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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

'The Kiss Quotient' by Helen Hoang

From the BLURB: 

Stella Lane thinks mathematics 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 far 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. Gorgeous and conflicted, Michael 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 of the other things he's making her feel. 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 . . .

'The Kiss Quotient' was the debut romance novel from Helen Hoang, in what has now become a mini family-saga that continues with 'The Bride Test' and will likely conclude with 'The Heart Principle' out in 2020. 

So, I really loved this book and can't believe I didn't write a review after I finished reading! Though I will say that having read it ages ago (July 2018) and now seeing more reviews of it, it's interesting to step back and see how divisive this book is. It's very much a love or hate, but not much of in-between it would seem ...

The story follows successful algorithm-whiz Stella Lane as she tries to overcome her intimacy anxieties and please her disappointed parents by "practicing" having a relationship ... with an escort. That escort ends up being Michael Phan - who is more than he appears, and more patient than Stella could have hoped for and also too close to being the perfect guy she could actually fall for. 

A large part of what made 'The Kiss Quotient' a stand-out romance title of 2018 was two-fold: it featured a racially diverse couple, and neuro-diverse heroine. Stella is on the autism-spectrum, and since autism is under-diagnosed in women and girls, this in itself was a welcome bit of representation, and particularly in the romance genre. 

I thought Stella's autism was handled well, and that it was integral to the romance sparking and evolving was, I thought, genuinely lovely and a unique angle I'd never really seen played for female characters before. 

I see quite a few reviewers who found the sex to be ... distasteful in the book. And, look - different strokes for different folks but also: in Australia and the nature of our market, 'The Kiss Quotient' was publicised and positioned as much more of a Women's Fiction title, when in actuality I'd say it's an out and out romance. As such the sex and romance *does* take up a fair chunk of the story and does a lot of heavy-lifting in the characterisation - which I fully welcomed and expected, given that I'm a romance reader and pretty quickly adjusted to this being firmly of that genre. For others though, I can imagine if they went in looking for more ... exposition, and less "sex-position" - then they'd be thrown. It's definitely a gear-switch if you're not prepared to welcome it. 

All in all; I was totally delighted by 'The Kiss Quotient' - from its representation, to the titillation - it ALL worked for me, and I was glad to find a new favourite author in Hoang.


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