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).

 

Jones Gap State Park: Jones Gap Falls

This past June, I took my cousin who was visiting for the weekend to one of our state parks for a hike. Jones Gap State Park is about 20 minutes from my house and the drive there is beautiful. The park has an entrance fee of $5 for adults and $3 for children aged 6-15 unless you have a wonderful Park Passport like I purchased at the beginning of the year, in which case you just drive right on in. Jones Gap connects to another state park, Caesar’s Head, and you can actually hike between the two of them (but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart). The Middle Saluda River runs through it and there is lots of fishing to be had there. In fact there was actually a fish hatchery exhibit and trout pound when we first entered the park.

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There are 60+ miles of trails at the park, but we decided to do the Jones Gap Falls trail which is 5.3 miles one way (10.6 miles total). I decided not to wear hiking boots and just wore some sneakers I run in instead, but by the end of this long hike I was wishing I had worn some boots just for the extra ankle support. I ended up twisting my ankle pretty bad on the way down since I was so exhausted. Note to self: wear boots on hikes longer than 5 miles. We got to see two waterfalls on this trail and were also walking along the river for a good portion of it which really helped to keep the trail feeling cool. There was, however, quite a bit of mud since it had rained the day before and some felled trees that we had to climb through and over.

The Jones Gap Falls were fantastic. There was a nice little pool that had me wishing I had worn a swimsuit especially with the heat in late June. The rest of the hike was just as beautiful and we really enjoyed it. There were even some little bridges to cross and even some hopping across rocks to get to the rest of the trail. We came across a few hikers, but managed to get there at a time when it wasn’t too busy, so it was pretty quiet overall. There are several other trails that were shorter that looked like they were pretty busy that day, especially for people with families and pets.

Overall, I think our hike was a success. We got to see some beautiful falls and some interesting bugs and foliage. We got some really good cardio in for the weekend. And we even managed to get some pretty good pictures, although next time I would really like to take out my DSLR and get some better shots of the scenery there. I am definitely looking forward to trying some of the shorter trails.

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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.

Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

We found another winner for both me and Jason! I have always been a huge fan of the Marvel movies. Actually all of the superhero movies, really. I don’t like the graphic novels, but the movies have everything I love in a movie: action, drama, a bit of fantasy, and usually a dash of romance. Jason has a harder time being convinced that they are great. However, the last few movies that have come out he has really enjoyed.

Lately the Marvel movies have been taking on a more comical tone. We noticed it in the last couple of movies that came out: Guardians of the Galaxy and The Amazing Spiderman. Well, it seems that they have decided to continue this with the rest of their movies because we could not stop laughing the whole time we were watching the newest Thor movie.

In the first movie, there was a bit of comedy involved too, but it was inherently more serious. This second movie was comedic the whole way through and brought back some of our favorite characters like Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Loki.

In this second movie, Thor and Loki’s older sister, Hela the goddess of death, comes back to Asgard after being banished by Odin years before Thor was even born. She wants to use their power to take over other realms besides the nine they already control, but when the Asgardians rebel against her, she tries to destroy Asgard.  Loki and Thor are thrown onto another planet in one of the nine realms where Thor is enslaved as a fighter for entertainment and Loki manages to get in good with the corrupt ruler of that world. Thor tries to gather some people from this world to head back to Asgard to save his people from his evil sister.

We loved the playful repartee between the characters, the action scenes, and even the juicy family drama. Throw in a super hunky Chris Hemsworth and you have yourself a winner of a Marvel movie!

Interested to see more? Click here to view the trailer!

Movie Review: La La Land (2016)

I am very late to the party that is loving on La La Land. Obviously there was a lot of hype about it since it won awards, but I finally got around to watching it and it totally lived up to the hype.

It used to be that a movie was not complete without a musical number, but those days have long since died. La La Land felt like an homage to those times when great films included whole scenes being sung and a whole city breaking out into song and dance. Movies like Oklahoma, Sound of Music, and Singing in the Rain. Classics that will forever touch the high school Thespian in me. The mix of musical and jazz was amazing and I was completely surprised by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s singing and dancing abilities. This movie was a true exhibition of their many talents.

Another great thing about this movie was the actual way it was filmed. It really reminded you of one of those old, classic musicals that will forever be great, but it takes place in modern times and they really focused on the colors throughout the whole film. Each scene is filled with eye catching pops of color that are obviously well thought out to coordinate and create basically a work of art! Definitely a feast for the eyes; it is no wonder that it won awards for its cinematography.

Finally, the actual storyline. The movie was about an actress and a musician who are trying to get their careers off the ground in Los Angeles. The keep bumping into each other and soon form a romance where they provide each other with the confidence they each need to make their artistic dreams a reality.

**SPOILER ALERT**

While working towards their goals and dreams, they begin to drift apart, recognizing that they need to go their own ways if they want their dreams to come true, but never because they stop loving each other. At the end of the movie, once they have achieved their dreams, the future has led them away form each other, but they never forget each other. Even though they do not end up with each other in the end, they still recognize the wonderful influence they each were on their lives. There is a wonderful scene where Ryan Gosling’s character plays a song on the piano and they both imagine a future where they did end up together because they loved each other, but in the end she walks away with her husband with just a backwards glance and small smile at him, home to her child and real future.

It has a truly bittersweet ending that you cannot hate, and I love the message that was there. You can have a truly great love that is meaningful and affects your life so completely without it being your future. Sometimes people come into your life for very specific reasons, and when it is time to let them go, you must. Achieving your dreams is possible as long as you believe in yourself, surround yourself with people who believe in you, and take some risks.

I loved this movie so much and am already itching to watch it again and memorize all the lyrics to the songs so I can sing along!

Interested in seeing this movie? Click here to view the trailer!