Hellbent and Heartfirst by Kassandra Sims

Hellbent & Heartfirst
Kassandra Sims

Avoiding having to practice a presentation for work. Let us review a book instead.

Hellbent and Heartfirst was a book I picked up because I enjoyed the author's book Falling Upwards (which I reviewed here). Both books were published by Tor under Paranormal Romance, but Falling Upwards had more of a contemporary fantasy feel and less emphasis on the romance. Meanwhile, Hellbent and Heartfirst spends much more time on the two main characters and less on the "paranormal".

In Hellbent and Heartfirst, the story begins in Mississipi right after Hurricane Katrina. Jacyn Boaz has taken a sabbatical from her graduate work at the University of Texas to work for Oxfam, helping displaced families. Her cousin and her live in a house owned by their grandparents and after work they party with other relief workers and with relatives coming in and out of their house. Jacyn bumps into Jimmy Wayne Broadus, a rancher and rodeo cowboy who also it turns out spends time killing supernatural creatures that harm people. The confusion of Katrina has given the supernatural a way to hide their crimes, and Jimmy Wayne hopes Jacyn will understand and help him in what he does. Turns out, Jacyn is very reasonable because she has an odd relationship with luck that helps her believe in the unexplained.

I ended up not liking this one as much as Falling Upwards. The writing was interesting and intelligent but –

1) The plot. It had two scenes in which our protagonists fight paranormal creatures in the South, but these scenes are really short and anti-climactic. Once they were over I was left thinking –  "Was that it? That was easy." and there doesn't seem to be a real resolution. I felt unsatisfied. Some things never get explained – like Jacyn's luck.  The book really was about was two southerners who meet, fall in love, and hang out with friends and family. But with a dash of killing baddies. The rest of it was this slow meandering courtship without very much conflict amongst bars, barbeques, and house parties. It was like reading about party-kids settling down except there is a supernatural tint to it all. The relationship was very sweetly described and I ended up feeling like the two were meant to be together, but I thought the author kept trying to convince the reader of this after the reader was already sold. I started to feel like Jacyn and Jimmy Wayne could stop thinking how great the other was now. I was over the color of Jacyn's hair and Jimmy Wayne's eyelashes and lips.

2) There were grammatical errors that I kept running into. This is from someone who misses grammar errors, but I kept being tripped up by sentences with incorrect tenses. It just jarred me.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed:

1) That this was set in the South. That the backdrop was the delta in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the book describes the people dealing with the aftermath in a very personal way. It felt very real. The humidity is a constant. I also liked the personal interactions – how Jacyn's family and friends are groups who drop by without invitation and just eat, drink and live together in an informal environment. Reminds me of my college days (which was in the south by the way). I thought it was nice to have non-stereotypical southern characters. There was a small scene about the use of the words "y'all" and "ain't" that I found interesting too.

2) Really part of #1 – That half of the book is set in Nashville. That's where I went to college, and I think the author captured the city perfectly. I have a lot of fond memories of living there.

P.S. The cover. The scary dark figure to the left of Jimmy Wayne. Creeeeppyy!

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