Unpopular opinion but I didn’t like The Kiss Quotient

THE KISS QUOTIENT by Helen Hoang

Author: Helen Hoang
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

KIRKUS REVIEW

A woman with Asperger’s falls in love with the escort she hires to teach her about sex and relationships.

Stella Lane’s job as an econometrician is perfectly satisfying, but now that she’s 30, her mother expects her to look for a husband and start producing babies. Stella has never enjoyed dating or sex, so when a male colleague she’s cautiously interested in rudely suggests she should “get some practice,” she takes his advice to heart. Enter Michael Phan, a man as gorgeous as any K-drama star, who abandoned his promising career as a fashion designer and started escorting to pay for his mother’s cancer treatments. At their first appointment, Michael refuses to rush into sex with a woman so frozen with discomfort, regardless of whether or not she’s paid him. Stella, both deeply attracted to him and grateful for his kindness, asks him to consider a long-term arrangement. Michael is hesitant after a past experience with a stalker client, but he recognizes her vulnerability and is overcome by an instinct to protect her. Hoang is sure-footed in her character development; Michael and Stella both have robust, sympathetic stories and complicated, loving families. The initial sizzling sexual chemistry deepens into a satisfying romantic relationship. Both of them are plagued with insecurities even though they are generous and nonjudgmental with each other. Stella is nervous about revealing her Asperger’s to Michael, but he accepts her unconditionally. Michael keeps his escorting a secret from his family and struggles to separate his own identity from that of his con-man father, but Stella judges him on his own merits. An unnecessary late-stage plot twist feels forced and inorganic, but it’s a small misstep.

A well-crafted and charming debut romance.

When I want to read an honest review of a book, my go-to reviews is Kirkus Reviews. I find their reviews concise and truthful. The majority of the time, I feel we are on the same page, but not this time.

I couldn’t connect with The Kiss Quotient. I wanted a fun holiday read and instead, I found myself cringing and wanting it all to end. The Kiss Quotient isn’t a terrible book, it is well written and I am in the minority for not liking this book. This book is LOVED. I think many, many years ago I would have loved this book and I would have been caught up in the romance and attraction of Stella and Michael, but I am not that reader any more. Which I think is a good thing. I am a different reader these days. I would highly recommend this book if you like fun, well-written romances.

There were many reasons I didn’t like The Kiss Quotient, but I will limit it to three.

After he took them out of the city and merged into the light traffic on 101S…

Michael ALWAYS drives – always. There isn’t even a discussion. Not once does Stella ever say that she doesn’t like driving and she would prefer Michael to drive. He always assumes the position of the driver. This bugged me a lot!

They didn’t approve of me at first. Why would they want him marrying a Vietnamese girl with only an eighth-grade education who barely spoke English?…

“I didn’t know that…” It made him look at his grandparents in a new, rather unfavourable light.

Michael learns that his grandparents on his father’s side didn’t like his mother…at first. Obviously, his grandparents came around, which says a lot for them as people, but Michael decides that he’s going to think less of his grandparents because they were worried about who was marrying. Why was this important to the storyline? Are we supposed to think more of Michael because this makes him enlightened? This is barely a blip in the storyline, but it irked me.

Her petite body was composed of elegant shoulders and arms, a little waist that flared to gently curved hips, and shapely legs with delicate ankles.

It irritated me that Stella and Michael were both stunning. I am not sure why this annoyed me so much, but both of them were drop-dead gorgeous and I couldn’t quite relate to either of them because of this. I know that I watch movies and TV shows all the time where the characters are gorgeous, so why did it bother me so much that Stella and Michael were so attractive? Maybe because I found it all so unrelatable and I found the characters were very stereotyped. Stella is a gorgeous, petite and smart econometrician and Michael is the sexy biracial Viet-Swedish escort. My eyes are rolling into the back of my head as I write that sentence. Oh, but apparently Stella is autistic, so that makes her relatable and Michael has issues because of his father, so he’s flawed too. Once again, eye roll. Oh, and I forgot to add that; apparently, Stella is “quirky” – need I say more.

The Dog Runner

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Author: Bren MacDibble

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

What I like about Bren MacDibble is that she doesn’t preach and she doesn’t patronise her readers. So many authors like to take a stance and they then proceed to hit you over the head with their beliefs. They try to make you feel stupid for believing in what you think and often they will ridicule the reader for not believing in what they believe is true and right. Bren MacDibble doesn’t do this; she shows us what a better way is and she’s let’s us decide. She did this with the wonderful How to Bee and continues to do this with her new book The Dog Runner. 

The Dog Runner is set in the not too distant future and Australia has succumbed to a fungus that has wiped out grass and led to worldwide famine. As you can imagine the world we live in is in anarchy – there is little food, nothing grows, livestock is dead and life is dangerous.

Ella lives with her father, mother, brother and their dogs. Ella’s mother has been working outside the city and Ella’s father goes off to find her and bring her home. Ella and  Emery’s father is gone for a long time and it doesn’t look like he and Ella’s mother are going to return. Life in the city is becoming more precarious each day and so Ella and her brother Emery decide to set off to the country where Emery’s mother lives.

With the help of five dogs and a dogsled, they leave the city and head out into the country. Emery and Ella know that no one can be trusted and they know that food and water on their journey will be scarce and that their journey will be filled with danger, but they feel that it is a better option than remaining in the city.

The Dog Runner moves at a cracking pace and is an exciting and brilliant read. Ella is an exceptional voice. She is a young character but by no means a naïve character. Ella isn’t tough and experienced but she has a quiet strength about her. She bravely steps up and takes on challenges which in her previous life she would have found terrifying. Through all the dangers and challenges Ella doesn’t become hardened by what she sees and experiences, she always remains hopeful about the future.

The Dog Runner is thought-provoking and challenges you to think differently. MacDibble gives the reader a warning about the hazards and perils of monoculture and shows us that we lack diversity in our crop growing, BUT she also offers solutions. She introduces the reader to native plants and shows us how to think differently about growing our crops so that we don’t exhaust and drain the land. It is quite the writer who is able to weave all this into a book that will excite young readers.

I have two copies of this book in my school library and both books are currently on loan and there is a waiting list for these books.  As soon as I describe it to the boys they want to read it and why wouldn’t they, The Dog Runner is brilliant – thought-provoking, intelligent and exhilarating.

Red, Fruit, Berries, Tamarind, Small Leaf Tamarind

The Slightly Alarming Tale of The Whispering Wars

  • Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
  • Illustrator: Kelly Canby
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was taken by Whisperers at 2pm, so I never pulled the lever for the laundry chute.
That’s what bothered me most. 
This is way ahead in the story, though. A lot happened before that.

The town of Spindrift is frequented by pirates, Shadow Mages and charlatans. It’s also home to the Orphanage School, where Finlay lives with Glim, Taya and Eli. Just outside town is the painfully posh Brathelthwaite Boarding School, home to Honey Bee, Hamish and Victor, Duke of Ainsley. When the two schools compete at the Spindrift Tournament, stakes are high, tensions are higher, and some people are out to win at any cost. Before long, the orphans and the boarding school are in an all-out war.
And then Whispering Wars break out, and Spindrift is thrust onto the front lines. Children are being stolen, Witches, Sirens and a deadly magical flu invade the town, and all attempts to fight back are met with defeat.
Finlay, Honey Bee and their friends must join forces to outwit the encroaching forces of darkness, rescue the stolen children, and turn the tide of the war. But how can one bickering troupe outwit the insidious power of the Whisperers? And who are the two mysterious figures watching them from the shadows?
From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a spellbinding tale of unlikely friendship, unexpected magic and competitive athletics.

Though this book shares the same world as Jaclyn Moriarty’s book, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, this book is a stand-alone tale with an entirely new story and characters. Both books form part of Moriarty’s new series – A Kingdoms and Empires Book. This book is best read after finishing The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone to appreciate the subtle nod to characters and events that featured in the first book.

Once again, Moriarty has given readers a delightful book full of playful, madcap and unexpected twists, but the greatest enjoyment that comes from this quirky novel is the two narrators – Finlay & Honey Bee. 

Finlay & Honey Bee talk directly to the reader and you feel like you know both these characters because they treat the reader like a friend. They don’t just tell a story, they allow the reader to become a part of the story and their lives. The reader is allowed into their inside jokes, their merciless teasing of each other and their secrets and fears. Both characters are endearing and likeable and make excellent narrators because they make the reader feel invested in their story. Finlay, from the orphanage school, is spirited and cheeky. Honey Bee, from the posh and pretentious boarding school, is quiet and thoughtful. What both narrators share is a wonderful sense of humour that shines through their storytelling.

I enjoyed this book more than The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone and I didn’t think that was possible. Possibly I enjoyed the narration of Finlay and Honey Bee more than Bronte Mettlestone and that’s a big call because Bronte was an exceptional narrator, or maybe it is because Moriarty was only starting to hit her stride with Bronte and she picked up the pace with Finlay and Honey Bee. 

Moriarty unique style of writing shines through in The Slightly Alarming Tale of The Whispering Wars. Like her previous books, it is expressive, eccentric and engaging. Gloriously illustrated, once again, by Kelly Canby, this is a novel chockfull of great adventures and readers will demolish it quickly. Don’t be put off by the size of the book, Moriarty’s writing is addictive and once you start reading, you will find yourself devouring this book. 

What I love most about Moriarty is that she never underestimates her audience. Yes, she is writing for younger readers, but she never talks down to the reader. She gives the reader the respect they deserve and I believe that younger readers will appreciate this about Moriarty’s writing. 

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The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

 

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Illustrator: Kelly Canby

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Bronte Mettlestone’s parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She’s had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons – and no adventures, thank you very much.
But Bronte’s parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte’s home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.
Now, armed with only her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates – and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye…
From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a fantastic tale of high intrigue, grand adventure and an abundance of aunts.

I fell in love with Jaclyn Moriarty’s writing while reading the Colours of Madeleine series. Oh, how I loved that series. I was in absolute awe of Jaclyn Moriarty and her quirky, unique and imaginative writing, so I was thrilled to see that she had written a series for middle-grade readers.

Jaclyn Moriarty is an inventive, quirky and delightful writer. I am always amazed by her imagination and creativity when reading her books and The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is no exception. Once you start reading you are captured by Moriarty and she does not let you go and once she has let you go, you want more.

What I love about Moriarty is that she isn’t like any other writer. She is incomparable. While reading this book, I was asked to describe what the book was about – I did my best to explain this book, but I think I failed miserably. You have to read Moriarty’s work to understand her refreshing and original imagination.

Moriarty’s world-building is like no other and it isn’t just her world-building, the way she uses words to immerse you in her story is original and delightful.

‘The Upturned…Ha! You mean the Dishevelled Sofa!’

The Dishevelled Sofa is a cafe in Moriarty’s book. If the name hasn’t captured your attention and made you want to visit, then Moriarty’s description will.

Her attention to detail and vocabulary is incredible. Every word counts. Every chapter counts. All one hundred and nine chapters! This world that Moriarty has created is all hers and her work is complemented by Kelly Canby’s delightful, lively and animated illustrations. The illustrations add to the book.  Moriarty’s writing can easily stand alone but with Canby’s illustrations an extra depth is attached to the book.

Yes, this is a hefty book, but it isn’t an arduous read instead you will find yourself whipping through the pages and loving Moriarty & Canby’s brave, quirky and humorous work. I am delighted that I can introduce Moriarty’s work to middle-grade readers and I know they will love her as much as I do.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I like a book to tell a story. These books did not. They told about things. It’s true that this is what I needed them to do, and yet honestly. Did they have to? ‘Oh, just stop, you insufferable bore!’ I murmured to the authors.

Moriarty is no insufferable bore and when reading her work, I wonder what it must be like to live inside her head. I am sure that Moriarty could make a to-do list funny and creative. You only have to look at the title! It is enormous, like the book, but Moriarty makes it work. She’s a wonder!

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Author: Karen Foxlee

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

The story takes place in Ohio, a state in the USA. It’s set in the 1970s. A time before technology overtook our lives. The main character, Lenny, lives in an apartment with her mum, Cynthia Spink, the proud, hard-working, sharp-witted, anxious mother of two and her younger brother, Davey – her happy-go-lucky brother who has gigantism. Her father, Peter Lenard Spink, has left them. He hopped on a Greyhound bus and never returned.

Lenny’s Book of Everything is captivating, charming and magical. Lenny, her mother and brother, live an ordinary life except for the fact that Davey grows at an alarming rate. At age six, he is four foot and ten inches or the equivalent of about 147 centimetres.

So what makes this book so charming? Is it because it set in the 1970s when life was simpler? The highlight of the children’s week is the arrival of the Burrell’s Build-it-at-Home Encyclopaedia which their mother won for the children through her talented writing. Cynthia Spink’s communication with Burrell’s (through letters) is a memorable part of the book.

The encyclopaedias allow the children a glimpse of the world that exists outside their apartment and their small town. They experience the wonders of the world through the books. Lenny discovers a fascination of beetles and dreams of being a coleopterist. Davey becomes enthralled with birds of prey and travelling to Great Bear Lake. I often wonder if Lenny fulfilled her dream and became a coleopterist.

A lot of the charm and magic of the book lies with the characters. Every character adds an element to the story from Lenny’s best friends CJ Bartholomew and Matthew Milford to the school principal Mrs Dalrymple – keep an eye out for Mrs Dalrymple and Mrs Oliver towards the end of the book!

My favourite character was Mrs Gaspar. The odd old Hungarian woman who lives in their apartment block and who looks after the children when Cynthia works. Every child should experience a Mrs Gaspar when growing up – she’s so beautifully disagreeable.

“The abominable snowman,” said Davey.

“Pah,” said Mrs. Gaspar, and she waved her hand as though we bored her. “I saw him once when I was walking home from school in Hungary.”

This bittersweet tale is full of so many perfect moments that remind you that our best life is experienced through kindness, hope and love. Lenny’s Book of Everything is gorgeous and borders on perfection. Thank you, Karen Foxlee, for giving me the reading collywobbles ♥

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Imposters

Author: Scott Westerfield

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

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I loved Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. I have read other Westerfield books, but none have captured my imagination as the Uglies series did.

I was pretty excited to hear that there was to be a continuation of the Uglies series consisting of four new novels, the first one being Impostors.

Set in the futuristic world of Westerfield’s Uglies books, I was hoping that this book would hold my attention as much as the original series. I enjoyed Imposters and I know that Westerfield fans will love this book and I think that he will gain a whole new readership with this series, I found it to be a good read, but I didn’t devour this book like I did the original series.

Frey and Rafi are sixteen-year-old twins and their father is a powerful and controlling man, leader of the city of Shreve.

Rafi was raised in the public eye; she is the face of Shreve. She has been taught to be the ultimate diplomat and the good daughter. She has a public profile and regularly attends parties and functions. Frey is a secret to the public. As far as the people of Shreve and other cities know there is only one daughter. Frey has been taught to be Rafi’s body double. She has been trained to ward off would-be assassins and she takes Rafi place in the public when it is deemed too dangerous for Rafi.

The twins father strikes a deal with the first family of a neighbouring city, Victoria. He wants steel and is negotiating an agreement with the ruling family. The family do not trust the twins father and ask that Rafi is sent as collateral to ensure that there’s no funny business on his part. Of course, Rafi is not sent but Frey. As far as their father is concerned Frey is disposable.

Frey is sent to Victoria. The first family of Victoria are honourable people and they live a different existence to the people of Shreve. I did enjoy this part of the story. Victoria and Shreve are ruled entirely differently and it makes me wonder what our world will be liked in the future and how different countries and cities will adapt.

Col and I walk on the street like randoms. No body armour, just half a dozen wardens blending into the crowd around us. A single drone hovers up among the pigeons. It’s probably only there to make sure I don’t run. The weird thing is, I’m more free as a hostage here than as a second daughter back home. House Palafox has no special corridors or elevators. No spy dust in the air.

My tutors explained how privacy is an obsession in Victoria. The city scrubs its data every day, forgetting where everyone went, what they pinged each other, what they made with their holes in the wall.

Shreve felt a little like a future America and Victoria felt like a European city. Westerfield through the depictions of the different cities and leadership is able to explore themes such as environmental conservation and individual freedom.

If the wardens in Shreve want to know what happened at a certain place and time, they just call it up on the city interface. They can watch from any angle, replay any sound but the softest whisper.

The book is flawlessly plotted as you would expect of a Westerfield novel. It is a book that moves quite quickly but still allows you to have an understanding of the character’s motivations (including the minor characters).

It is an impressive book by an accomplished author, but for me, it lacked the heart and emotional connection of the Uglies series.

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Sam & Ilsa’s Last Hurrah

Authors: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

I was immediately drawn to this book. Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? I liked the idea of twins throwing a dinner party and inviting three guests each, but the other doesn’t know who they asked – it has disaster written all over it. After the first few chapters, I felt slightly cynical and was thinking that it was all too slick and too predictable. I stuck with it, though, and I will say you will enjoy the book if you let go of your cynism. I guess it could be quite a fun read. Though, because I am quite cynical, I thought the book was quite ridiculous.

It’s senior year for brother and sister Sam and Ilsa and time for one final dinner party at their grandmother Czarina’s rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The rules are simple: The twins may each invite three people and see how the guests interact. The premise is excellent and one that I could get on board with but I struggle with the book beyond the blurb.

Sam’s list of invitees is his ex, Jason Goldstein Chung who comes across as obnoxious and bitter. Ilsa’s ex, Parker, who appears to have no faults – he is sophisticated, gracious, kind and considerate. Sam’s final invitee is Johan, an Afrikaner whom Sam has been checking out on the Subway and he decides to invite to his dinner party (as you do!). Ilsa’s list consists of her school friend Li Zhang, KK Kingsley who is a rude socialite and I expect we are automatically supposed to dislike her because she’s presumedly white and privileged and finally Frederyk Podhalanski, a blonde Polish exchange student who communicates mostly through his sock puppet, Caspian. I never grasped the whole storyline with the sock puppet and I hope someone can help me with my blatant ignorance. I also found Caspian rude and obnoxious, but this was acceptable behaviour (for some reason) – once again, if someone could explain this “character”, I would appreciate it.

Like most dinner parties there is too much alcohol, too many exes in one room and too many unresolved “issues” and most of those issues seem to stem from the twins. The evening is narrated from alternating points of view over the evening – Sam & Ilsa. The book I gather is meant to be a humorous romp, but I thought it was severely lacking and it was trying too hard to be witty, hilarious and edgy. I found it all a little too politically correct and a good dinner party needs to be the opposite. This is one dinner party that won’t be remembered fondly, but I know, that others will hold it dearly in their hearts – each to their own.

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