She spoke memories

She spoke of home in hushed whispers,
far away eyes caught on a memory of Christmas sparkles,
flashes of multi-coloured hues,
framed by snow that resembled icing
dripping
from a perfect story-book gingerbread house.

She spoke of warming chilled hands on mismatched mugs of
mulled wine, redolent with heady scents of cinnamon and
anise, sensuously entwined with underlying fragrances of
pine, roast potatoes, ham glazed with ginger marmalade, and
fruit mince generously soaked in brandy from a dusty bottle.

She spoke of hand-sewn stockings hanging from
a mantelpiece supporting an assorted collection of
cards stuffed with well wishes, above a fireplace
that crackled and popped with an authenticity conveying
warmth and tradition.

She spoke of balls of crumpled wrapping paper,
torn edges in greens, gold and crimson, interspersed with
discarded lengths of clumsily curling ribbon,
that told their own tale of thoughtfulness, of preparation,
of satisfaction and excitement.

She spoke of home and a scene
so unfamiliar
and yet I knew I’d seen it before in
a hundred movies and on
a thousand greeting cards so unsuitable
for my own holiday season.

Book review of The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

The Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient, #1)

Stella has a gift for numbers and does a fantastic job as an econometrician, predicting sales based on collected data of consumers, but she’s constantly turning down promotions.  Why?  Because they want to give her direct reports, and Stella doesn’t deal well with people.  That goes double for her personal life.  She’s tried dating, but can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, and frankly, she finds kissing and sex distasteful.  Ugh, some guy putting his tongue in her mouth?  No, thank you.  She has a sensitivity to smells and touch and taste, and the men she’s dated don’t make any allowances for that.  But that’s probably her fault too because she won’t tell them why she’s struggling.  Because she doesn’t want their pity.  When people find out she’s autistic, they treat her differently, and she just wants to be normal.  Or does she?  Her mother has made her promise she’ll try on the personal relationship front, so Stella can’t give up even if she wants to.

After a ‘ex’ tells Stella she needs more practice in bed (!), Stella hires Michael, an escort, and asks him to teach her about sex so she can get better at it and therefore be more successful in the dating arena.  After a couple of false starts, a failed date and a spectacularly atrocious family dinner, Michael puts two and two together.  Once he understands what Stella needs and why, it’s much easier to work with her on the skills she wants to improve.  But the more he learns about her, the more he realises it’s going to be hard to walk away from her.

There was only one thing I didn’t like about this story.  Stella doesn’t tell Michael she’s autistic because she’s worried that it will change how he views her.  He figures it out, it doesn’t change how he feels about her (if anything, he feels more strongly for her), and yet because they don’t communicate on the subject for ages, it remains an issue preventing them from being together.  Similarly, Michael doesn’t tell Stella what forced him into the escort business because he’s worried it will change how she views her.  She figures it out, it doesn’t change how she feels about him (if anything, she feels more strongly for him) and yet because they don’t communicate on the subject for ages, it remains an issue preventing them from being together.  Ugh.  I hated that.  But it was still a solid four star read, and I really enjoyed it, so don’t let that stop you.

I thought Stella was really well written, and she felt natural.  Sometimes with characters who have ‘labels’ such as autism, it feels like the author gives them characteristics, habits or issues just to make them more stereotypical of whatever they’ve been labelled with.  Stella didn’t feel like that.  She felt more natural.  And she wasn’t ‘cured’ by Michael.  That was made evident in a few ways, including when Philip kissed her and when she was wearing the top with the open seams when talking to Janie.  Interestingly, after I finished reading the book, I found out the author is also on the autism spectrum, and wrote a lot of herself into Stella.

If you enjoy contemporary romance novels, I think you’ll enjoy this one.  It’s not gritty per se, nor is it clean and sweet, but it feels real.