The Kiss Quotient (CBR 11 #14)

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The Kiss Quotient has been hanging out in my TBR since Malin’s review last June and I was excited to read it this year fulfilling tasks for both Read Harder Challenge and the Reading Women Challenge. I’m glad I read it in the early part of the year and didn’t put it off any longer, it was a quick fun read and while it wasn’t perfectly executed it was certainly better than average and quite good indeed for a debut.

I have a soft spot for books where the author has workshopped them and thanks their writers group in the acknowledgements. I also have a soft spot for a work where the author has an idea – in this case a gender swapped Pretty Woman – and just needs a spark of inspiration to make it work. For Hoang, it was a bit of self-discovery (a later in life Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis) that unlocks for her the way in which her female protagonist can reasonably hire an escort. Stella would like to be in a relationship but her personal rhythms have not allowed her to have a successful sexual interaction with a man, and she decides a professional will be able to teach her what she needs to know, down to writing her own checklists as lesson plans.

I loved Stella, I loved how clearly Hoang writes her voice and how easily she inserts the reader into her mind’s eye. The novel hands back point of view between Stella and Michael, and while I felt Hoang does a good job of making them distinct, and making Michael both a very typical male lead in a romance (tall, television star handsome, martial arts practitioner, a freaking 8 pack) and decidedly not typical (the aforementioned sex worker side job, a traditionally “feminine” field of work, half-Vietnamese). But the strengths are really in delivering a neurodiverse experience understandable to those not on the spectrum.

The plot turns on the successful sexual relationship of Stella and Michael, so there’s quite a bit in there, but it is also a story working through power dynamics, self-worth, and responsibility. There were some things that drove me a bit batty, and they were focused around my least favorite trope of all time, a central conflict that can be resolved with an honest conversation. But, Michael’s mother and grandmother make up for most of the nonsense his character inflicts on Stella and the reader.

Hoang’s next book also features a neurodiverse character, Michael’s cousin. I’m very interested in seeing how that one reads later this year.

Read Harder Task 13: a book by or about a person who identifies as neurodiverse (both)

Read Women Task 18: a romance

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The Proposal (CBR11 #11)

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Almost exactly a year ago I read Jasmine Guillory’s debut The Wedding Date. It was charming, had great characters, a plot with meat on its bones, and sexy bassline. In my review of that book I wished for a follow up with supporting character Carlos, and Guillory must have had as much fun writing him as I did reading him because her second book is focused on Carlos.

The Proposal* picks up six months after the end of The Wedding Date. We immediately meet the novel’s other main character, Nik, as she is experiencing a truly horrifying moment. Her casual boyfriend of 5 months has just proposed to her via Jumbotron at an L.A. Dodgers game. She refuses, terrible boyfriend storms off, and before a camera crew can get to her Carlos and his sister swoop in and rescue Nik with the “hey I haven’t seen you in so long” trick that women use to help other women in distress.

For a book that starts this way it could easily have been a much more somber affair. Guillory includes the tough stuff – what happens when a break-up goes badly and you are afraid, what happens when a previous relationship has hurt you in emotional ways that you haven’t quite dealt with yet – but lets them inform her love story, not overtake it. Guillory seems intent on talking about real issues in her books and heading down the same feminist path of the truly great romance writers working now. This book is even more diverse in its characters, which is such a pleasure to read.

While this one could be accused of committing the crime of instalove (I don’t actually think so even though the timeline is rather short, I believe wholeheartedly in two people in their thirties accidentally falling head over heels in love with each other in two months) it handles its other trope, friends to lovers, so well that it erases any concerns you may have. It does have a small handful of faults, but this story of two people learning if they can love, and let themselves be loved, when they have both decided they won’t love is pretty great.

*I really hope Guillory keeps naming her books after romantic comedy movies. I think its great.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

The Nature of the Beast (CBR11 #9)

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This is my first Inspector Gamache book without narrator Ralph Cosham. It took me a bit to get used to hearing Gamache’s voice in my head without the aid of Cosham, but after ten books Cosham is Gamache’s voice for me and once I got started it all worked itself out.

The tenth book, The Long Way Home, was a departure for both Penny and her characters and in some important ways this book is a return to form. We have at the core of this book a mystery set within the greater environs of Three Pines which opens even further the backstories of our favorite residents. But this is also a book that accepts the new status quo of the lives of Gamache, Beauvoir, and Clara.

I don’t fully know that I knew what to expect in this one, but I know that I wasn’t expecting Penny to dive into some truly horrendous baddies. There’s a serial killer haunting the periphery of the story and while other authors would use that to pile up the bodies Penny instead uses it to dig ever further into the whys of human nature. Why are we fascinated with what the serial killer did before the events of the novel, why would he kill so many, why is he resurfacing now, why is he still a threat from the SHU, and why is Gamache so afraid?

The serial killer isn’t even the main thrust of the mystery. Gamache is intent on enjoying his retirement with Reine-Marie in Three Pines, but that idyll is broken when the body of a young boy from town is discovered on the side of the road. An initial small, local search discovers things aren’t quite what they seem and something large and scary is found in the woods which brings in Chief Inspector Lacoste as well as the larger Canadian intelligence community. Three Pines is far from done uncovering her secrets.

I read an interview with Penny, and she nails what I love about these books. “[They] aren’t about murder; they’re about life and the choices that we make, and what happens to good people when such a harrowing event comes into their lives. It’s an exploration of human nature, I hope.” This book does that in spades, and while this book had to be returned over the Christmas holiday and I read it neatly in two halves I’m looking forward to book twelve, A Great Reckoning, and getting to read it all in one go.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

My Sister, the Serial Killer (CBR11 #7)

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Reviews for this one kept popping up on Cannonball Read following its November 2018 publication. I’m a bit squeamish and while I like mystery books I don’t read horror. Pluiedenovembre assured me that this one wasn’t scary or gory so I requested it from the library. Like ASKReviews mentioned in her review of this book a few days ago, it is also a very quick read. The chapters are short and crisp, with rapid fire information.

Our point of view character is Korede, a nurse in one of Lagos hospitals. She is detail oriented, and likes things to be just so. She is next up to be head nurse and has a crush on one of the doctors she works with who is calm, patient, and sweet to children. She also has a history of literally cleaning up after her sister Ayoola’s murders.

When the book begins Korede is responding to the scene of Ayoola’s third murder of a boyfriend. Ayoola claims its self-defense but Korede is starting to wonder how true that excuse is, while tossing the body over the edge of a bridge. The novel tracks Korede’s evaluation of who Ayoola is, and how her responses to the situations she finds herself in are more and more firmly defining who she really is. What are the limits of Korede’s loyalty? Who will she act to defend, her sister, or the man she has fallen for who is now in Ayoola’s grip? Will she find her way out of this criminal loop, or is she the more dangerous sister?

This one lands at a four star rating because while it is funny, has some amazingly tense moments, and it has great characters it is still missing that slight something that would have pushed my appreciation across the invisible line into five stars. But as this is Ms. Braithwaite’s debut I am intrigued by what her mind comes up with next and if her style will be different in her next outing.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge (CBR11 #6)

Until a few years ago I didn’t know that this book from 1942 existed, and once I did, I still didn’t quite grasp where it was set, which little red lighthouse and great gray bridge it was talking about. How silly I felt when I was flipping through this one after a long day to discover that it is set along the Hudson River and the great gray bridge is the George Washington bridge which I drive over several times a year.

In some ways this is just another children’s book about knowing your place, and that being little doesn’t mean that you don’t have value and worth in a world dominated by those that are “great”. But as I dug in a little deeper it’s the story of life on the river a century ago. Even deeper than that, it is a story of a love affair with an inanimate object. In some ways, this book saved its titular little red lighthouse. This children’s book is part in a great tale of historic preservation, a cause near and dear to my heart.

The lighthouse started its life on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook in 1880, guiding ships into New York Harbor. But by 1917 it had become obsolete and was dismantled and put in storage. Four years later, it was reassembled on Manhattan’s Washington Heights. The relocated lighthouse, renamed Jeffrey’s Hook Light, stood forty feet tall, and was the only lighthouse on the island of Manhattan. The George Washington Bridge was built to tower over it in 1931 and its bright lights rendered the lighthouse obsolete once more. It had already captured the hearts and imagination of the community and in 1942 Hildegarde Swift wrote The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge telling the tale of the landmark. In 1951, after decommissioning the lighthouse, the U.S. Coast Guard moved to dismantle it and auction off the parts, but a public outcry bubbled up. The USCG then gave the property to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In 1979, it was inducted into the National Register of Historic Parks, and in 1982 $1.4 million was raised to restore the lighthouse and Fort Washington Park.

The other neat feature of this book are the illustrations by Lynd Ward, godfather of the graphic novel. He is most famous for his woodcuts (which I don’t think the illustrations in this book are, but I might be quite wrong) and his six “wordless novels”. There’s an award given each year by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book in his name for excellence in graphic novels and the 2018 winner was My Favorite Thing is Monsters.