The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018), narrated by Carly Robins
Michael works as a tailor in his family business so he can be near his mother who has cancer. He dreams of being a fashion designer, but first he needs to get out from the debt he's accrued because of his mother's illness. So he started escorting to make extra money to put towards these expenses.
Predictably, Stella and Michael develop a relationship that goes beyond one of escort and client. But of course neither wants to admit that they've developed real feelings for the other, and they both have secrets they're keeping from the other. Michael doesn't usually see a client more than once, to guard against the possibility of an attachment, but Stella manages to talk him into having a fake relationship with her so she can practice that. While they both start having feelings, neither thinks the other will reciprocate. Michael sees Stella as socio-economically far above him, and Stella thinks Michael is so attractive and sexy he could have any woman he wants, so why would he want someone so awkward?
So, there's a trope in romance that I hate, when the heroine dislikes or is uninterested in sex until she meets the hero and his magical penis and she's suddenly having multiple orgasms. It's not because she has gained experience or worked through her issues or learned more about her own body, it's tied explicitly to the guy who, quite frankly, isn't doing anything super special. It irks me to no end. In this case, I know the reason things went so well with Michael is because he's so patient with her sensory issues. He doesn't know for quite a while that she's on the spectrum, but he's just a considerate lover. It's his job, after all. It makes sense in the context. It still annoyed me.
Otherwise, I found this story delightful. I especially like Michael's Vietnamese family and how they embraced Stella even though she committed a major faux pas the first time she ate with them. (They were microwaving food in plastic containers and she refused to eat it and said they shouldn't either because it's poison.) They saw past her inadequate social skills and got to know her as a person, and when they realized that having so many people in the house and the tv on and someone playing the piano was sensory overload, they toned things down a bit.
I found Stella's quirks pretty charming. She owned the exact number of outfits she needed to get through the week and they were all variations on the same thing, she owned only one kind of underwear, she had an unwavering bedtime routine, and was just super practical about everything. She was practical and logical and I am a big fan of those things. I also loved Michael - he was so thoughtful and kind and would do anything in the world for his mother. He and Stella were both interesting people and I really enjoyed getting to know them and was rooting for their relationship to work (and yes, of course I knew it would work out in the end!)
I listened to the audio version and it's exactly what I needed as a counterpoint to The Fifth Season, which was excellent, but so dark. The narrator had a bright, upbeat tone that was perfect for the book. I should also mention that the author is on the autism spectrum herself, which I wondered about as I was reading. There were a couple of moments where I wondered if things were realistic, but I'm guessing they were. I know authors usually do research but when it comes down to how the characters actually think and the things going on inside their heads, I believe it more if I know the author has a shared experience with that character.
The Kiss Quotient has been getting a lot of buzz, and I can see why. If you like cute, quirky contemporary romances, give it a try!