The Kiss Quotient

81TaR7kzn7L.jpgTitle: The Kiss Quotient
Author: Helen Hoang
Genre: romance; contemporary
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) 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…

Review: If you’re a Pretty Woman fan and ever wondered what a gender bent version would look like — then this book is for you. Instead of pompous millionaire Richard Gere, we get sweet and naive Stella who thinks that practicing with a professional will make sex less of a chore. As a woman with high functioning autism, she looks at the issue of her sexual inexperience logically and comes to this conclusion rationally and does her research where she finds sexy Michael. Now, if you’ve seen Pretty Woman, you might have some idea of what to expect from The Kiss Quotient, but don’t write it off!

In Pretty Woman, none of the characters really get the chance to develop or change like they do in Hoang’s novel. In fact, while there are corresponding characters for each character in Pretty Woman, Hoang makes her story original and poignant because of the depth she gives to each character – including the side characters. Stella isn’t just a rich woman who needs a dating partner for a while, she’s a woman who needs to learn how to navigate the world of intimacy but doesn’t know how, so she enlists the help of a professional. Rational. Michael is devoted. He’s holding the strings of his life together. He’s doing what he has to for the family he loves. But ALL OF THEM EVOLVE. They don’t just take their shoes off and walk on grass and then fly off into the sunset.

One thing I really liked about this is that there wasn’t any judgment from Stella about Michael’s sex work. She wasn’t condescending or worried about how it might look to her at all. She saw him as a human being who was deserving of respect and of a voice. Michael is given way more depth than his Julia Roberts counterpart. He’s got a family unit to support him, and while I was reading it, what I loved about it was that Hoang really settled us as readers into his family. His family base was strong.

Read this book people. You won’t regret it.

A Snowbound Scandal

America's+Sweetheart+LG.jpgTitle: A Snowbound Scandal
Author: Jessica Lemmon
Genre: romance; harlequin;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) As the snow falls, her touch sets him aflame… “I don’t want you to leave.” Texas billionaire Chase Ferguson has one regret: leaving Miriam Andrix to protect her from his public life. When a snowstorm strands her in his mountain mansion, their passion reignites, and it’s too hot to resist! But reality–and scandal–arrives with the thaw. Chase turned his back on happiness once. Will he fight for what he truly wants this time?

 

Review: When you pick up a Harlequin Romance you have a few guarantees — something sweet and something that builds. A Snowbound Scandal is one of those books that delivers both. Miriam “Mimi” Andrix and Chase Ferguson are perfect paramours in this love story. They’re perfectly matched in wit and banter. The build for their romance is slow and sweet, like the heat of a fire in the middle of an icy winter. Lemmon plays with one of my favorite romance tropes – trapped proximity. Because the two are trapped together to “weather the storm” they have to interact and when they do, the love they thought as lost begins to rekindle right along with the fire Chase’s city slicker self almost smothers.

Because both of them are stubborn and can’t say what they really mean, it takes the better half of the book to get more than a steamy kiss out of them, but once they do that, the book’s slow build picks up a rapid pace. They only have until the snow melts, after all. I really liked how the author used the setting to both introduce the characters’ pasts and reignite the spark between them.

Overall, this book was a quick and engaging summer read.

*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Cade

pro_pbid_1190099Title: Cade
Author: V.A. Dold
Genre: fantasy; romance; paranormal; series; shifter
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Anna James is single again, finally. In her opinion, men are self-centered and will never love her for who she is, a beautiful, plus sized woman. All except the fantasy man that she’s been meeting in her dreams for five years. She just never expected her fantasy to be a real live alpha shifter… Cade Le Beau isn’t what he seems. He’s a billionaire wolf. A Shifter. He laments his missed chance six months ago to meet his fantasy woman in the flesh. Just as his second chance presents itself, his fantasy woman, his mate, is threatened by the local mob boss and her ex-husband. Now, he has forty eight hours to deal with this threat once and for all or chance losing her again. Is it Anna who’s in danger, or the humans who unwittingly threaten her? The heat is on the moment they lay eyes on each other. Neither, age, children, horrid ex-husbands, nor mob bosses will stop this love affair.
Review: Thanks to a weekly BookBub email, this was recommended to me as a free Kindle download. I loved the pace of this read. I read it in one sitting. I liked the story overall, but in terms of development, there wasn’t much, that’s why I’ve given it a 3/5. That being said, here are my general thoughts on Cade: Le Beau Brothers #1:
As far as paranormal romance novels go, this one ticks all the boxes of things I’m looking for in them. It had a strong family unit, which I’ve come to associate with wolf/shifter novels in the paranormal realm of writing. I liked the family unit as a whole, although I would have enjoyed more development of these secondary characters — there were many openings for Dold to give Stefan more than just charm, or for the more and father to be more than static, but, I guess as this is just book one of the Le Beau Brothers, perhaps their development comes later.

Cade as a male lead was everything you expect from a romance novel. Strong, built, emotionally open, protective. Couple that with his wolf instincts, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide prince, right? Well, exactly. Anna gets her dream man, literally. I enjoy that. In some romance novels — too many, if we’re being honest — the dream man has some skeleton in his closet that brings the whole relationship into question. This, thankfully, was not the case here. Cade’s devotion to Anna was well written, and although I did find him to be a bit overprotective, Anna’s ability to be more than a wilting flower helped me get past it.

Pacing — At some points in the story it felt like too much was being revealed too soon, and then repeated later, almost like an editing error. Like, when Cade begins to reveal parts of the mating process, some of these aspects come back later, where they seem more natural.

While I’m not sure I’ll pick up the rest of the series, this first book was a fun, fast summer read.

Vampire Academy

Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: fantasy; young adult; paranormal romance; urban fiction
Synopsis: (from Amazon) St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . . Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.
Review: I picked this up for $1 at a used book store in Northampton, MA, and am kinda glad I didn’t pay much more than that. For a vacation read, it was entertaining, but it was predictable and the characters felt flat to me. I would definitely recommend this to the girls I teach who still think Team Alice / Team Bella is fun. Rose and Lissa are much stronger women than anyone In the Twilight franchise.

Here are my general thoughts.

1. It was okay. I liked that it had a definitive end, because I don’t think I’ll continue with it. But, I can see where a sequel and subsequent series will pick up.

2. Rose was too juvenile for me. But I think she’s just not what I’m looking for in a protagonist anymore. She’s reckless and snarky in a way that seems foolish, not necessary, if that makes sense.

3. Mead’s dealing with depression was delicate and sensitive in my opinion. I think she wrote in two teenagers who were going through some heavy stuff and didn’t know how to deal, and then handled it well.

The predictability of the book is what really got me. I mean, it’s gotta have some tropes to be YA paranormal romance, but does it have to have ALL of them? The forbidden love, the love triangle, the scandal, the social classes, the miscommunications, the rebellion, the snarky loser reject, the Miss Frizzle, the mean teacher that reads all the notes. If you made a list of all the high school / paranormal tropes, they’d be in this book.

I like a good trope. We all like a good trope. But having them all, I just felt like I was checking boxes rather than reading a story. At the end of the day though, I picked it up knowing what I was getting myself into, and bought it anyway. Like I said up top… it was okay.

Labyrinth Lost

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Genre: fantasy; young adult; LGBT; paranormal; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation… And she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.
Review: While reading this, the first thing that came to mind was, “heck yes, a Latinx bruja story!” I legit haven’t seen many of these on the market and with paranormal fantasy as big as it is, that’s a tragedy. That said, I am happy to report that Córdova has opened up this niche market to the wider audience with her first book of her Brooklyn Brujas series. Authors like Isabel Allende and Cristina Garcia have been bringing powerful Latinx women to the written page for decades and with Labyrinth Lost, Córdova puts herself on that list of authors too — for a young adult audience.

Alex is an interesting narrator for this first installment. She is written like a perfect middle child — I am one, I know what it feels like, okay! — Somewhere between knowing everything and getting away with everything, Alex is just looking for ordinary in a family that is anything but. Like any true YA heroine, doubt and panic lead to major second guessing which leads to a major lack of communication between mother / daughter. (Really, between the whole family.) This is my only gripe with this book. Had ONE of the 400 years of brujas and brujos in Alex’s family told her what she needed to hear, many of the conflicts would have resolved themselves. But as I continue to think about this, I think, what sixteen-year-old girl talks to their parents about the stuff that matters? And there are a few instances where she tries and gets brushed off, so I take away this gripe. But I don’t erase it. Because it was there.

That said, the storyline was beautifully written. Woven like an Ancient Greek tapestry by Penelope herself, Córdova takes you into Los Lagos, the In Between as it were, and writes three dimensional characters all the way through. The villain is interesting. The plot is too. Alex’s character development is both realistic and touching. I like Nova as a character. I like Rishi, but less than I like Nova. Alex does something really impulsive for Rishi that I think is counterintuitive to her character’s whole motivation. In fact, when this particular scene happened, chapter 33, I was riding on a train from Cavaillon to Salon in Provence and I slammed my book down in my lap in a most dramatic fashion. My fellow French passengers were not amused. Je suis désolé. Like my earlier gripe that I took back because she’s sixteen, I think I have to use that same card here too. What do you think?

I’ve already put in an order for the second book and can’t wait for it to arrive.

The Hate U Give

9780062498533_p0_v10_s550x406Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: fiction; ya; contemporary; realistic
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
ReviewBooks that make me feel both empowered and ready to take on the whole damn world are why I read books! Angie Thomas’ debut novel is inspiring. Important. Relevant. Engaging. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Activating. Starr is a brilliant protagonist who rises up and claims her voice. She begins her story by having two sides, the side she shows at school and the side she shows at home and they never mingle. B the end of the novel, she’s learned that both parts of her life are important and they need to be able to coexist for her to really be herself. She starts as a Tumblr activist, someone who retweets hashtags and shares posts, but by the end, she’s the one making moves for awareness.

The relevance of this book in the United States right now cannot be underestimated. With the help of social media and the internet, more and more cases of racially unjust acts of violence have come to light, and this novel highlights that brilliantly. This book isn’t about Starr having all the answers — that would be unrealistic. How could Starr have any solutions if there AREN’T any real solutions yet? As a teacher, I know that I will teach this book year after year after year.

Toil & Trouble

Image result for toil and trouble tessaTitle: Toil & Trouble
Editors: Tessa Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood
Genre: short stories; fantasy; anthology
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)  A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era. Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth. History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations. Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.
ReviewToil & Trouble is a brilliant collection of short stories about powerful women that bend and break the traditional chains that bind them. From a series of varied perspectives, the power of women comes through in ways that are soft and easy as well as hard hitting and intense. Each author tells the story of the witch or bruja as if magic itself coiled around the words. The prose is beautiful and poetic, and yes, sometimes heartbreaking. I enjoyed every single short in this collection and will be buying it the moment it is released.

*Special thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.