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. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When 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.
Esme and Khai were both delightful characters. Like Michael and Stella in the first book, one of their mains struggles is with feeling they are “less than.” Esme’s problems in this area are worse than Khai’s–growing up with mixed heritage and no father in Vietnam wasn’t easy, and the fact that she had to drop out of high school always weighs heavily on her. She constantly feels as if she’s not good enough for Khai and his family, and fears that if she reveals her true self to them they’ll reject her. (No real worries there, though–even her future MIL is all kinds of awesome!) Khai’s main struggle is the feeling of otherness that he’s always had, especially after his cousin (and only real friend)’s death ten years earlier. It made me more than a little crazy that most of his extended family didn’t bother to try to understand him; fortunately his mother, brother, and sister were all kinds of awesome, but still.
The one aspect of the book that I struggled a bit with is that it didn’t feel like Khai and Esme got to know each other as well as they could have during their summer together. Khai spent so much of the first half hiding from her (and his growing feelings, of course) and then their relationship became more physical than anything else–she had things she was hiding from him and he wasn’t one for chit chatting. Clearly they’ve worked things out by the time we get to the epilogue, but I would have liked to have seen more of the getting to know you stuff on the page.
I have to admit I’ve read literally dozens of books since I read Ms. Hoang’s first book, and it wasn’t until Michael and Stella’s one big scene at the book that I realized how the two books were connected (Michael and Khai are cousins). I’m pretty sure I squealed out loud with joy, and know for certain that I had a giant smile on my face for that entire scene. Then I had to go back and re-read the three way phone conversation between Khai, his brother Quan, and Michael one more time, because OMG. I laughed out loud even more the second time. My point here is–you can absolutely read this book as a standalone with no ill effects. But for pity’s sake, do yourself the favor of going back and reading the first book too, because yes, it’s that good.
Fingers crossed that Ms. Hoang’s going to give Quan his own book, because I think I could give their mother a run for her money in the who wants to see Quan get his own HEA contest… 😉
The narrator of the audio version was delightful–her accents and the different voices she gave each character made listening a joy. I am bummed that the author’s note wasn’t included in the audio version; fortunately I also had a digital ARC (I switched back and forth while reading, depending on what I was doing) so I did get to read it.
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book…AND listened to the audio version I used my Audible subscription to purchase.