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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

'The Bride Test' by Helen Hoang


From the BLURB:

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. 

Khai's family, however, understand that his autism means he processes emotions differently. As 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.

'The Bride Test' is the second book in what has become Helen Hoang's family saga, that started with last year's 'The Kiss Quotient'.

'The Bride Test' is focused on youngest brother/cousin Khai Diep, who is on the autism-spectrum and certain that he is incapable of love and destined to never have a family of his own. His mother has other plans however, and travels to Việt Nam to find him a bride - which she does, in the form of cleaner Esme Tran. 

Khai agrees to his mother's condition of pretending like he and Esme are already engaged for one month - after which she will either marry Khai for real, or return home. Khai is sure though, that he is only doing this to placate his mother - and after a month of attending family weddings with Esme purely platonically, she will be on her way and he'll be left alone and free of meddling women. 

Except fate has other plans ... like Esme falling head-over-heels in love with Khai, even as she's keeping a big secret from him. Khai likewise wasn't planning on becoming so attached to Esme, even as he remains certain that he's incapable of the emotion she most needs from him. 

I LOVED this book! I enjoyed it as much as 'The Kiss Quotient', though I probably prefer that story just a *little* bit more. I particularly loved Helen Hoang's authors note at the back of the book, in which she reveals that Esme is largely based on her own mother - who came to America from Việt Nam as a refugee after the war, and who rose from poverty to be a successful business-owner ... Helen admits that when she first conceived this story, Esme was only going to be the third-wheel in a love triangle between Khai and an American love-interest, but as she started writing, Esme started shining. She questioned why she felt the need to write a "Westernised" love-interest, and why she couldn't in fact have a heroine whose first language was not English, who came from poverty and had little formal education ... all of these are what make Esme a truly unique heroine in the modern romance genre, and also what made her character so fascinating and her story-arc so compelling. She's clever and determined, kind and hard-working and an utterly wonderful love-interest to play off of Khai. 

I will say that the *very* last few pages go a little off-kilter, with a secondary-storyline bursting in at the very end in the most unlikely and needlessly schmaltzy way I could have done without. My only other complaint was that since Hoang is making a family saga of this series (Quan's book is next, and I cannot wait!) I would have loved a little more scene-time of Michael and Stella from 'The Kiss Quotient'. We get a little of them, and it is happy - but Stella especially had no lines, I don't think? I totally understand wanting to write these books so they can be read as stand-alone, but for those readers who are checking back in with these characters it'd be nice to show us how they're continuing on in the universe ... 

I so thoroughly enjoyed 'The Bride Test', and still feel like Helen Hoang is one of the most exciting romance authors writing in the contemporary genre today. I am ridiculously keen on older brother Quan's book, because I do think he's going to be my favourite hero. 2020 better hurry!

4/5

Friday, July 12, 2019

I am being published!


Hello Darling Readers, 

It has been a big couple of weeks, and in all the hubbub I completely forgot to update this corner of the internet - 'my solo book club' - with some *pretty* big news. 

I sold a book. 

I've actually sold two books. 

Here's the official write-up from trade magazine, Books+Publishing


Hachette Australia has acquired ANZ rights to a middle-grade novel, The Year the Maps Changed, and a yet to be titled YA novel by literary agent Danielle Binks. The two-book deal was negotiated by Binks’ employer, Jacinta di Mase Management. 
The Year the Maps Changed, Binks’ debut middle-grade novel, is set in the Victorian coastal town of Sorrento in 1999 during the events of ‘Operation Safe Haven’, when the Australian government welcomed some 6000 Kosovar refugees into ‘safe havens’ around the country, including the Quarantine Station on Point Nepean, on the Mornington Peninsula. The novel takes place over one year in 12-year-old Winifred’s life ‘when everything’s already changing at home, and then the outside world seems to come crashing in’. 
Commissioning editor Kate Stevens said, ‘I’m absolutely delighted to be working with Danielle, who is not only a brilliant writer but also has an acute understanding of her audience and a whole lot of love for the #LoveOzYA and #LoveOzMG movements. The Year the Maps Changed is about the bonds of family and the power of compassion … I can’t wait to get it into the hands of readers around the country, I know they’re going to love it like I do.’ 
The Year the Maps Changed will be published in June 2020 and Binks’ YA novel is tentatively set for 2021.

So yeah - that happened! 
And one reason updating the blog with the news slipped my mind, was probably because for the last two-weeks I have been in the thick of my first round of structural edits ... which is a thing that is happening now, because I have a book coming out next year!
And also because between structural edits, I've been brainstorming and writing in fits & bursts for this other idea of mine ... the YA novel. Which is also going to be an actual thing you can buy and sit on your bookshelf one day or read on your e-reader or - I dunno! - listen to on audiobook, *maybe*! 
This all blows my mind. 
Because - here's the thing ... 
Last week I stumbled across this old interview with me, from 2012 over at The Writer's Burrow. I talk about how coming runner-up in the John Marsden Prize the year before, kinda changed my whole life. I didn't know how true that was, until I connected a few dots. Like how the John Marsden Prize is now called the The John Marsden & Hachette Australia Prize (still with Express Media!) and I have just signed a two-book deal with Hachette Children's. 
Back in 2011 I didn't win a writing-award. But I got runner-up and received praise for one of the first short-stories I ever wrote and shared with the wider world - beyond anonymous FanFiction or a private Word Doc on my computer. I got to tell John Marsden - one of my all-time favourite Australian YA authors - that Checkers changed my life and was my favourite book of his. And he told me that I'd come *so close* to winning, and that he hoped I'd keep writing. 
I did. And now here we are. 
You can buy my book next year, and the next one the year after that!
What a world. What a funny, old world. 


(Image credit: Janis House, Janis House Photography)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

'The Kiss Quotient' by Helen Hoang


From the BLURB: 

Stella Lane thinks mathematics is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases?a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with and far less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old. 

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice?with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. Gorgeous and conflicted, Michael can't afford to turn down Stella's offer and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan, from foreplay to more-than-missionary position. 

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses but to crave all of the other things he's making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic . . .

'The Kiss Quotient' was the debut romance novel from Helen Hoang, in what has now become a mini family-saga that continues with 'The Bride Test' and will likely conclude with 'The Heart Principle' out in 2020. 

So, I really loved this book and can't believe I didn't write a review after I finished reading! Though I will say that having read it ages ago (July 2018) and now seeing more reviews of it, it's interesting to step back and see how divisive this book is. It's very much a love or hate, but not much of in-between it would seem ...

The story follows successful algorithm-whiz Stella Lane as she tries to overcome her intimacy anxieties and please her disappointed parents by "practicing" having a relationship ... with an escort. That escort ends up being Michael Phan - who is more than he appears, and more patient than Stella could have hoped for and also too close to being the perfect guy she could actually fall for. 

A large part of what made 'The Kiss Quotient' a stand-out romance title of 2018 was two-fold: it featured a racially diverse couple, and neuro-diverse heroine. Stella is on the autism-spectrum, and since autism is under-diagnosed in women and girls, this in itself was a welcome bit of representation, and particularly in the romance genre. 

I thought Stella's autism was handled well, and that it was integral to the romance sparking and evolving was, I thought, genuinely lovely and a unique angle I'd never really seen played for female characters before. 

I see quite a few reviewers who found the sex to be ... distasteful in the book. And, look - different strokes for different folks but also: in Australia and the nature of our market, 'The Kiss Quotient' was publicised and positioned as much more of a Women's Fiction title, when in actuality I'd say it's an out and out romance. As such the sex and romance *does* take up a fair chunk of the story and does a lot of heavy-lifting in the characterisation - which I fully welcomed and expected, given that I'm a romance reader and pretty quickly adjusted to this being firmly of that genre. For others though, I can imagine if they went in looking for more ... exposition, and less "sex-position" - then they'd be thrown. It's definitely a gear-switch if you're not prepared to welcome it. 

All in all; I was totally delighted by 'The Kiss Quotient' - from its representation, to the titillation - it ALL worked for me, and I was glad to find a new favourite author in Hoang.

5/5