Backlist Reviews: The Dating Playbook, Happy Endings, and The Heart Principle

I will admit that this post is not exactly the post I meant to put up today. I was hoping to bring you three backlist reviews of ARCs I received and then just procrastinated reading for ages and ages. But unfortunately, I read The Dating Playbook and Happy Endings and my brain was like, “Hello, I am done reading.” It wasn’t exactly the most helpful thing for it to do. What is good though is that Nick and Becky asked me if I would be reviewing The Heart Principle and while I wasn’t planning to do so, I figured this was a great way to still give y’all three reviews today, so shout out to Nick and Becky for the suggestion! So let’s recap the three books I have to talk about and the necessary disclaimers. I received The Dating Playbook by Farah Rochon from the publisher via Netgalley last year and you can absolutely purchase it now yourself if you’d like! I actually wound up listening to The Dating Playbook via an audiobook I purchased myself. Then we have Happy Endings by Thien-Kim Lam, which I also received an ARC of from the publisher via Netgalley last year. However, to the surprise of no one, I listened to an audiobook I purchased myself. And then The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang is a book that I purchased myself from BOTM and then read via audio on Hoopla and read my physical copy.

The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon

On the plus side, the audiobook narration in this book is really well done. I also think that Taylor’s growth arc is fairly well done. Unfortunately, overall, this book just wound up being in that “it’s perfectly fine, but I could have walked away from it at any time and not thought twice about it” category for me. The Dating Playbook has an interesting juxtaposition between the frequently serious aspects of it paired with the amusing humor in the banter between Taylor and Jamar. I think for some people that balance will work well and for others, it will be jarring. For me, it just kept me from ever really feeling the emotions happening on page. I felt distanced from the characters and I wasn’t ever entirely convinced the two of them weren’t distanced from one another. I don’t know that I can explain it well, but they weren’t always the best at communicating, especially because Taylor uses humor to distance herself from uncomfortable situations and all of these aborted conversations just made it hard to feel like the characters really knew one another. 

Happy Endings by Thien-Kim Lam

I know that prefacing a sentence with “I know [x] is bad, but . . .” is normally a terrible way to star a sentence, but for real, I know gentrification is bad, but please explain to me why shaming people for needing gluten free or dairy free food is acceptable?? I know that I’m mostly just sensitive to this because I will forever and always miss real bread of all varieties, but the beginning of this book did so much casual insulting of restaurants that serve people who need vegan/gluten free/dairy free food that we got off to a rough start. 

Now, obviously that’s a personal problem, and I obviously finished the book, so let’s talk about why I didn’t just let that personal irritant go. I did not buy the romance in this book at all. This book does this weird thing where it pulls emotional punches that I think objectively needed to land and then when something softer would have worked does like a KO punch. This metaphor has stopped working for me, but seriously, this book provides really wonderful characters, they’re just not characters that make sense together. Andre makes strides in communicating, but the whole time he’s making these strides, Trixie is still shutting him out emotionally. And then when Andre blows up about something that really walks the line between making sense and being the most self-centered out-sized reaction I can possibly imagine, it’s like he’s lost all sense of how to communicate. A grand gesture does not a romance make. And also, at no point does Trixie really seem to unbend or compromise or meet Andre halfway? And I know that Andre messed up PROFOUNDLY the first time they dated, but… Like, then don’t get back together? 

Honestly, I think I have an unpopular opinion here, but this book didn’t work for me at all and finishing it really made me not want to read anything for a while because I just did not like this. That said, I hope Thien-Kim Lam has a long and illustrious career because I do think she writes characters well and I loved the sex positive nature of this book. Like a lot. Plus, the cast of side characters are really intriguing. But this book? Not for me. 

CW: parental death (cancer), parental illness (heart issues), parental estrangement

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

I tried really hard to go into this book knowing that it wasn’t exactly going to be a romance, but that it would walk/straddle the romance/women’s fiction line, which has been a really popular genre blend of late. Often this genre blend even works for me. Unfortunately, The Heart Principledidn’t quite work for me on either level. It took me three full months to finish this book, for one thing. I sat the book down after Part One for about two months before I could bring myself to try again and then it still took me another month after that to finish it. 

On the one hand, this definitely feels like more of an “it’s me not the book” kind of thing. And on the other hand, I think that for me, when I come to romance, I’m looking for a safe place to experience all of the emotions, knowing at the end that everything is going to work out. Somehow, even with the guarantee of a romantic happy ending in this book, I never felt safe to experience emotions alongside Anna. And this really is Anna’s book. Quan may have some perspective chapters and he was certainly the character I most looked forward to his story since initially reading The Kiss Quotientseveral years ago, but this book is Anna’s. 

Now, saying all of that, I need to emphasize that Helen Hoang’s writing is gorgeous and I think this is arguably her best written book out of the three. But, for me, this book was really hard to read emotionally and even knowing the content warnings ahead of time, I just really struggled with this book. I felt like we saw Anna struggle with her autism and masking for so much of this book without really getting to see her make enough of the steps forward to feel like Anna will be okay. So, all in all, I’m glad this book exists and I’m glad I finally read it, but also, it was hard to read and didn’t give me what I needed.

CW: autistic burnout, anxiety, cancer (past), stroke, parental death, ableism, caretaking and caretaking burnout, some very uncomfortable relationship dynamics that skates the line of sexual assault

And there you have it! Three reviews of books that I didn’t really love. But I hope they are reviews that can help you decide if you should pick up these books or that give you some insight to how my tastes may match or not match yours.


9 responses to “Backlist Reviews: The Dating Playbook, Happy Endings, and The Heart Principle”

  1. I tried The Dating Playbook and didn’t get very far because I found the way Taylor talked about food to be very triggering and harmful. It doesn’t seem like I missed out on much.

    I had someone spoil me Happy Endings and it didn’t seem like a lot. Shaming folks for being gluten-free and dairy-free is such a weird take?? I might give the author a try with the next book!

    I’m glad you got your feelings about Heart Principle out there. I love what you had to say about feeling safe while reading. I think that was probably my biggest problem because I wasn’t convinced that Anna was truly happy at the end because so much of the book had her absolutely miserable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You did not miss much at all!

      I hope book two will be better. Fingers crossed!

      Yes!! It’s just hard when you shut a book down so quickly after the “HEA” when we never get to see Anna actually emerge from her depression or learn to cope with her autism without feeling like she has to mask all the time. I mean, we were TOLD that she did, but we didn’t get to see it. So we just spent 300 pages with her miserable and it’s hard to then celebrate that she’s found love. Plus, I feel like romance really does need to be somewhat balanced? And we also don’t get to see Quan settling into his life with Anna. I don’t know. It just really did not work for me as a romance at all. But it was good from… a miserable literary fiction standpoint? (I sound so resentful of this book and I swear I don’t mean to.)


  2. I encouraged you to review a book? Awesome! I do really want to know your thought though because I need to see everyone’s thoughts because the reviews have been mixed to say the least. What I take from your review of The Heart Principle is that it’s intense with the struggles Anna goes through and that is not always easy to read. Also, I shouldn’t be looking forward to it as Quan’s book even though that’s what I was excited about. This is Anna’s story and Quan features in it. I am determined to read it but I’m also prepared to not love it which sucks.

    I can see why Happy Endings was frustrating, why did it need to be so judgey about people who are gluten and dairy free? I think people forget folks have actually intolerances and cannot eat these things. A few of my friends are and I like how there are more places they can eat and the menus are better labelled. But then the romance was also not brilliant, just ugh. I’m keeping the author on my radar but might skip this first one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You did! You mentioned hoping my review of The Heart Principle would help you decide about it in my April Wrap Up. I don’t usually review books I didn’t get for review but both you and Nick asked for more details on my thoughts so I decided to make an exception. But yes! I was excited for Quan’s book, but it just really is not his book.

      I really don’t know! I’m sure that people who don’t have the issue will gloss right over it, the way I do with so many other comments, but, you know, when you go to the grocery store and a loaf of gluten free bread is $7.00 and doesn’t even taste as good, it’s just depressing. Lol. I would definitely recommend skipping this one! I’m hoping her second book will be better. I think it’s out later this year?


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