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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!


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