TBR Challenge: Hellbent & Heartfirst

The Book: Hellbent & Heartfirst by Kassandra Sims

The Particulars: Tor Paranormal Romance, mm paperback, 2008, Out of print, I think; not available digitally.

Why was it in my TBR pile? I picked it up at some RWA conference or other…where was the conference in ’08? I don’t remember. Nor do I really know why I haven’t read it yet…

The Review: Okay, so when Wendy the SuperLibrarian (Really. She’s RWA’s Librarian of the Year.) mentioned on her blog earlier that this Wednesday (today) was the TBR Challenge day, and I realized that, not only have I not read anything from my TBR mountain, I hadn’t read much of anything at all this month, I wandered over to my bookcase with its two shelves of TBRs (I have others stashed elsewhere.) and perused the contents. And that’s a long-ass sentence. Anyway, this was the book I plucked therefrom, because I’ve already read pretty much all the short, easy, series contemporary romance novels on it, and I hadn’t actually looked to see what the suggested read was for this month.

And I pretty much read it yesterday. I started about 3:30 p.m. when I went home to wait for the plumbers, and finished it this morning. I enjoyed it, a lot. And I think there will be spoilers in this review.

So–the heroine is a college professor who’s gone home to the Biloxi area after Katrina to recover from her divorce and aimlessness by helping others, or something of the sort. She meets a guy at a bar–he’s younger, drop-dead gorgeous and out of her league, but he seems somehow attracted to her. She’s trying to help reunite people with their missing children, and there’s a woman in hysterics because her little boy was staying with her aunt, and now the aunt says he was never there. Turns out that the guy’s in town chasing boogey-men–a lamia, actually–snake woman that eats children and messes with people’s minds–and the missing child is probably a victim. He tells the heroine what he does, and there’s some scenes with her trying to wrap her mind around the fact that things that go bump really do. She goes with him to a voodoo witch and takes part in the magic that lets them track the lamia, and they kill it and run. I think the “hooking up” scenes take place before they visit the voodoo people.

She’s astonished that he’s interested in her, ’cause he’s younger and so good-looking. And she has this luck–it swings from astonishingly good to horrifically bad, to balance out overall–and she’s sure that the luck of having a guy like him will end in a horrible breakup. Then the book jumps ahead eight months.

Jimmy Wayne’s been on the road for five of those months, and Jacyn (which I never really knew how to pronounce, and kept pulling an ‘L’ in it, and thinking Jaclyn) has moved to Nashville to room with an old friend and get over JW being gone. He called frequently, but never made it back to town. But she’s still longing. He’s longing too, and sure he’s really screwed things up with her, and it breaks his heart, and he doesn’t know why he hasn’t gone back to her, but he hasn’t, and can’t seem to, and he’s somewhere in Tennessee to meet a witch. Not a human who messes with magic, but a different species. And she breaks a compulsion that was put on him. One that was intended for Jacyn, but hit him instead (because of her luck, they assume), and has driven him away from her. And she tells him the murderer he’s after is in Nashville. Where of course the murderer is hanging out with Jacyn, and they stumble across each other again. Of course. (Her luck acting again.) They defeat the bad guys–but I’m not sure exactly how, or exactly who does what. This part was really vague and confusing.

I liked the book. Sims writes some really beautiful, evocative stuff. But the paranormal elements… weren’t real paranormal. The descriptions tended to be vague, which was strange, because Sims was so vivid about most everything else. She did describe the imp pretty well, but what Jacyn thought about the magic wasn’t clear. And in the grand finale climax, the magic seems to be done by somebody who’s been present (I’m not absolutely sure he’s the one doing the magic), but his magical ability pops out of nowhere, hasn’t even been foreshadowed. And Jacyn does some big magic, but what happens, or what she thinks/feels about it is really vague. Honestly, her feelings for Jimmy Wayne and his feelings for her are the only things that feel real at the end of the book–which may be what Sims was going for. I’m not sure about that either.

All of which sounds like I didn’t like the book, but I did. Really. It wasn’t until after I finished it and started to think about it and about what I would write here that it occurred to me that the magic stuff was kind of vague and unreal and confusing. And that this may have been Sims’s intent. Either way, it was an enjoyable ride, and it would be interesting to read more books in this universe, more about Jacyn and J.W., but who knows if that’s going to happen.

I just realized I’ve read another Kassandra Sims book, “Falling Upward.” It also confused the heck out of me, and despite that, I enjoyed it. I’d be willing to read more Kassandra Sims–but hope that she’ll quit rushing her endings.

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