Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

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Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice–with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan–from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he’s making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…


Title: The Kiss Quotient
Author: Helen Hoang
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Berkeley
Source: Book of the Month
Release Date: June 5th, 2018
Rating: ★★★★★

This book is so unique, captivating, sexy, and important.

I love romance novels, but I’ll be the first to admit that many are generic, corny, and sometimes problematic. What makes The Kiss Quotient different is that it’s the first romance I’ve read with an autistic female protagonist. Not only are her quirks and differences prominent throughout the entire book, but they’re also addressed in a way that is positive: there’s nothing wrong with Stella, she’s just a unique person. She is incredibly smart and accomplished, and loves working with data to the point where she chooses to go into work on weekends. She is also extremely sensitive to smells and sounds, gets overstimulated very easily, and has a routine that she can never break from without getting anxious.

“What would he think if she told him how difficult it was for her to do things like dancing and drinking? Going out was supposed to be fun. For her, it was work—hard work. She could interact with people if she wanted to, but it cost her. Some times more than others.”

The way Michael (the love-interest, who also happens to be a mixed-race male escort) treats Stella is also important. He pays attention to her needs and makes adjustments without belittling her or making her feel like she’s different. Consent is also a big thing for him, as there were several times when he would ask for permission or immediately stop what he was doing if Stella appeared uncomfortable. He’s not perfect, but he wants to be a good person and do the right thing. This makes it tricky for him, as his job requires that he keep his “clients” at an arm’s length and not get too attached. Things are different with Stella though and he finds himself falling for her.

I found it very easy to empathize with Stella. Being in her head, we’re given a firsthand perspective on the way she feels in certain situations and why she does or say what she does. At the same time, I understood how other characters could be confused by her behavior and have negative feelings about the way she interacts. This is most apparent in a scene where Stella meets Michael’s family and manages to insult/hurt them without even realizing she was doing it. Scenes like this were hard to read, but helped me to understand how Stella’s mind works differently than other people’s.

The romance is super cute and this book is chock-full of super steamy scenes. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who liked The Hating Game (which I loved), as I got a similar vibe with these two books.

I also loved Helen Hoang’s note at the end of the novel, where she addressed her own experience with autism and provides resources for others who want to know more about it. I never realized that such a large portion of women with autism go undiagnosed because they learn to fake “normal” behavior, even though its exhausting for them.

The Kiss Quotient was such a heartfelt, refreshing read. I feel so warm and fuzzy after reading this book!

Review: From Lukov With Love by Mariana Zapata

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If someone were to ask Jasmine Santos to describe the last few years of her life with a single word, it would definitely be a four-letter one.

After seventeen years—and countless broken bones and broken promises—she knows her window to compete in figure skating is coming to a close.

But when the offer of a lifetime comes in from an arrogant idiot she’s spent the last decade dreaming about pushing in the way of a moving bus, Jasmine might have to reconsider everything.

Including Ivan Lukov.


Title: From Lukov With Love
Author: Mariana Zapata
Genre: Romance
Publisher: Self-published
Source: eBook
Release Date: February 1st, 2018
Rating: ★★

I wanted to love this. After reading other reviews, I really thought that I would. Unfortunately, it was just okay for me.

First, the things I did like:

1. The figure skating
2. Jasmine’s take-no-shit attitude
3. Creative use of swearing
4. The banter was fun, for a little while

Now, the things I didn’t like:

1. The constant mention of characters blinking. This is my biggest complaint about this book. The constant mention of Ivan and Jasmine blinking at each other was just surreal to me. It was described like it was a voluntary action instead of an automatic human reflex. There was literally a line in the book that went something like “I blinked. He blinked. Then it was my turn to blink.” Wtf? Once would be enough, but lines like this were spread throughout the entire book.

2. The banter and sharp comebacks were fun, at first. I love hate-to-love romances, a la The Hating Game, but the bickering kept going until the very end. After awhile, it just seemed childish. Like when Jasmine was sick and Ivan was caring for her and trying to get her to take her medicine, and she just kept fighting him over it. I wanted to reach through the book and shake her like bitch just take the medicine you keep saying you want to get better so just fucking do it ugh.

3. The whole “we’re only partners for one year” thing seemed like a contrived plot device that was just kind of brushed away in the end, and Jasmine was made to feel stupid for thinking it was true, even though Ivan repeated it several times throughout the book like it was his mantra.

4. Too much of Jasmine’s inner monologue. I don’t think this book needed to be as long as it was. It seemed like there were massive chunks of text in between each bit of dialogue, which slowed down the pace and resulted in a lot of skimming from me. In contrast, there were a lot of scenes that were briefly mentioned in passing, though I feel like they could have added more to the book. Skating was a significant aspect, but very little time was actually spent on the ice.

I really did enjoy reading this book, for the most part. There were just too many things that bothered me, and I couldn’t really get past that

Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.


Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Genre: Contemporary/Magical Realism/Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Rating: ★★★★

This book was beautiful, heart-wrenching, devastating, and hopeful.

Leigh is half-Asian, with very little connection to her Asian heritage aside from a very small knowledge of Mandarin. When her mom commits suicide and her spirit turns into a bird, Leigh follows clues left by her mom’s spirit to Taiwan, where she meets her grandparents for the first time. What follows is a series of flashbacks as Leigh comes to learn why her mom left Taiwan in the first place and how she had been hurting for a very long time. The topics of mental health and suicide are not glorified or sugar-coated. Instead, we are shown how these issues can affect a family, but how that family can learn to let go and continue on.

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I loved the setting. It was a beautiful glimpse into Taiwanese/Chinese culture, from the food to the customs to the language. Since Leigh is half-Asian, we are shown how she is perceived in America (fetishized and stereotyped) and then how she is perceived in Taiwan (being pointed out by strangers for being “mixed). We also see how there is a stigma surrounding mental illness.

The flashbacks were my favorite parts to read. I loved getting to see Leigh’s family history, from the time her grandmother was born to the time her mother met her father. We also saw the development of Leigh and Axel’s friendship, and how it evolved over time to become something more.

There are some heavy topics in The Astonishing Color of After, but it ends on a hopeful note. I thought that everything was handled beautifully, and the magical realism never felt over-the-top. Some of the reveals at the end were completely unexpected.

Don’t go into this expecting a light read, but if you are in the mood for something a little sad, a little hopeful, and a little magical, I would recommend The Astonishing Color of After.

Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

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Sometimes it is the one who loves you who hurts you the most.

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up
— she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan — her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.


Title: It Ends With Us
Author: Colleen Hoover
Genre: Romance/New Adult/Contemporary
Publisher: Atria Books
Source: Paperback
Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
Rating: ★★★★

Disclaimer: This review will contain some minor spoilers.

This book, like many books by Colleen Hoover, will completely shatter you.

If you’re looking for a light, fluffy romance read, this isn’t it. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its funny, romantic, light-hearted moments, but it does deal with some dark subject matter (trigger warning: physical violence and attempted rape).

I went into this book blind. Literally, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I thought that this was about a girl from Maine who moves to Boston and starts dating a hot neurosurgeon (my life, minus the hot neurosurgeon). When the tone of the book shifted about a quarter of the way through, I was completely blindsided. I actually enjoyed the unexpected twist, but I do think that people need to be warned about the content of this book. It confronts the subject of domestic violence and the many reasons that people don’t leave abusive relationships.

It Ends With Us is in no way a love triangle. I don’t know why its marketed as such, but I find that very misleading. This isn’t a book about a girl choosing between two men, this is a book about a girl confronting her past so that she can escape her present situation and create a different future.

Colleen Hoover manages to make her books so much more than just contemporary romances. There’s always something deeper involved. It Ends With Us is especially powerful and gripping. There are strong, multilayered characters and heartwrenching backstories. The way everything ties up at the end is so perfect, and I just can’t wait to read more from this author!

 

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.


Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Vintage Books
Source: Paperback
Release Date: September 11, 1992
Rating: ★★★★★

I’m a little late on this one.

And when I say late, I mean about 26 years late. This book came out before I was born. When it was released, it was critically acclaimed and widely considered one of the best books of the 90’s. I’ve been hearing of this book for quite some time, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon and give it a try.

Honestly, I don’t know how to review this book. It’s the kind of story that stays with you well after you’ve finished reading it. It tells the dark and haunting story of a close-knit group of college students that commit the murder of their best friend. The murder isn’t a secret; in fact, it’s revealed in the first chapter. This book focuses more on the buildup and subsequent aftermath of the event.

The Greek program at Hampden College is a very small handful of students that are exclusively selected by the program’s mysterious professor, Julian Morrow. Richard is an outsider who gradually becomes a member of this group. Because he is from a different world (he is a poor California boy with distant parents, while the rest are pampered and wealthy New England elitists), we are given an interesting perspective on the events that unfold. None of the characters are particularly likable, but the story is compelling and kept me turning the pages to find out what happens next.

The Secret History is a slow-burn psychological thriller about intellectual arrogance, obsession and insecurity, and the lengths that people will go to cover up a murder. This is the kind of book that I could reread again and again, and always find something that I missed the first time.

I’ve never read anything like it, and I’m not sure that I ever will again.

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