The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang | Book Review

2022, books, review

Hello!

Today I’d planned to do my April Reading Wrap Up post, but I’ve really struggled with this reading slump and I’ve only just finished my only audiobook listen of the month (my paperback has been a real slow read before bed!) so I thought I’d turn this months post into a book review because I have a lot of thoughts.

I’d seen people talking about ‘The Kiss Quotient’ by Helen Hoang all over TikTok – I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact I think my favourite genre is contemporary romance and my TikTok algorithm absolutely reflects that. But it wasn’t till a browse round Waterstones last weekend where I actually read the description of ‘The Kiss Quotient’ that it jumped right to the top of my tbr and my waiting Audible credit was used immediately.

A contemporary romance about an autistic girl who hires an escort to teach her how to be a good girlfriend? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Since being put on a waiting list for an autism assessment 18 months ago, I’ve learnt so much about it from #actuallyautistic content creators (shoutout @PaigeLayle and @rubyofmyeye) and I was so intrigued as to how to this autistic character was written, especially as the description used the term ‘Aspergers’ which has been somewhat shunned by the autistic community as a diagnosis that categorises autistic people into those that are ‘economically useful’ and those that aren’t.

Reassuringly, the term Aspergers is only used once by the protagonist’s parents, which kind of fits the narrative that she knows it’s an outdated term but they still see it as the ‘better’ form of autism, though it’s never addressed.

From the very beginning, I found main character Stella to be an accurate representation of someone who is aware of her autism but desperately wants to make sure no one else is aware of her autism. She keeps her head down, focuses on her primary special interest which is her work as an econometrician and does what she can to keep her parents and her colleagues happy. But after a comment from her mother about ‘being ready for grandchildren’ and another from her colleague about ‘needing to practice sex’, she spirals a little and ends up booking a night with a meticulously researched escort named Michael.

After proposing that he become her sex teacher, Michael has to seriously reconsider his ‘no repeat client’ rules, because he is taken by Stella in a way he absolutely can’t comprehend.

The first half, maybe two thirds of the book are some of the spiciest I’ve ever read – if you like your romance with *spice* then look no further because this book is steamy and seductive as much as it is sweet and poignant. Ever other chapter is incredibly detailed bedroom scenes which make listening to it on my way to and from work a tiny bit awkward.

But in between the detailed sex lessons, Stella and Michael are falling for each other hard and fast, whilst assuming that their ‘major character flaws’ mean the other could never be feeling the same way. Stella knows she is paying Michael for his service – he’s slept with hundreds of other women so she must just be another client to him. And to Michael, he knows that Stella is paying him so she can learn to be ‘better’ for someone else, so he assumes that their financial, educational and situational difference mean she could never see him as he see’s her.

Basically, both are incredibly insecure and are defining the phrase ‘to assume makes an ass of you and me’ because by god they cannot stop assuming they’re not good enough for each other.

But it’s written in the sweetest and most romantic way – each of them making the most of the moments, immersing themselves in the practice relationship while they have each other.

The last part of the book, where there is markably less sex but the character arcs tumble at great speed towards their conclusion, everything we love about Stella and Michael comes to light – it’s incredibly sweet, the narrative effortlessly switches between each character’s perspective and as I entered the last 45 minutes of the audiobook with so much left to happen, it was one of the most fantastically paced books I’ve read in a while.

I adored The Kiss Quotient – Stella’s representation of autism was spot on and I loved her full circle journey from ‘I am more than my autism’ to ‘My autism is a part of me and that’s not a fault’, her social encounters with Michael’s family, the scene in the nightclub and with her work colleagues were so wonderfully written between the spoken dialogue and the internal monologue. Michael’s story was so sweet and I loved that he was a little bit in love with Stella from the very beginning, rather than the enemies-to-lovers I was anticipating.

Fast paced and slow burn simultaneously, a fantastic representation of autism without leaning on societal expectations of stereotypes and incredibly written from the sexiest to the sweetest moments.

The Kiss Quotient gets a full 5/5 from me! And in writing this blog post, I found that there are two more books in the series focusing on other characters which I will absolutely be using my next Audible credits for!

Thank you for reading,

Sophie xx

A Day Out In Oxford

2022, lifestyle, review

Hello!

This weekend has been a lovely mix of a lovely date afternoon and evening with my fiancé and then him leaving for work and having the whole day to myself to do very little. The ideal weekend with some moderately social plans and a day to recover – perfect!

I thought I’d do a little wrap up of the day I spent with my partner on Saturday because we went to a few places and it was a lovely afternoon!

We booked tickets to see comedian Ed Gamble at the Oxford Playhouse months and months ago – long enough ago that we had to keep reminding each other of the date because amongst all the other life things, it could have very easily gotten lost in our inboxes. But it didn’t!

As every good Saturday should, we started with a lie in (and nine and a half hours sleep, glorious!). We then had a very relaxed morning and lunch at home before setting off for Oxford. It sounds silly, but I get really nervous about parking and public transport and getting to the right place at the right time, so going to a Park and Ride that I’d never been to before to get on a bus I’d not used to go to a venue I didn’t know was quite a lot for my anxious little brain but it was actually incredibly easy, which was a huge relief.

As soon as we got off the bus in Oxford City Centre, I spotted a ginormous Waterstones and even though I’m on a book buying ban this year (four months without breaking so far!), that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to look at the five story book shop. We had a good old mooch in the Teen section (because growing out of YA is a myth) and then went up to the general fiction where I promptly starting making a list of the romance novels I wanted to read and will probably download on Audible whilst my lovely fiancé Lucas found the graphic novel and general ‘nerd’ section, promptly finding an Overwatch and a Doctor Who book that fell into the tote bag I suggested he buy to carry his new books.

Next, in taking a slow wonder through a very busy Oxford, we found ‘The HMV Shop’, which is a very Oxford way of naming an HMV but we move. They had loads of fun t-shirts and I accidentally bought a beautiful Hogwarts shirt that I will proudly wear to work next week as well as a Stranger Things notebook with lights in it (reduced from £14.99 to £3.99, probably because the lights were pretty disappointing) and a pretty Legend of Zelda poster for my nerdy boy because I’m a very lovely fiancé (and it was £3 and would look lovely on our living room wall).

From there we went into West Gate to peruse our options for dinner – the comedy show was due to start at 7.30pm so we knew we needed to eat sooner rather than later. I’ve been talking about taking Lucas to The Breakfast Club ever since an impromptu lunch with my masters girls back in pre-covid 2020 and now was the perfect opportunity! And it was absolutely dead in there because Google reckoned it closed at 5 when it didn’t and a rather large hen party went in which was rather off putting (but they were in a separate room and we could barely hear the singing).

Honestly though, The Breakfast Club let me down – I remember being blown away by the food two years ago but for the price, it was mediocre at best and the customer service was shocking. I’m all for colleagues being friends and having a natter but when they’re doing it at the till that is less than 2 feet from our table, shouting across the restaurant to each other and leaving us without giving us the bill for longer than we’d spent eating the underwhelming food, it leads to a pretty rubbish experience. And then putting the ‘optional’ service charge on the bill without asking? Bit much. Not going to be returning there in a hurry/ever!

Mediocre dinner aside, we were still really early for the show, but we took a slow walk to the Oxford Playhouse where my partner was shouldered in the elbow by a tweenager who promptly let the entire street know he thought he was a ‘wanker’ and we laughed at how the little silly tween boy thought he looked ‘hard’.

With the Oxford Playhouse being right in the city centre, we arrived approximately an hour before the show started, but so did lots of other people so we took a seat, debated getting drinks and decided they were too expensive before being some of the first ones sat in the theatre and playing a silly colour matching game on Lucas’s phone as the theatre filled up, the volume became a bit much and I very seriously thought I might have an anxiety attack. But silly colour matching game kept me occupied until the support act came on.

Chloe Petts was absolutely fantastic – I got a little too in my head about the whole thing and was mildly concerned I’d be the weirdo in the crowd that didn’t laugh throughout the whole show, but Chloe had the most wonderful stage presence and don’t you worry reader, I laughed the night away. Chloe’s parting words were ‘don’t be pussy, follow me on twitter and Instagram’ and I did, what can I say.

Then the man himself Mr Ed Gamble – what we didn’t realise when booking these tickets is that this show would be the last night of the first leg of the tour and with that in mind, Ed had no fucks left to give. He was absolutely brilliant and I haven’t laughed so hard for so long in a very long time.

I realised about half way through that every time I laughed I kept slapping Lucas’s thigh and I did wonder at what point I would actually bruise him. If that’s not a summary of the night I’m not sure what could be.

The whole set was fantastic – the whole journey home we kept reminding each other of some of the punchlines and giggling and now we want to go to all the comedy gigs. A perfect first comedy show for us, thank you Mr Gamble sir.

Now the end of the night is the boring bit right? Wait for the bus, see a whole plethora of Oxford students and young people preparing for their nights out as we were heading home, get in the car, beep beep down the M40 and basically straight into bed, right? Well, pretty much but there was one mildly entertaining thing that happened and I’m pretty sure it won’t be as funny in writing but I want to share it anyway.

We realised about three quarter’s of the way through the show that not having a drink and laughing the night away was not a fantastic combination, so we went to a little Tesco, witnessed someone buying far too many onions for 10pm on a Saturday night (like, 10+ onions), bought ourselves a couple of painfully boring non-alcoholic drinks and waddled on back to the bus stop opposite a Wetherspoons (entertainment enough, really).

We got on the bus with a bunch of lovely people who were getting off before us and let us have the two remaining seats and settled in for the journey back to the park and ride. Only to realise the next stop, was right outside the Tesco’s we’d just bought our drinks from and we’d walked all the way to the next bus stop.

Thank you for reading!

Sophie xx

7 mini blog posts – Fitness, Life, Reading, Wedding and a Film Review!

2022, career, fitness, lifestyle, review

Hello!

I’m feeling a bit in-between with my blog at the moment – I want to write but I’m quite stressed and I don’t have the creative energy to think of original ideas to write about. In the last 24 hours I’ve developed a rather disgusting cold (that thankfully isn’t covid!) and I’m very bunged up and my brain feels like cotton wool, which is absolutely not helping!

So I thought today I’d write a few mini blog posts of ideas I had that aren’t long enough to make a whole post. There’s a mix of mini life updates, random thoughts and even a film review, I hope you enjoy!

One – Making Progress With Exercise

I think if you’ve been following my blog for a few years, you’ll know I’m quite good at getting over excited about something when I start it and then not really following through. And to go with that – I started Couch to 5k this week… for the third time! Have I ever finished the nine-week running program before? No, but will I try again? Absolutely!

But what I wanted to say is that pairing running with having been doing three dance classes a week for nearly eight months now, I’m finally starting to see an improvement in my fitness. I’m very particular about monitoring my statistics on my FitBit and the section for ‘Cardio Fitness’ has always been rated as ‘Poor’ for me, but in the last few days I’ve actually got into the ‘Fair’ category and although I’m not losing a ton of weight and both my dance classes and runs absolutely exhaust me, I can feel a difference! And that progress is more motivating than anything else.

Two – Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

My partner and I booked a random week off a couple of months ago, just to be able to spend some time together and actually take a break from work, because we were both exhausted. When we realised it tied in with the release of the new Fantastic Beasts film, we decided to treat ourselves and drive up to the Showcase Cinema near my mum’s house because they have the fancy pants comfy recliner seats and now I’m a cinema snob.

The film itself at surface level was fun – the music was incredible, there were some really funny moments and the magic will always be a place of home for me, despite all the controversy around the Wizarding World, I can’t help but feel comforted by it.

As proper nerds, there were a lot of points we made as we came out of the film that made it no more than a 6/10 (for me at least). Personally, I feel like the whole trilogy wasn’t really thought through and the intention of the plot got lost along the way, but I want to keep this a spoiler free review so I won’t go into it too much.

The one non-spoiler thing that really stood out to me is that a couple of the accents were really patchy? Jude Law, as an English actor, sounded both American and Irish in parts and appeared to struggle to maintain his English accent and the charms professor, we had no idea whether she was a Hogwarts teacher or an Ilvermorny teacher because her accent consistently switched. A little distracting. But still a 6 out of 10 film.

Three – The wedding is coming together!

Part of the reason we came up to the Showcase near my mum’s is that it’s also near our wedding venue and we had an appointment with the woman who’s helping us organise the day and I had a consultation with a hair stylist.

I had been using our week off to spend some time on some of the more tedious admin tasks around the wedding and I was just getting to the point where it was feeling a bit stressful and overwhelming, but our meeting went really well and we got a little tour of the part of the venue that’s being renovated so I feel much more calm about it all now!

It’s all coming together and is slowly starting to feel much more real.

Four – I did a dance show

I spent my entire childhood going to more and more dance classes – starting with ballet, then trying acro, starting tap and modern, adding hip hop – basically going to as many classes as I could and doing a big show at the local theatre every two years.

Never did I think at 25 I’d be doing it again but I donned my sparkly waistcoat for a tap duet and a jingly jangly ballet costume and performed for the first time since dancing at a cheerleading competition at uni.

It’s a funny one, because I don’t feel like it’s me in those photos – it’s not new information that I’m very insecure about my weight and I don’t feel like I look like me, but outside of seeing the photos and videos, I loved being back on stage and I feel very lucky to have found such a wonderful dance company to do it with.

Five – Work feels stressful in a good way

Despite having this week off (having desperately needed it!), work actually feels stressfully rewarding at the moment.

The department I work in has grown and changed exponentially in the six months I’ve been with the company and just a couple of weeks ago we did a massive content overhaul and started working to a new content plan and don’t get me wrong, it’s been incredibly busy, but it’s given us more structure to work with and I’ve somewhat been given the responsibility of making it sustainable and it’s getting there!

I’m learning a lot of organisational and management skills, which is nothing like the marketing job I thought I’d signed up for but I think I like the more ‘producer’ side of my role. I never thought I was the right person to work in media, but it turns out I’m actually not too bad at it!

What makes a huge impact is that I have the most amazing colleagues – I adore the people I work with and I feel like we work so well together as a team, the media production team are going to do big things this year and at surface level I will appear to be very stressed about it, but having had a week off to reflect I’m so proud of what our little media team has achieved.

Six – I’ve hit my reading peak already this year

I mentioned it briefly in my April Goals, but I’m basically not reading at the moment – I managed to listen to one audiobook in March (it was a bloody good one though) and in April so far I’ve not listened to or read a single word.

With my audiobooks, I feel like I’ve not got the brain space to listen to a story when I’m driving and to read a physical book before I go to sleep? Not a chance – I get into bed and I’m asleep within about 10 minutes!

I’m not sure what the solution is, I imagine I just have to ride the wave and get back to it when I feel ready, but I do miss it! When the weather gets better I can’t wait to get the sun loungers out and sit in the garden with a book.

Seven Why is it so hard to find plus sized active wear

This has always bothered me, but particularly recently – my ballet friend and I decided we want to go back to wearing tights and leotards to class (because why not?) and although I still have a bunch of leotards from when I was a teenager at dance (because I’m sentimental af), I’m not quite the same size I was then!

But finding leotards that go to bigger sizes are ridiculous! I’m lucky if the Large is bigger than a 14 and there’s no such thing as a plus sized leotard that’s not lycra and shiny – I want the pretty leotards too!

It’s not just the lack of availability that bothers me, it’s the teenage girls who did as many dance classes as I did being told that they’re ‘Large’ because they’re bigger than a 10. God forbid being tall! Or having broad shoulders! Let’s not even talk about boobs. The industry is so discriminative and sure, they want professional dancers to be a certain size, whatever – no random girl on the internet is going to change that – but there’s so much more to dance than being a professional ballerina.

But it’s not just dance wear – even just fitness clothes are difficult to find if you’re plus sized! It baffles me that we have to have different sections for ‘plus sized’ and ‘petite’ and ‘tall’ when surely it would be better if everyone had access to exactly the same options but available in all sizes, with a petite, regular and tall option.

I know I’m not the only one who thinks it but it is just another way to make people feel bad about themselves, isn’t it? Because there’s no way that anyone who shops in the ‘plus sized’ section should be allowed to feel happy with how they look?

Why are we gatekeeping exercise? I go to three dance classes a week and getting clothes to exercise in has been a nightmare, and I’m lucky enough to be a size that is sometimes catered for in the main range.

Maybe I’ve just not found the right places to shop, but the whole thing is incredibly frustrating!


Not quite the note I wanted to end on, but there’s a few thoughts I’ve had recently!

Of course, in the process of not being able to think of one complete blog post, I’ve written one three times the length I normally would! But like I said at the beginning, I love writing and I very much enjoy writing on my little blog!

Thank you for reading,

Sophie xx

Van Gogh Alive: The Experience, London [review]

2021, review

Hello!

At the beginning of the week, I took my partner for a surprise trip to London – after seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, we had another day of experiences and exploring to make the most of!

On our second day, I’d booked tickets for the Van Gogh Alive Experience in Kensington Gardens – I’m not particularly into art, I find it hard to engage with pictures and words and my neurodivergent brain doesn’t see any of the deeper meaning; at face value, I can appreciate a talented artist but I don’t need to spend ages looking at it.

So seeing how interactive and immersive this exhibit was, I was very excited to go (and to get some lovely pictures for Instagram). Plus that one episode of Doctor Who with Vincent Van Gogh in has given both my partner and I a really soft spot for him.

From start to finish it was fantastic – I bought a Starry Night face mask which I’ve very much enjoyed wearing, then we stood at the entrance watching a video of a robot using AI to recreate Van Gogh’s paintings which was very clever.

The next part of the exhibit was an area with pictures and descriptions of some of his most famous artworks, where he was at in his life and how they reflected his personal journey. This part I found a little confusing, as the whole point is that art is meant to be subjective so surely the perspective of one person who wrote the copy for this part of the exhibit can’t definitively decide the ‘meaning’ of the piece? But otherwise, once most people had cleared, it was lovely to just wonder round and learn more about his life (and more than what they teach you in school).

From there, there’s a recreation of the bedroom captured in several of his paintings which looks significantly more plain than the artwork. But that lead to a corridor to the main event…

A huge open space with big blocks with projections all over, in different sizes, all showing slightly different things, even projections on the floor. Here is where the real experience is – the sequence loops with five different pieces of music matched with five different artistic movements in his life. There was meant to be a smell with different bass notes and top notes or something but personally I didn’t smell anything… cool concept though!

We arrived just at the end of the last cycle, but we took a seat on the floor, socially distanced from other groups sat on the benches provided or on the floor around us and we watched this beautiful expression of a tortured man’s talents. With a few captions to give context and teach more about the artist, different artworks moved and appeared in time with the music. If all art exhibits were like this I’d probably be more interested in art!

It was such a unique way to not just learn about and appreciate art but to feel almost part of it; to be truly immersed in a story from 150 years ago. The projections felt almost 3D – all the brush strokes and colours felt alive somehow and it was a beautiful way to appreciate the vision of someone who’s no longer around to share it.

After the sequence finished, we went to a little sunflower room (which in all honesty was really dark and a little anticlimactic) and out into the gift shop (if I’d had £35 I’d have bought a paint by numbers I swear). Then we were back out to the Prince Albert memorial and the heart of London!

Personally, I think the tickets were a little expensive for what the exhibit actually is and how long we spent in there, but the exhibition is partnered with a number of mental health charities and it made me engage with art in a way I never have before, so i don’t regret spending the money!

I wholeheartedly recommend this exhibit – it moved me in a way I’ve never been moved by art and I really hope more exhibitions like this about other artists pop up because I’d love to experience them in the same way.

Thank you for reading,

Sophie xx

Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, London Palladium [review]

2021, review, theatre

Hello!

On Monday, I surprised my partner with a trip to London – we spent the afternoon browsing shops (spending too much money in Forbidden Planet), getting absolutely drenched in a random thunderstorm and ended the evening with a trip to what accidentally became the opening night for the West End show Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the London Palladium.

When I booked the tickets, it was anticipated that June 21st would be when everything opened up again and theatres were generally reopening on July 1st… then it all got pushed back, so July 12th – the night of the tickets I’d booked – was opening night! The theatre was at half capacity (but full volume), all refreshments were ordered and served to the seats and my partner and I with our silly long legs (at 5’10” and 6’7″) could spread out a little without feeling squashed by other people – personally I prefer the socially distanced theatre experience but that’s not the point.

Joseph is my fiancé and I’s joint favourite musical (my personal favourite is Les Misérables) and we’ve been talking about going for ages, so I saw a great deal on TodayTix and decided to go for it! And with a stellar cast like Alexandra Burke as the Narrator and Jason Donovan (the original Joseph!) as The Pharoah, it was one I wasn’t prepared to miss!

From the opening notes I was (literally) jumping up and down in my seat – live music and being in a real theatre felt like such a luxury after such a long time away and being able to bring my partner to our first West End show together was incredibly exciting.

The whole atmosphere of the show was one of fun – Alexandra Burke’s Narrator had lots of funny little side lines and comments and she carried the role fantastically. When she first appeared in all black with glittery shoes I was a bit dubious – the show is one of the brightest there is, with ‘Technicolour’ literally being in the title! – but having her costume as such a stark contract meant she was always easy to spy on stage and… what can I say, the shoes were glittery!

For a show that is so brilliantly random – with pop songs, country songs, an Elvis tribute, a Parisian ballad and a Jamaican steel drum number – it’s one that would feel pretentious if taken too seriously, but the whole production understood that Joseph is a wonderfully ridiculous musical and they leant into it, with the children stepping into key roles such as Potiphar, the Cook and the Butler was a really sweet touch and really funny, they all had such wonderful comedic timing.

And musical timing! The dance sequences in this show were actually so good, my marketing brain thought about putting them on tiktok because they were relatively simple but looked really effective when everyone was doing them so in sync. However, I have to shoutout the tap dance break in the middle of ‘One More Angel’ because they did tap dancing! I’m a sucker for tap and seeing it used in a commercial musical alongside lots of different styles was amazing (can someone get me a pair of tap sandals please?).

I also have to mention the Can Can sequence in Those Canaan Days – I won’t spoil it, but yes, I mean the Can Can sequence in Those Canaan Days.

To go with fantastic dance sequences, the set design was incredibly clever – from using lights to make the stage look like sand, the centre circles that raised in parts above the stage and dropped below the stage too, camels that were moved by pedal bikes and, the true highlight; the set for Pharoah’s scenes.

Jason Donovan, the man himself, is carried onto stage on a wonderful throne – the stage is lit in gold, there’s pillars of an Egyptian temple on the back wall of the stage, the centre circle is fully raised and statues of Anubis (the dog man) and Ra (the hawk man) are mid stage left and right (with electric guitars that slide in and out from side of stage and rotating heads with puppet mouths that sing along as backing to the Pharoah) and best of all… A Vegas esque sign that read something along the lines of ‘Welcome to Fabulous Egypt’ – flashing lights and all! The whole thing was so over the top in the most brilliantly tongue in cheek way and it was fantastic.

What more can I say? I need to give a special mention to the 10 amazing children that performed on opening night – I always have a weakness for children singing (the performance in the Nativity movie always makes me well up), children singing harmonies always blows me away but the girls in Close Every Door were just fantastic, as was Jac Yarrow as Joseph – he has such a perfectly pure tone and the passion he put in to the end of the song was just magical, I got goosebumps.

The whole experience was fantastic – to be in a theatre after 16 months of COVID-19 restrictions feeling safe and welcomed, in a show where the cast was having just as much fun as the audience and to only pay £6 for a programme?! All round, it was a fantastic evening. I can’t wait to spend as much time as possible at the theatre this year – the atmosphere of live musical performance is just second to none.

Thank you for reading,

Sophie xx