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.

Book review of The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L Armentrout

The Problem with Forever

This book seriously tugs at your heart strings.  Have tissues handy.  Mallory and Rider share a very hard, troubled childhood, but it’s not the few flashbacks that get to you, it’s the mental and emotional scars they still bear, and how those affect them today.  It took me some time (as it took Mallory some time) to understand how deeply those scars affected Rider.  There is a lot of focus on Mallory, and the reader has a very clear understanding of her situation, whereas we only really see a surface view of Rider and on the surface he seems fine.  But he’s not.  And eventually Mallory realises that.  The use of the childhood book to illustrate the characters’ struggles was brilliant.  It helped me (who doesn’t have that history or those scars) to understand the way these troubled teens viewed the world and their place in it.  Some parts were predictable (the roles that Paige and Ainsley played, in particular) but there were enough curveballs (Jayden!) to keep you wanting to turn the page and find out what happened next.

The way that Mallory spoke did grate on me a little, and put me in mind of Bella from Twilight and all her teen angst, but it was pretty integral to the character and I can’t see how the author could have written it any differently, so I shouldn’t complain.

I thought Mallory’s speech was fantastic, and really pulled all the loose threads together, but then Rider went one better and gave us an incredible satisfying ending.  The epilogue was also satisfying – no perfect lives, but moving together towards a brighter future.

This book should come with trigger warnings, but otherwise is a must read if you like powerful YA romances.

Book review of Rebuilding Hope by Jessie G.

Rebuilding Hope (Kindred, #1)

This was an interesting take on a shifter romance.  I’m accustomed to such things as fated mates and alphas, but both those things were taken a step further in this book.

Crowley is not the alpha, he’s the Zenith.  That means two things – he rules over not just a group of shifters, but all shifters.  Of all breeds.  There are three Zeniths in the world, ruling over different areas.  Crowley rules over the Americas.  Below him there are the regular alphas who run the groups on a day-to-day basis.  Alphas are the strongest, as per usual.  Zeniths are born to the position, not in terms of bloodlines but in terms of abilities.  Secondly, Crowley can hear the thoughts and feel the emotions of all the shifters under his rule, and vice versa.  That’s what makes him the Zenith.  How that works in reality (can you say reality when it’s a fiction novel?!) wasn’t explained in great detail, but the reader was given sufficient information to get the gist of it and understand how it affects Crowley and how he uses it to affect the shifters under his care.

Then you’ve got mates.  Most shifters in this universe choose a mate, as humans do.  They may fall in love, but they’re not fated.  It turns out that Holden is Crowley’s fated mate, which for a Zenith is known as a Kindred.  No one has encountered a Kindred in so long that they were believed to be myths.

All of the above gave the novel a sense of uniqueness, and made it interesting and different to those that have come before it, which is good.

I found the story hard to follow at first, and I was super confused as to why Crowley asked Holden to join him at his table in the restaurant, although that was sort of explained later.  Their first encounter wasn’t shared with the reader.  From Crowley offering Holden a seat, we skip forward to them in bed together, and that baffled me.  Why didn’t we get to see their very first interaction with each other?

Once the story got going through, everything flowed quite smoothly after that.  I liked the fact that Crowley wasn’t arrogant, that he worried over whether he was doing a good job as Zenith, that he genuinely cared for his people, that he respected advice from those whom he trusted and respected, and yet that he was ruthless and hands-on when it came to necessary punishments.  In short, a good leader.  Holden’s bewilderment and bafflement over the whole shifter thing and also his role as Kindred worked well and felt natural, and yet he instinctively reacted to some things, reinforcing the idea that the relationship was ‘meant to be’.  I thought that was all handled really well.

Some of the secondary characters were quite interesting. The vampire king definitely caught my attention.  I suspect there are sequels to follow on the other two Zeniths as they hunt for their Kindreds. Four stars from me.

Book review of A Chosen Man by Jaime Reese

A Chosen Man by Jaime Reese

This is the 6th book in Jaime Reese’s Men of Halfway House series.

Wall is a secondary character we’ve encountered previously, who talks very little.  Like, ridiculously little.  So I was curious to see how Jaime would portray his story.

I loved Dylan.  He reminded me of Cole, a previous character.  Dylan has a powerful memory and can remember virtually everything he reads.  The author didn’t explicitly state that it was a photographic memory, but it obviously was.  He’s also a tech genius, specifically a hacker.  But then comes the similarity to Cole – the habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time because he doesn’t fully understand the nuances of normal, everyday social situations.

Both Dylan and Wall have had previous relationships that scarred and/or traumatised them, and led them to being wary of new relationships.  Built into this is the explanation of why Wall is so quiet, and how Dylan ended up in jail.

It wasn’t the guy, or his smile, or the sound of his voice. It was the promise of the dream. And, at the time, he probably would have accepted that from a three-legged iguana shifter if it had been able to speak that promise to him.

Like with Cole, the author doesn’t try and pretend he’s squeaky clean, an innocent man who did time for an honest mistake.  Dylan broke the law, but the author cleverly entices the reader to fall for him anyway.  I mean, for Wall to fall for him anyway.  Ahem.

I felt that the relationship between Wall and Dylan healed both men to a point where I felt like some of their stronger personality traits weren’t so obvious anymore.  Wall talked a lot more than I expected, and Dylan learned how to concentrate on his surroundings and what reactions were best in a given situation.  I was a little disappointed that they became more ‘normal’.  I didn’t feel like that happened with Cole, or even Adrian, who were strong characters that remained strong characters but found someone who loved them anyway.  Wall and Dylan changed each other.  For the better, sure, but…  Anyway, I dropped a star off my rating for that.

I added a star to my rating for the humour.

He imagined he would be crapping sugar cubes at any moment.

I kept laughing aloud as I read, and I love a book that can do that for me.

Wall didn’t know shit about computers, programming, and wouldn’t be able to find the dark web in a well-lit room.

The relationship between Wall and Dylan didn’t have enough tension or conflict to really keep my interest.  Their relationship was very sweet.  There was external conflict, which came from the men chasing Dylan.  The ‘escaping the bad guys’ sections of the book were easily my favourite, although Wall’s mum was very cool and I liked her a lot.  If there had been more conflict, I think the book would have been stronger.  As it was, I felt it was a three star read, taken to four stars with the humour.  If you want a sweet read that will make you smile, check it out.

Book review of Archangel’s Shadows by Nalini Singh

Archangel's Shadows (Guild Hunter, #7)

This is the 7th book in Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series.  When I looked ahead in the series, I was disappointed to see that I was going to have read through Ashwini and Janvier’s story, and then Naasir’s, before getting back to the primary and secondary characters.  I felt that Ash and Janvier were tertiary characters to date, and we’d seen so little of Naasir even though he was on of Raphael’s Seven, and what we had, I didn’t like.  I wasn’t looking forward to his story at all.

But I’ve been enjoying the series, especially since switching to the audio versions, and I wanted to continue to follow the overall arc.  I wanted more of Illium and Aodhan in particular.  So it was with some reluctance that I started on Archangel’s Shadows.

Firstly, as someone who lives in New Zealand and has never been to America, I’m glad I listened to the audio book.  I could never have imagined Janvier’s accent correctly!

We knew already that Ash was pretty kickass, and a little crazy, and she didn’t disappoint in that regard.  There was a big build up to finding out why Ash was holding Janvier at arm’s length, and why she refused to consider becoming an immortal.  I was sceptical, I admit.  I was afraid this was going to be one of those ‘if you’d only talked to me’ tropes, where she had misconceptions and it had kept them from being together for ages and once she ‘fessed up, Janvier would sort them and they would have wasted so much time.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  I should have known not to doubt Nalini Singh!  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, because that would truly ruin the book for you, but it’s a good reason, and even Janvier has to agree that it’s a good reason.

The hunt that runs through the book helps keep the momentum going, and provides action, conflict and insights into both Ash and Janvier.

We see a lot more of Naasir in this book, and now I really want to read his book!  I hadn’t expected that AT ALL.  He is sweet, amusing and fascinating, and I really want to see how Nalini expands on that.

I was a tad disappointed at how neatly things were wrapped up at the end of the book, but unsurprised.  And that was really the only part where things were too easy for the characters.  Both Ash and Janvier stayed in character the whole book, which is good.  I gave it four stars.

 

#T5W – Favourite covers

The first two things that grab your attention when you’re looking for a book are the title and the cover, right?  Then it all hinges on the blurb.  I have read a few great books with terrible covers, but generally, if the cover is atrocious, I’m likely to keep scrolling.

A lot of romance novels have very similar covers.  Half naked men are pretty standard in contemporary romances.  Women in ball gowns are pretty standard for historical ones, or men in kilts for Scottish historicals.  Men in cowboy hats, with or without a woman at his side for Westerns.  And so on and so forth.  So it’s hard to find covers that really stand out.  I’ve done my best to choose five though.  Note that I limited to myself to only choosing from books I’ve actually read.

Entranced (Guardian Academy #1) Entangled (Guardian Academy #2) Enchanted (Guardian Academy Book 3)
I like the blend of kickass, supernatural and femininity that Jessica Sorensen’s covers for her Guardian Academy series have.  You know by looking that the heroine isn’t going to be an insipid pushover.

Demon Possession (Shadow Quest, #1) Demon Slave (Shadow Quest #2)
The first two books in Kiersten Fay’s Shadow Quest series have beautiful covers.  Pretty and other-worldly, with a hint of darkness.

Keep Me Safe (Slow Burn #1) In His Keeping (Slow Burn, #2) Safe at Last (Slow Burn, #3)
Maya Banks often has unique covers on her books.  Some feature more traditional covers, but most don’t.  The first three books in her Slow Burn series feature striking covers, although I admit, they don’t give much clue to the stories inside.

Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling, #1) Visions of Heat (Psy-Changeling, #2) Caressed By Ice (Psy-Changeling, #3) Mine to Possess (Psy-Changeling, #4)These are the covers of the Kindle editions of the first four books in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series.  I think they look dark and dangerous, which gives them an added advantage over the half-clothed men on many other covers.

 

A Sorceress of His Own (The Gifted Ones, #1) Rendezvous With Yesterday (The Gifted Ones, #2)
These are the only two books currently in Dianne Duvall’s The Gifted Ones series, but it is very closely tied to her Immortal Guardian’s series.  So closely tied, in fact, that you can move from The Gifted Ones to the Immortal Guardians without feeling like you missed anything.  Especially if you read Marcus’s story in the Immortal Guardians series, as it ties the two series together nicely.  Anyway, these are historical romance novels, with a paranormal twist and some time travel in the second one.  The covers are unique and eye catching.

So there you go.  There were a few others I hummed and haa’d over, but eventually you have to make a call, right?  As it was I cheated by doing five series instead of five individual books!

What are some of your favourite book covers?

 

 

 

 

Cliffhangers and ‘Happy for now’

‘I am confident that, in the end, common sense and justice will prevail. I’m an optimist, brought up on the belief that if you wait to the end of the story, you get to see the good people live happily ever after.’ ~ Cat Stevens

I read romance novels almost exclusively. Within the primary romance genre, I read virtually every subgenre there is, with some being more favoured than others, of course. I read romance because I demand my ‘happily ever after’, and the romance genre is the only genre that promises this. Or does it? I have been noticing a trend lately in the romance genre for books to have either cliffhangers or end with the couple ‘happy for now’. Most often, these books are followed by a sequel where the couple continue their relationship, and may or may not arrive at their ‘happily ever after’. Is it a ploy to get readers to buy more books? A natural consequence of readers delving more deeply into characters’ lives so the stories take more than a single book to tell? Or do romance readers no longer care about ever after? We live in a world where instant gratification is demanded by so many, and where the future is a distant, intangible thing that will sort itself out. Are these books a result of the world in which we now live?

‘The magic is as wide as a smile and as narrow as a wink, loud as laughter and quiet as a tear, tall as a tale and deep as emotion. So strong, it can lift the spirit. So gentle, it can touch the heart. It is the magic that begins the happily ever after.’ ~ Walt Disney

This is something that I have been pondering for some time, and another theory has occurred to me. With the proliferation of ebooks and self-published books, there are huge quantities of novels coming onto the market all the time. Far more than have ever been available previously. Perhaps many of these books have romance as a subgenre, rather than a primary genre.

Let’s look at Nalini Singh’s hugely successful Guild Hunter series, which is marketed as ‘paranormal romance’. The first book features Raphael and Elena as the primary characters. The second book also features Raphael and Elena as the primary characters. In fact, so do the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh books in the series. So they didn’t get their ‘happily ever after’ in the first book. So are these books paranormal fiction first, and romance second? Or are they paranormal romance novels that simply don’t have a ‘happily ever after’? Interestingly, the first book in the series, Angels’ Blood, is ranked in Amazon’s fantasy and horror genres, although it is highest ranked in the romance genre, in the paranormal subgenre.

The Guild Hunter series is far from the only example, just a high profile one. Share some of your examples with me, and your thoughts about them.  How do you feel about ‘romance novels’ that end on a cliffhanger or just a ‘happy for now’? Are you satisfied? Do you buy the next book in the series? Do you feel they even qualify as romance novels? Is the ‘guaranteed happily ever after’ gone from the genre?

‘Have you thought of an ending?’ ‘Yes , several, and all are dark and unpleasant,’ said Frodo. ‘Oh , that won’t do!’ said Bilbo. ‘Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?’ ‘It will do well, if it ever comes to that,’ said Frodo.’ ~ J. R. R. Tolkien