Grief and suffering make for an emotionally moving novel, but without fully exploring healing and recovery, is it a romance?

THE HEART PRINCIPLE

A violinist struggling from burnout must face even bigger challenges.

After experiencing viral fame and an exhausting tour, Anna Sun can only hear flaws and mistakes when she plays music. She spends hours every day restarting the same piece of music, trying to make it perfect. When her therapist suggests Anna might be on the autism spectrum, she is relieved to finally understand herself better; unfortunately, her sister’s painful rejection of the idea leaves her feeling even more estranged from her family. After her boyfriend informs her he wants to be in an open relationship, Anna creates a profile and connects with Quan Diep on a dating app. The successful CEO of a small clothing company, Quan wants to enter the dating pool after a bout with cancer. Although they both want a no-strings affair, Anna discovers how easy it is to be her real self with Quan. The first half of the novel shows their relationship morphing into one of mutual caring and respect. When Anna’s father suffers a debilitating stroke without a medical directive, Anna and her mother and sister decide to care for him at home. Hoang unflinchingly describes the physically exhausting work of caretaking, which is coupled with Anna’s emotionally wrenching conviction that her father does not want to live this way. The primary themes in the second half are about filial piety and how Anna’s endless self-sacrifice without corresponding acceptance from her family pushes her to create limits and boundaries. Quan is a solid, steady presence but mostly relegated to the back burner. In the afterword, Hoang calls the book “half memoir,” which helps explain why it feels like half a romance. Genre readers will have to judge for themselves if the romance plot satisfies, but those desperate for fiction that explores the crushing weight of caregiving will find it here.

Grief and suffering make for an emotionally moving novel, but without fully exploring healing and recovery, is it a romance?

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-19783-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS

An earnest grad student and a faculty member with a bit of a jerkish reputation concoct a fake dating scheme in this nerdy, STEM-filled contemporary romance.

Olive Smith and professor Adam Carlsen first met in the bathroom of Adam's lab. Olive wore expired contact lenses, reducing her eyes to temporary tears, while Adam just needed to dispose of a solution. It's a memory that only one of them has held onto. Now, nearly three years later, Olive is fully committed to her research in pancreatic cancer at Stanford University's biology department. As a faculty member, Adam's reputation precedes him, since he's made many students cry or drop their programs entirely with his bluntness. When Olive needs her best friend, Anh, to think she's dating someone so Anh will feel more comfortable getting involved with Olive's barely-an-ex, Jeremy, she impulsively kisses Adam, who happens to be standing there when Anh walks by. But rumors start to spread, and the one-time kiss morphs into a fake relationship, especially as Adam sees there's a benefit for him. The university is withholding funds for Adam's research out of fear that he'll leave for a better position elsewhere. If he puts down more roots by getting involved with someone, his research funds could be released at the next budgeting meeting in about a month's time. After setting a few ground rules, Adam and Olive agree that come the end of September, they'll part ways, having gotten what they need from their arrangement. Hazelwood has a keen understanding of romance tropes and puts them to good use—in addition to fake dating, Olive and Adam are an opposites-attract pairing with their sunny and grumpy personalities—but there are a couple of weaknesses in this debut novel. Hazelwood manages to sidestep a lot of the complicated power dynamics of a student-faculty romance by putting Olive and Adam in different departments, but the impetus for their fake relationship has much higher stakes for Adam. Olive does reap the benefits of dating a faculty member, but in the end, she's still the one seemingly punished or taunted by her colleagues; readers may have been hoping for a more subversive twist. For a first novel, there's plenty of shine here, with clear signs that Hazelwood feels completely comfortable with happily-ever-afters.

Fresh and upbeat, though not without flaws.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-33682-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A wickedly funny rom-com about the power of second chances, family, and love.

THE EX HEX

A small-town witch is forced to make magic with the man who broke her heart when his return sets a series of supernatural disasters in motion.

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones decided to get over the boy who'd dumped her in the only way she knew how: by putting a curse on him. Given that it had been a spell performed after copious amounts of vodka, she hadn't placed much stock in its success. But when Rhys Penhallow finally reappears for the annual fall festival in Graves Glen, Georgia, home to both witches and ordinary people, Vivi begins to sense that her breakup hex might have worked a little too well. In the beginning, it's easy for her to dismiss some wacky occurrences as pure coincidence, but after Rhys invites her to help him magically recharge the town's secret ley lines and the spell goes terribly wrong, they realize they have more problems on their hands than a mere curse. Now, Graves Glen is threatening to fall into total chaos, with problems ranging from possessed wind-up skulls to a talking cat to a very unhappy library ghost. It doesn't help that as far as Vivi's attraction to her ex is concerned, it's almost too easy for her to fall right back into the past and all her old feelings. Putting out small magical fires around town is one thing, but the more often Vivi and Rhys have to put their heads together to solve this mess, the more tempting it is to see if they can pick up where they left off nine years ago—if Vivi can ever forgive Rhys for breaking her heart. Although the story's resolution may feel a bit hurried, Sterling's novel is ultimately crisp and sweet, like biting into the perfect caramel apple, and makes for an equally delicious autumn treat that will sweep readers up into a world of whimsical magic.

A wickedly funny rom-com about the power of second chances, family, and love.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-302747-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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