The Kiss Quotient: A Book Review

I have been on a bit of a Kindle book kick lately and decided to catch up on some of my physical books on my To Be Read stack. I thought I’d start with a lighthearted read and have had The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang on my list for a while. I ended up picking it up with my Book of the Month order since I keep coming back to it on Amazon and really wanting to buy it.

It is definitely an adult romance but it has a little more depth than my usual guilty pleasure romance reads. I was expecting it to take me longer to read at 314 pages but it ended up being a great binge read and I stayed up all night to read it.

It is about a girl, Stella, with Asperger’s, or highly functioning autism, who is ready to have a relationship, but because of her autism finds it hard to have a physical relationship with men. So she hired an escort, Michael, to help teach her how to have a relationship with a man. Of course, they end up becoming very close and fall in love like in any good romance, but between his insecurities and her social anxiety, they have many obstacles to overcome before they can actually be together.

As someone who does not have autism, I cannot say whether the perspective of Stella is accurate, although I assume it is since the writer herself has Asperger’s. As someone who used to teach autistic children and specifically children with Asperger’s I can confirm that the dynamic between her and the other characters who do not have autism are very realistic. My students with Asperger’s were always my favorite (I know, I know, I’m not supposed to have favorites – too bad) because of how guileless and honest they were. They never tried to be funny, but they always had such an amusing perspective on people and situations that I found very funny.

This book captures the humor of any social relationship with someone who has Asperger’s. With all of the politically correct romance books out there breaking down barriers between interracial relationships and even different sexual identities, it is nice to see a romance book that explores a relationship between someone who has a “disorder” (I don’t personally see this as a disability or disorder, but rather a personality quality) that is quickly becoming a normal diagnosis in our society. It normalizes romantic relationships between “regular” people and people with autism which I thought was lovely. It also could open up discussions about people in the sex industry.

I could go on a huge rant about the stigmas of autism, but instead I will keep this might and just say that I truly enjoyed this debut novel and really recommend it for those that love a good romance book, both bingable/guilty pleasure romances and relatable romantic literature. Fans of Pretty Woman would enjoy this immensely. I’d give this book a good 4/5 stars.

Please be aware that this is an adult romance novel with several very steamy moments. If that is not your thing, I totally understand and just want to give you a heads up.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: A Book Review

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green is the first book written by popular YA author John Green’s brother. His writing style is totally different. A highly believable sci-fi book with characters that are sometimes hard to love and themes that really make you question yourself and society, I think that this book was an excellent debut for Hank Green.

The story is narrated (mostly) by the main character April May. A bisexual, artsy millennial who stumbles upon a giant robotic-looking statue outside in New York City one night. She calls one of her best friends, Andy, to come and see it, names it Carl, and they record a video for his YouTube channel, becoming instantly famous. It turns out that the Carl in New York isn’t the only one. They have popped up in cities all over the world and no one knows how they got there or who put them there. April May and her friends discover that the Carls are not just an art piece but possibly an alien species. Two schools of thought break out in society: one is that the Carls are there to bring humanity together, and the other is that they are out to destroy us. Between telephone conferences with the President, TV interviews, and writing a book about her experience with Carl, April May struggles with how to keep ahead of the crowd so she can keep her fame and her own self-importance with regards to the Carls (being the first to make contact with an alien species and all). Her and her friends work together to solve the many puzzles the Carls have left for the human race in order to discover what their purpose  and reason for coming to Earth is.

The book deals with some pretty big themes and makes some serious social commentaries about today’s youth and even government. Some of the themes include love in a modern society and friendship. One of the themes is the use of social media and fame in modern society. Another theme is the effects and perils of fanaticism. It also deals with the mores of sexuality in society and how and why Millennials deal with personal relationships. The book also makes commentaries on how fame can change people and on having a personal identity, while also having a strong message about cooperation among people in order to unite humanity.

While the story is utterly ridiculous, it is almost believable because of all of the thematic references which are so personal to so many young people in society right now. April May’s story is either familiar to you, or you know of someone that may be going through something similar, or thinks similarly to her. Her character is not always easy to love. In fact, through many parts of the book, I found myself really disliking her. However, I think she is an excellent character. She has many depths and is very believable.

It is definitely an intelligent book, however, it was not a difficult read. The story flows and the voice keeps it from being stuffy. I have not read a lot of sci-fi, but this book was pretty fantastic. I truly enjoyed reading it and it also made me think. It does end a bit unexpectedly, but luckily it is the first book in a series and will be continued (although Goodreads has not listed a title yet or a release date, so it seems we might be waiting a while to see how the story continues).

 

Book Review: Shades of Grey

The first book of Jasper Fforde’s that I read was The Eyre Affair the first novel in his Thursday Next series which I have loved. I found the book very witty and full of adventure that really tugged at the heart strings of a bibliophile. I read the description for his novel Shades of Grey and thought that I absolutely NEEDED to read it.

Shades of Grey is a dystopian novel taking place in taking place in a world called Chromatacia where the people’s place in social hierarchy has to do with the amount of color they can see and specifically which colors they can see. It follows the main character Edward Russett who is a Red and is expected to be able to see an exceptional amount of red. He is trying to move up the social hierarchy by marrying the right girl with the right color and gets sent to another city as punishment where he meets a girl named Jane who changes his life and perception of his society.

I really wanted to love this book and forced myself to read it all the way through. The concept was great, and parts of it were very witty, but I found myself struggling to actually finish it. I couldn’t get into the plot development and perhaps it was just a little too British for an American girl because there was a lot of parts that just went right over my head. As dystopian novels go, it is not the most action packed until the very end, although the world building is very interesting. Till the very end of the book I was not sure if this is a completely make believe world (due to references to Oz – which actually would make sense since it was one of the first movies with color and there is that whole play on black and white and color viewing) or if it was our world after some terrible catastrophe that caused this separation of people based on color blindness.

While it is probably very well-written, there is a possibility I am not intelligent enough to pick up on the details in the plot and this left me very confused through most of the book. Perhaps if I had read it the way I would read a textbook, and maybe researched some of the references I may have been able to understand it better, but since I was just reading it for fun, it really missed the mark for me.

The novel ends on a note where the story could be continued, but this came out in 2012 and there have been no sequels yet. It received high praise on Amazon and Goodreads but I have to give this book a low rating because it just didn’t click with me.

All in all, here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

Almost anything can be improved with the addition of bacon.

I didn’t set out to discover a truth. I was actually sent to the Outer Fringes to conduct a chair census and learn some humility. But the truth inevitably found me, as important truths often do, like a lost thought in need of a mind.

“Love isn’t sensible, Red. I think that’s the point.”

2.5.03.02.005: Generally speaking, if you fiddle with something, it will break. Don’t.

The best plans are always the simplest.

“The best lies to tell,” said Jane, “are the ones people want to believe.”

Never underestimate the capacity for romance, no matter what the circumstance.

6.6.19.61.247: Vulgar mispronunciations of everyday words will not be tolerated.

Book Review: The Passage

I recently finished reading the book The Passage by Justin Cronin. It is the first book in a a three book dystopian/post-apocalyptic series about a virus developed by the military that turns people into vampiric creatures that are incredibly strong, live forever, and don’t even resemble humans anymore. After explaining how the virus is developed and why the world is where it is, the story takes you 95 years into the future where a colony of survivors is living in California. With the help of Amy, a girl who the government infected with the virus but somehow does not have the same side effects as the others but has managed to stay a young girl, and a few of the colonists they set off to Colorado, where the outbreak first manifested, to see if there is a way to save humankind and beat the “virals” (that’s what they call the vampires, but let’s be honest, they are vampires).

Interestingly enough, Justin Cronin’s previous books were romance and contemporary fiction. Completely different from this horror/sci-fi genre he seems to have done pretty well in. This book has fantastic reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon and was personally recommended to me by a family member, so I had some pretty high hopes.

There were several things I liked about this book and very few things I didn’t. Mainly, this book reminded me a lot of the show The Walking Dead. So, if you were also a fan of this show, this might be the book for you. It’s a post-apocalyptic story-line, with humans trying to survive human-turned-monster creatures that are difficult to kill and have taken over the whole world. There are the heroes who are determined to win the war against them. There are love interests that change and evolve between the characters. And finally, there is plenty of action and suspense. The book really did read like a really great binge watching show. In fact, if it had not been so long, I probably would have binge read it.

That brings me to another thing I really liked about it. It was really, pretty long. The print length is listed on Amazon as 897 pages. Quite the epic. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If the story is good, it means there is more to read, which is what any book lover wants, but if the story is bad, you just want to kill yourself because you feel like you will never reach the end. In this case, it was really great. Because it was so long, I got to savor the story for longer, which is really hard for me to do. I have a hard time pacing myself with books and usually overindulge and end up starting and finishing a book within a day or two. That just was not possible with this book, and also made it feel like it was a TV show, rather than just a book.

Finally, I really liked the writing style the author used. There are several literary mechanisms he used such as diary entries, log books, as well as general narrative, which really allowed you to see the story from different viewpoints.

While, there were many things I did like about the book, there were a couple of things that I thought could have been done better. In several parts of the book, my inner Grammar Nazi kicked in. There were several spoken phrases missing quotation marks right next to spoken words that were in quotations. It did not seem like a stylistic choice, but rather an error that the editor did not catch. However it was not something that ruined the story in any way.

Another stylistic change I would make is the use of some vernacular. The author chose to replace a certain four letter swear word with the word “Flyers” (I guess after the virals, who can jump so high and such great distances that they seem to fly), however in other parts of the book, reverts back to the regular four letter F-word we all love to use today. I just feel like you should keep some consistency with that kind of thing.

Finally – this isn’t something I really disliked, just something that I know many people might not – there are a lot of characters to keep up with. With a book this long and spanning so large a time period it is bound to happen. It can be difficult sometimes to keep track of all the different characters that are mentioned that might pop up again for something else. I did not feel like any of the characters were really extraneous though; they all served their purpose and helped to build the story-line and character development for the more main characters. Most of the best selling fantasy and sci-fi novels do have a large character list: Game of Thrones, Outlanderthe Lord of the Rings, etc.

There was one part of the book that I just never really understood and don’t know why the author went this route in the story.

*SPOILER ALERT!!!*
There is one character who I feel was made into an important character, and really shouldn’t have been. The nun, Lacey. She takes in Amy when her mother abandons her and goes after her when the FBI abduct her, but you could already tell he wanted her to be something special because her story-line included her being able to hear the actual voice of God, and then it never comes up again. In fact, you think she dies until you get to the end of the book and find out that she was saved by the scientist who infected all the original twelve virals to begin with by using the same virus he used on Amy. So, she has been alive this whole time, but she broke her vows and married the asshole scientist who created these monsters, and outlived him just so she could tell Amy that she is the savior, which everyone had already figured anyway because she can kind of control the damn things.
I feel like the author could have easily found a different character or way to explain Amy’s role in the whole story-line and left this weird nun out of it. Her character was great until she came back to life. I would have preferred if she had died sacrificing herself for the child and Agent Wolgast to make it out.  The scientist could have left some kind of computer message that the engineer kid, Michael, could have deciphered. Or Amy could have just turned a viral back to normal and figured it out herself in some dramatic suspenseful scene where her friends almost die until she saves them. Or Wolgast could have survived and been changed into whatever she is too, so he can explain it to her, since he was more of a parental figure in her life than the nun was.

OK rant over, and that was really the only part of the book that I didn’t like or agree with.

Other than that, I really liked the book and am excited to read the second. I managed to get it while the e-book was on sale on Amazon, so I am hoping I can wait for the second one to go on sale also. It seems that they are also trying to develop this book series into a TV show, which would make a lot of sense with the style of the book and the success that shows like The Walking Dead have had.

I would definitely recommend this book to other post-apocalyptic/dystopian book lovers and those into sci-fi/horror as well. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to see what they do with the TV show.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I know they tell you not to judge a book by it’s cover, but I just have such a hard time not doing that. Some book covers just call to you, and some book titles just whisper in your ear until you give in and pick them up to read. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of them. The dark cover with the light center drags you into it and the girl who seems to be floating (or maybe drowning) in the depths compels you to pick it up. Maybe it’s all those blue hues that I am so particularly attracted to. And that title! It just rolls off your tongue and conjures all kinds of images to your mind.

I love the way Neil Gaiman writes. His words just seem to be so deep without being pretentious, or completely incomprehensible. While this is one of his adult novels, because it is written from the childhood memories of the adult narrator, it has a very childlike fantasy feel to it, that really helps you believe in all of the unbelievable things that happen in the book. Things are so much easier to believe in as a child, and even when you think back on them as an adult, for that moment that you are thinking about it, you can believe again. And with this novel being only 178 pages, it is a short read that is not in the least intimidating.

The story reminds me of a dark, fairy tale or myth. Definitely not something you would read as a bedtime story to a child as it really was quite creepy in many ways. As an adult, the narrator visits his childhood home and makes his way to one of his childhood friend, Lettie’s, home and shares his memory of his short friendship with her and how she disappeared. The whole story is shrouded in mystery with nothing ever being completely revealed, even toward the end, however, the story does not feel unfinished or leave you feeling like you need or want more. Gaiman does an excellent job of letting you come to your own conclusions about what is really happening in the story without giving it all away.

I really enjoyed reading this book and am so glad I finally read it as it has been on my To Be Read list for quite a while now. I have read other books by Neil Gaiman such as Good Omens, Coraline, and Stardust (Coraline and Stardust have also been turned into fantastic movies!) and really want to read some more of his work. I think I will have to add American Gods and Neverwhere to my To Be Read list now. Have you read any of Neil Gaiman’s books? Which ones do you recommend?

Living on a Budget: Managing Entertainment

I am by no means starving or wanting for anything in life. I am extremely fortunate, and I know that. However, like most college graduates, I have amounted an impressive amount of debt and it has become our life mission to get out of debt, which means budgeting.

I hate the word budgeting. I’m not a shopaholic or a spend thrift, but I feel like I work hard for my money and should be allowed to get all the things that are going to let me enjoy the time I spend not working. While trying to pay off all my student loans, that just is not really possible. Not if I really want to make a dent. I have, however, managed to find ways to still afford some luxuries and that is what I want to share with you today.

There are four things I consider luxuries for spending money in my budget: music, movies/TV, books, and clothes. I have found a way to still access three of these without spending any money at all!

My biggest tip to those that want to save money and still have access to entertainment is to access your local library. Most libraries nowadays have access to a good amount of ebooks, music, and even movies and TV shows. My library uses several different sites.

For ebooks I use overdrive and can access over a hundred thousand books, not counting my prime membership books. I can check out all of their books for up to two. My library also lets us download 7 items from Hoopla each month which has access to music, movies, TV shows, ebooks and audiobooks. I’ll use Hoopla to download music and get 7 new albums each month!

Besides their online content, the library also has many DVDs of movies and shows that can be borrowed, as well as the books that you would expect. Most libraries also offer all kinds of programs that you can attend FOR FREE. I have seen adult coloring get together soon, quilt guild meetups, and even board game nights. There are lasses for different computer programs and other topics of interest locally.

Everyone says libraries are a dying business, but I can’t see how, if more people would take advantage of what they have to offer. What with the free books, movies and music, and our $8 a month Netflix account, the only thing I have to really curb my spending on is clothes. I still haven’t managed to find a lending service for that, but I’ll keep looking, no worries.

Book Review: Brave New World

Brave New World has been on my TBR list since high school and I just have never gotten around to it. Sometimes I have a hard time with “classics;” I either love them or I hate them (probably depending on whether it is truly relatable to me). My mom told me about this book after I had read George Orwell’s 1984 (which I thought was amazing and have read a couple of time more since first reading it). Apparently George Orwell was a student of Aldous Huxley (at least according to the Introduction in my version of the book – I did not fact check this, so please let me know if I am wrong), so I thought that I was going to like this book as much as I did 1984. Unfortunately, I did not.

I didn’t hate this book, I just couldn’t really get into it the way I did 1984. The whole premise of the book dystopian in nature and modern society has turned into this place of clones and individuality where it isn’t okay to experience any kind of emotion besides happiness, so the government controls the people by forcing them (but not really because the people want to be happy) to take these pills that make them stay in this constant state of happiness and subordination to the system. One of the main characters begins to question how society is and sets into motion events that make other question what is right and what is wrong as well.

I like the whole idea of the book. And I think that it is very relevant to today and our future society, however I just did not like the writing or the where the plot goes too much. It did not read easily the way 1984 did to me and some of the characters really did just annoy me. I did not feel like there was as much growth from the characters, which I guess could be a kind of criticism on mankind and how growth is usually very limited or even impossible for most people. Call me shallow or naïve or whatever, but I think humankind is not nearly as unteachable as they are portrayed in this book, and I prefer novels that give me hope for the future as opposed to having depressing, abrupt endings.

I probably could be convinced to like this book more, but it just missed the mark for me.