to be real, I know now that that’s the point of the story, and what can be drawn from it.

One interesting thing I noted was that Dannie’s perspective is very robotic. You understand right from the beginning that she’s very Type-A, she lives things exactly according to plan and thrives in environments of her own making. But her voice gains strength throughout the novel: as she’s forced to step outside and feel, you can see the change in her perspective and her dialogue, the way she interacts with others. It’s like a blending between two extremes (you’ll see!) that leaves her a little bit better than we found her, prepared to move on to something greater. Again, it’s so hard to review this book without ruining it for you. I want everyone to experience, the shock, the grief, the love that this book has to offer, without my having tainted it.

This book flew by for me. Whenever I picked it up, I could hardly put it down. You’ve been warned. 🙂 I highly recommend In Five Years.

An advance copy of In Five Years was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley. It was released March 10, 2020.

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh my lord, did I love this one! Guys, I was up until 4:30 last night reading this gem. I could not. Put. It. Down! I had absolutely loved Jimenez’s The Friend Zone and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one – and it did not disappoint. Incidentally, I also went to bed around 4:30 when I read The Friend Zone…I highly recommend that book as well!

The Happy Ever After Playlist takes us to two years after Brandon’s death – our heroine Sloan’s fiance, who died in a motorcycle accident. She’s lived her life after his passing like a shrine to him, never moving forward. Until a dog jumps in front of her car and through her sunroof.

Jason is an up-and-coming musician, and he’s just gotten about a thousand calls about his dog living with some stranger while he was doing a concert in Australia. Some beautiful, kind stranger. When he returns to pick up Tucker (this dog, despite all the WONDERFUL characters in this book, is probably still my favorite), sparks fly and the two hit it off. Sloan finally has a chance to move beyond the stillness she’s been living in. But unfortunately, this relationship has an expiration date – Jason’s fourteen-month tour around the world.

What I endlessly love about Jimenez’s books, other than the fantastic characters full of depth, is the familiarity between them. Jimenez has a talent for capturing human relationships and connections that you can just feel, whether it’s Sloan and her best friend Kristen (trust me, these two got more tears out of me while I read this than Jason and Sloan did!) or the lovebirds themselves. By all rights, this story should’ve felt like “instalove” – that nasty trope where you don’t quite understand what changed and why the characters are suddenly in love and we’re supposed to follow that?? In the course of just one week they’re getting married?? etc. BUT THIS BOOK had none of that! And I entirely attribute it to Jimenez’s writing ability and vision for human relationships. Despite the fast pace of this romance, she never lost me. You just fall with them. Incredible.

While I have never, ever, luckily experienced anything like the pain Sloan has, I found her character and the way she interacts with the world to be really relatable and genuine. From the moment a dog jumped through her sunroof, I know I would’ve been best friends with this girl. It’s so much easier to root for the characters when you feel you genuinely understand them.

My only real complaint with this book (and as you can see, it’s a small one, because this still got five stars from me!) is that the plot becomes a bit back-and-forth, rough drama through the middle. What I did appreciate, though, and the reason this doesn’t affect my rating whatsoever, is that Jimenez doesn’t really follow the traditional romance plot path. Buckle up, because there are far more conflicts in this book than your typical romance. I mean, usually, I can see I’ve got about 20% left or so in a book, and I know the bombshell is coming. The other shoe is about to drop. It’s about to hit the fan. But things hit the fan so many times in this book! So many times! And while it took my emotions on a rollercoaster ride, the love that Sloan and Jason build is so much stronger and feels so much more authentic to the reader when you know all it took to get there. It feels more comparable to real life relationships than the un-popped bubble of other novels does.

Jimenez has me HOOKED. I will read anything she publishes. I feel like I’m saying that about a lot of authors lately, but I mean it. The romance world is getting real juicy. I can’t wait for her next novel. ❤

The Happy Ever After Playlist comes out today, April 14, 2020! I highly encourage you to grab a copy, and as tired as I am today, I’m happy to report it was worth missing sleep over. 🙂 A copy was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.