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!

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Falling Upwards by Kassandra Sims

I just finished reading this book, went online to google it and didn't find much that I agreed with so I'm going to review this one first.

First of all: Ug, why did they call this book "paranormal romance"? That makes it sound like its a romance novel in a paranormal setting. It really felt like a .. contemporary fantasy book to me with romantic elements. There was definite sexual content but it was really vague and mild, not really the type of thing you would find in a pure romance novel – it read like a fantasy novel.

The story starts out with our protagonist Neva on a business trip in Wales. Neva goes to a bar where she encounters a handsome young man who often has young women trying to get his attention. When this man tries to pry himself away from perhaps the 10th one, Neva feels compelled to step in and pretend to be his girlfriend. She doesn't do this because she's interested – she doesn't really know why she does this, only that she feels like a puppet when the words come out. This starts some weirdness in the air and something begins. There on Neva begins to lose track of reality. When she goes home to coastline Alabama she keeps having visions of falling through a pond into another world, weird dreams about a riotious wood, apple trees, and chimes. Her mother and friends are worried, and her sister is ready to commit her. Around Mardi Gras, Neva has begun to accept her madness and decides she knows where the pond she hallucinates about is – her grandparents farm. Neva immediately goes there and jumps in. Almost unsurprisingly she finds herself in another world – she meets fairies, a talking raven and stag, and March – the young Welsh man at the bar. They send her on a quest. March is surly and resigned, as if he has been here before, and has no reason to hope. Neva finds his attitude annoying but feels compelled to finish the quest and go home. Sniping at one another they trek through a wildly imagined land. Many fairytale and mythical elements make appearances (nothing I was expecting) and a reader has many "W..T..eff.." moments. Which I liked! I really enjoyed how unexpected the story was (especially the detailed landscapes), and the growing relationship between March and Neva. The character development, mostly that of Neva and her attitude to dealing with her situation just delighted me. I also liked that March and Neva use modern speech when they argue as it contrasts greatly with their surroundings. The only complaint .. I wish this story was longer! I would have felt more content with two more chapters and a better idea of what really happened in the gap before the final chapter, and yet it is not a bad ending at all. I just want more time with the story and characters. I wanted to turn the book over and open it to the first page to reread it as soon as I finished so I could understand more. Is there a sequel? Want one.

After I read the book, I went on Amazon and looked at a review by HK (you know who I mean). What was she smoking? Don't read her review, it's so wrong, especially this part: "As Neva begins to believe that there is more to the universe than the physical plane starting with the metaphysical feelings of falling in love, she struggles with reality vs. illusion as she enters a realm in which her only realism anchor is March. " What? starting with the metaphysical feelings of falling in love?!  March was the realism anchor? Ahhh? Many reviews seem to glomp onto the insanity/hallucination aspect. I think many people who didn't like the novel did not like the way the story shifts from one location and situation to another, but that is what I liked about the book – it works to convey that "Alice through the Looking Glass" feel. I also found the writing itself very savor-worthy. 8.5 or 9/10.

P.S. This came out April this year and is the author's second book. I'm going to have to look for her first book – "The Midnight Work". That got 2 stars on Amazon so far and I think the complaints are also about the story "jumping around" and I think they wanted paranormal romance with emphasis on romance so I'm not going to listen to them.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend