Trigger warning: Suicide ideation
What a lovely book. I have really enjoyed all of the books in this series, and this one is probably my favorite. I know that some readers were not happy with this because it was “too serious” and not a romantic comedy like they were expecting. But honestly, we get some very “fire” sex scenes, so I was fine with this book being more open about the main character’s Asperger’s diagnosis and the burnout that she was feeling and how dark things got for her. And I loved that we get to see Quan again and find out that things have been different for him since we last saw this character two years ago. There’s a lot of ugly stuff in this book, but I loved how one reader who was Asian put it, this shows a different side to her culture, warts and all, and she appreciated what Hoang was doing with this. I do too.
“The Heart Principle” follows Anna Sun and Quan Diep. Anna, is a violinist who right now is dealing with a mental block. She’s unable to play music beyond scales and feels like everything is crumbling around her. When her longtime boyfriend Julian poses they have an open relationship, Anna decides that she’s going to go forward and have a one night stand. Quan is trying to get back to normal after dealing with a cancer diagnosis. His best friend, Michael, pushes him to start dating again, but Quan is reluctant to date anyone seriously. And then he sees Anna profile where she proposes meeting up for one night and goes for it.
So Anna is wonderful. My heart broke for her. She feels wrong and doesn’t know how to interact with people, and does a lot of what we see is acting as others want her to. The gaslighting that went on with her family as it related to her was so frustrating to read. I think that Hoang deciding to tell Anna and Quan’s story in first person was a switch from the way she wrote the prior books in the series, but it works. Anna having to deal with her musical block, her family’s expectations, her boyfriend’s expectations, the world, I felt suffocated anytime we switched to her point of view.
Quan was great. I don’t even know what else to say. Seeing him and Anna fall for each other more just worked. I hate romance novels that have the hero/heroine rush into things and decide in two weeks, hey we are in love. This book covers a period of over two years when it’s all said and done, and I think it helped give more weight to things.
The two main characters love scenes were fantastic. Like fan yourself while reading fantastic. I haven’t read a lot of romance lately where the two mains had such great chemistry, so this was very much appreciated.
The other characters, like Michael, Stella, from prior books are in this one. I was happy to see peeks of them. We get new characters, like Anna’s sister Prudence (I hated her), her cousin Faith, and of course her mother and boyfriend Julian. Everyone was developed so well. I actually found myself clenching my jaw a lot while reading anything to deal with Anna’s sister, I don’t know how this character wasn’t smothered to death by other people.
The writing and flow was great. I think this book just really worked on all levels.
The setting of this book is San Francisco and we get peaks at this city in a different way. We get intimate insights into Anna and Quan’s place, but other locations around the city that the two go to.
The book ends on a hopeful and more transparent note. There are some loose ends left which I don’t know if we will delve into if there’s another book in this series. But I would hope that Hoang addresses them in some way. Most of them deal with the character of Prudence. I can’t see her being a main character (also I hate her) but I wonder if a future book could follow Faith.