The Kiss Quotient
by Helen Hoang
Published by Berkley
Book 1 in the Kiss Quotient Series
A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.
Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases—a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.
It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice—with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan—from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...
Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...
RATED: 18+ CATEGORY: MOOD:
Steamy Contemporary Romance So sweet
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang is the first book in her Kiss Quotient Series, and her debut novel, and centers around Stella Lane, a successful econometrician, but not so successful at dating, woman, who happens to have Asperger's Syndrome. Since her mother won't drop the idea of her marrying one day, and babies, in an effort to make her mother happy, she decides she needs help from a professional. Enter Michael Phan, male escort. Breaking all his rules because of his dire financial problems, he decides to help Stella check off all her boxes on her list. Michael, with his patience and understanding, knows just how to get Stella comfortable with all things physical and emotional. As they grow closer, their arrangement starts feeling more real, instead of the practice is was intended to be. But can they both get other their insecurities and the obstacles in their way, and be honest about how they feel?
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang hasn't been on my TBR for long - I've books on there for years I haven't got to - but in an effort to complete one of my reading challenges for the month, I decided to take a break from the fantasy kick I've been on lately and read a contemporary. And I so don't regret picking this one.
Before I start talking about the book, I want to tell you why this book hit me so hard. It wasn't the romance that had me bawling (although I did enjoy the romance), but Stella's inner thoughts about her diagnosis that had me, quite frankly, ugly crying on my couch in the middle of the day. You see, I have three daughters. And all three of them are on the Autism Spectrum. As a parent of children with autism, one of the things you worry about is their future. Love. My oldest daughters were diagnosed twelve years ago, and I remember afterwards worrying about this. It seems silly now. With time to process, and knowledge about autism in general, I know that many people on the spectrum have healthy relationships. But back then, I worried. I wish I had a book like this back then. I think it would have been a comfort, because despite Stella being a fictional character, and is placed differently on the spectrum than my daughters, Helen Hoang is on the spectrum herself. So those inner thoughts Stella has, her insecurities on her diagnosis, had me IN TEARS because those insecurities are real. Knowing that there have been times my children have felt shame of their diagnosis, and they may have had similar thoughts, broke my heart.
So back to the book. When I started the book, I wasn't sure I was going to like it. I finished the first chapter, and I thought to myself "Oh, this is going to be another one of those 'teach me how to have good sex' tropes, where they eventually fall in love. Boring." It was the complications that both characters had that twisted it into an interesting, and unique story. Stella, being on the spectrum, has trouble socially, and certain stimuli - from noise, to feel and touch - truly bother her. Michael's financial troubles, and his inner loathing (which I can't explain why without spoiling, add an interesting element to the story), is an obstacle in his way of happiness. What I enjoyed the most about this book, was that it wasn't Stella ignoring her discomfort. Michael, who grew up with a cousin on the spectrum, understood her, and they found ways to truly enjoy one another. And not just sexually - which, by the way, is written perfectly. Their relationship outside the bedroom, the encouragement they give one another, the understanding and respect is what completes it.
The Kissing Quotient isn't one of my favorite tropes, but the romance, the steam, and my own personal connections with Stella's character left me in love with this book, and the characters within it. I can't wait to read the other books in the series now (standalones featuring Michael's cousins). Helen's writing is superb for a debut writer, and the fact that these characters have very realistic complications, make it all the better.
Stella's analogy to French kissing
Michael and Stella just watching a movie together
Quan comforting Stella outside the bar after her panic attack
Michael's grandmother having Stella help her with landscaping.
Michael's family talking about how he should marry Stella as if he isn't there.
The second chance Michael's family gave Stella.
Stella telling Michael she was obsessed with him, and the following couch sex.
Michael making Stella a dress
Stella's mom dropping truth bombs on Stella's dad
Stella finally seeing the worth in herself
Michael trying to prove to Stella he loves her, and in the end, it was him wearing underwear she bought him that won her over.
Michael finding out that the charity that paid off his mothers medical bills was started by Stella with her trust fund,
Also, this was Silicon Valley, the kingdom of tech geniuses and scientists. The single men available were probably as hopeless in bed as she was. With her luck, she'd sleep with a statistically significant population of them and have nothing to show for it but crotch burn and STDs.
Bachelorette parties paid well, but the idea of destroying young love depressed the hell out of him. Maybe it was pathetic, but he wanted to live in a world where brides-to-be only had sex with their grooms-to-be and vice versa. Besides, large groups of horny women were terrifying. You couldn't defend yourself against them, and their nails were sharp.
Michael: "You don't like French kissing?"
Stella: "It makes me feel like a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish."
Stella: "I'm not stupid. I have a Taser."
She snatched the pink C2 taser from her purse and handed it over.
Michael: "Holy hell, do you even know how to use it?"
Stella: "You slide the safety back, aim and hit hit the button. It's very simple."
Michael: "Would you have used it on me?"
Stella: "I didn't, so clearly the answer is no."
Michael: "Look on the bright side. If a girl meets your mom and doesn't run, you'll know you found a keeper." Quan: "No, then I'll have two scary-ass women in my life instead of one."
Michael: "She needs me to go slow. I don't mind. I kinda like it."
Quan: "Fucking liar. You're probably jacking off ten times a day."
Michael: "I didn't say I wasn't jacking off."
Quan shot forward to the front of the couch.
Quan: "Oh fuck, am I sitting on your come cushions?"
Michael: "Do you really want to know?"
Michael asked with a smirk.
Quan: "You're disgusting. You know that?"
Quan got up and sat on the coffee table, brushing himself like he'd been contaminated. Ngoai: "Who likes him?"
Mom: "A customer."
Ngoai: "The one in the gray skirt?"
Mom: "You saw her?"
Ngoai: "Mmmm, I had my eye on her from the first second I saw her. She's a good girl. Michael should marry her."
Michael: "I'm right here. And I'm not marrying anyone."
Mom: "Did I raise you to go kissing people's daughters like that if you're not going to marry them?"
He stared up at the ceiling in frustration.
Michael: "No." She had a disorder, but it didn't define her. She was Stella. She was a unique person.
Stella: "I'm going to forget everyone's names."
Michael: "That's okay. I wish I could." Stella: "You're a good cook."
Mom: "Michael is very good with his hands."
Sophie rolled her eyes before she smirked suggestively
Sophie: "Do you agree? Is he 'good with his hands'?"
His mom scowled at Sophie, but Stella merely smiled and nodded.
Stella: "I think so."
Sophie arched her eyebrows and sent Michael an is she for real look.
Mom: "Where did you grow up, Stella?"
Stella: "Atherton. My parents still live there."
His mom's eyebrows climbed at the mention of the wealthiest zip code in California.
Mom: "Do you like babies?"
Michael almost dropped his fruit, and his voice was gruff with horror.
She shrugged innocently.
Sophie: Geez, Michael, go easy on her. You'll scare her away, and we all really like her. Honestly, in the DRIVEWAY? What are you, 13?
Stella: "I'm obsessed with you, Michael. I don't want just a night or a week or a month with you. I want you all the time. I like you better than calculus, and math is the only thing that unites the universe."
Michael: "Just give up and say it."
Maddie: "No, I had that armbar. You only got out because of your steroid abuse."
Michael: "I do not use steroids, and you only got the armbar because I didn't want to crush your boobs."
Maddie: "Going for your balls next time."
Looking closer, Stella saw they both had their arms locked around each other's throats. Like anacondas in a death match, neither was willing to let go.
Stella: "Maybe call it a draw?"
Maddie: "Hi, Stella. Your girlfriend is here, Michael. Give up."
Michael: "Dinner is ready in ten minutes. I'll be with you in a second."
Maddie: "Only if you're giving up. Who's your daddy?"
Michael: "Not some little brat."
The two rolled on the carpet, kicking and flailing their legs.
Stella: "I'm going to say hi to your mom and grandma, then."
Michael; "Did you like it? When he kissed you?"
Stella: "Not at all."
Michael: "Why? Did he do it wrong? Was he a bad kisser?"
Stella: "It felt wrong."
Stella: "Because he wasn't you."
Love, he found, was a jail. It trapped, and it clipped wings. It dragged you down, forced you to places you didn't want to go - like this club he didn't belong in.
Michael: "I accepted your proposal because I wanted help you with your issues, and it's clear we've worked through them. You're ready for a real relationship now. If some bastard doesn't want you because you're autistic, he doesn't deserve you. Do you hear me? You have nothing to be ashamed of."
Dad: "I saw nothing good in that man."
Stella: "Then you weren't looking closely enough. He's not doing nothing. He's not lazy. Sometimes there are more important things than passion and ambition. He put his career on hold so he could take care of his mom, who's dying of cancer. He's the kind of person who will give up everything for the people he loves, everything. He's nothing but good."
Mom: "That's enough, Edward. It was obvious what you were thinking. You want her to be with someone driven and career-focused, someone who can take care of her. You don't seem to realize she's driven enough on her own, and she doesn't need someone to take care of her financially."
Michael was mint chocolate chip for her. She could try other flavors, but he'd always be her favorite.
Mom: "If you can't stand being with a woman who's more successful than you, then leave her alone. She's better off without you. If you actually love her, then know the value of that love and make it a promise. That is the only thing she needs from you."
Michael: "She's not as innocent as you think."
She slanted him an are you kidding me? look before focusing on the buildings passing by.
Mom; "Like a girl would stay innocent long with my son. Besides, every mother wants a daughter-in-law who can get down to business. I want to hold babies again."
Michael choked and coughed.
This crusade to fix herself was ending right now. She wasn't broken. She saw and interacted with the world in a different way, but that was her. She could change her actions, change her words, change her appearance, but she couldn't change the root of herself. At her core, she would always be autistic. People called it a disorder, but it didn't feel like one. To her, it was simply the way she was.
Yes, she was lonely. Yes, she had a broken heart. But at least she had herself.
Stella: "I don't want to be your pity friends."
His chest constricted at the sight of her tears, and he quit breathing.
Michael: "Who ever said anything about pity?"
Stella: "You did. You said you were done helping me but I still wasn't enough. You said it, and you meant it. You can't take it back now."
Michael: "I never said you. I said we. You never once thought I meant me? That I'm not enough for you?"
Guileless eyes searched his face, wide from her lack of understanding.
Stella: "Why would I ever think that?"
Michael: "Because I'm a prostitute, and my dad is a criminal."
Her lips turned down, and she took a step away from him.
Stella: "I don't care about those things. None of that impacts who you are or how you treat me."
Michael: "Does that mean you no longer have feelings for me?"
A film of moisture glossed over her eyes, and she spun away from him blindly.
Stella: "I'm going to go now."
Michael: "Because I have feelings for you."
Michael: "Could you say something please? When a guys tells a girl he loves her, he doesn't want silence in response. Was I too late? Are you over me?"
Stella: "Are you wearing the underwear I got you?"
Laughter cracked out of him.
Michael: "Sometimes, the way your mind works is a complete mystery to me."
Stella: "Are you?"
She transferred the bear underneath her arm and tucked her fingers into the waistband of his pants above his leather belt.
Lips curving, he unfastened his belt, unbuttoned his pants, and drew the zipper down.
Michael: "If we get arrested for lewd acts in public, they better let us share a cell."
Stella: "You're wearing them."
Michael: "I don't like to go commando. Chafing."
Trying to suppress a goofy grin, she straightened his pants and belt.
Stella: "Women buy underwear for the men they love. It's economics. Data supports this claim."
Check out the rest of The Kiss Quotient series below