Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient #1) by Helen Hoang


A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

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...

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Kristine's Review:
Reviewed: June 2018.

The sheer level of hype that surrounded The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang had me intrigued, as a lover of slow burn, witty banter and real relatable characters I had a feeling that this debut would be right up my romance reading alley. Once I started though I had to wonder how often I read stories that were unapologetically feminist and with a heroine with high functioning autism at the same time. In short, the answer was never. One way to my book loving heart is to be firmly entrenched in a strong feminist ideal, something I'm proud to say I see more and more of on a daily basis, however upon reflection the only stories I could recall recently discussing autism were focused on the male experience. In my own familial history my experience with autism has been limited to young boys and male adolescents, and without knowing any differently, I mistakenly assumed autism was easily identifiable through some of the more stereotypical traits most of us would have come to expect. The male and female experience are often so very different, manifesting in a range of different and diverse behaviours and traits.

“He exhaled sharply, and his brow creased in puzzlement. 
“You don’t like French kissing?”
 “It makes me feel like a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish.” It was weird and far too personal.”

Stella Lane is a successful young woman, professionally at least. Despite being a valued member of her company and earning far more then she could ever need, she still seems to be falling shy of making her mother proud. Figures and data have always made sense to Stella, whereas human connection and intimacy leaves her confounded. Her mother wants nothing more than for her to meet a mate, settle down, get married and have children, but Stella's limited experience with the opposite sex has left her unimpressed and underwhelmed. Her past exploits have been disappointing at best, the only plan that makes sense is to hire an escort to teach her how to be less awkward and more into dating and sex. 

“She ached so badly to be held it felt like a sickness had invaded her muscles and bones. As usual, her own arms provided little comfort.”

Michael Phan never dreamed that he would work in the worlds "oldest profession". Once upon a time Michael had plans and a dream, but now he's struggling financially to support his family. Escorting was supposed to be a quick fix to bring in extra money, but the toll is becoming too high for even he to bear.

The Kiss Quotient isn't my first escort themed book, over the years I've found myself recommending Escorted by Claire Kent whenever the trope has come up, it's long been a firm favourite of mine. While both titles contain a male escort as the hero, and the heroine, their newest customer, the similarities end there. In Escorted I had a profound interest in understanding the hero and his motivations for doing what he did for a living, in The Kiss Quotient my interest was singularly focused on Stella. I knew through the authors portrayal of Michael that he hated his job, I understood his need to shower thoroughly after each client was in an effort to metaphorically wash away his sins, to make himself clean. I knew that and yet the lasting impression I took from that was it's connection to Stella's fastidious night time ritual of showering, cleansing herself of all interactions with people during that day. My connection to this story, was so heavily based on my connection to Stella. My emotional state volleyed with her as she set about trying new experiences and pushing herself far out of her comfort zone, often in an attempt to please others. My heart swelled with her when she made forward movement, whether it be in her professional or personal life, and similarly it ached when she stumbled and berated herself for not doing better.

“She had a disorder, but it didn’t define her. She was Stella. She was a unique person.”

The more I devoured of this book, the more intrinsically I knew Stella. I found myself in deep discussion this afternoon with my best friend discussing heroines in romance novels, and how women collectively judge heroes and heroines through a different set of parameters. How it's often certain behaviours we find intolerable in female characters to be almost expected in males. How in romance novel world we want women to be loud but not too loud, strong but not too strong, vulnerable but not whiny, in tune with their sexuality and libido but not a whore, confident but not a bitch, and yet in real life we often speak of empowering other women, body positivity, owning ones sexual desires and pleasure. What I loved so much in The Kiss Quotient is that Stella started as a young woman desperate to please her mother, desperate to try to become a better lover in order to please a man enough that dating her would be acceptable, and yet the more she learnt about herself the more she comfortably grew into her own skin. The more she fought to be unapologetic in owning who she was and is. When we talk about the single most important lessons we as women can learn that is the one I want to shout loud and proud. 

“This crusade to fix herself was ending right now. She wasn't broken. She saw and interacted with the world in a different way, but that was her. She could change her actions, change her words, change her appearance, but she couldn't change the root of herself. At her core, she would always be autistic. People called it a disorder, but it didn't feel like one. To her, it was simply the way she was.”

Hoang's debut was effortlessly engaging, inherently thrilling and absolutely impossible to put down, despite the trope used or imaginative narrative created, the overwhelming message was clear, one of acceptance, love and accepting your past in order to move forward with your future. From the first page, to the heartfelt authors note at the end, this is a story I surely won't soon forget. 

About Helen Hoang:

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish.

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