Solo Lisa Reads: June 2018

Round-up of summer 2018 book recommendations

Without meaning to, I've somehow let a whole year slide by between my last book review round-up and this one. I was still reading during that time—or rather re-reading, revisiting books I've loved since forever. But there's nothing like summer and the promise of long, warm, lazy days to make you reach for a new book, is there? Here are four I've enjoyed recently; they'd go well with a patio and a cold drink.

1. Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella. "Til death do us part" was a relatively easy proposition when our ancestors only lived until their forties and were therefore married for 20-25 years tops. But now that people are living longer lives it's trickier, and couples are more likely to grow apart over the years. Sylvie and Dan find themselves staring down this uncomfortable epiphany when a doctor's physical on their ten-year anniversary determines that they'll live until 102 and 100, respectively. How will they fill the decades and keep the romance alive when they already feel as though they know all there is to know about each other? Sylvie decides the only solution is to come up with surprises for each other, and of course, hilarious hijinks ensue. I've always enjoyed Kinsella's novels—they're compulsively readable, wrapping some sly social commentary (in this case, about the concept of marriage in modern society) in the guise of a 90s-style rom-com. Surprise Me is not Kinsella's best, but the genuine LOL moments make up for the slightly wobbly narrative.

2. When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger. Remember first assistant Emily of The Devil Wears Prada fame? These days she's living the high life as a stylist/crisis manager to top celebrities in LA and married to a jet-setting investment banker husband. But when she finds herself losing clients to an up-and-coming social media influencer and being dropped by a high-profile client while in New York, she retreats to the suburbs of Greenwich, Connecticut to stay with childhood friend Miriam. Miriam (who's juggling the uneasy transition from New York attorney to stay-at-home suburban mom) is friends with Karolina, a former supermodel in the midst of a DUI scandal that threatens her already strained marriage to a senator with presidential ambitions...and, well, you can probably put two and two together based on that synopsis and guess who Emily's next client will be. Compared to the forgettable Revenge Wears Prada, I found When Life Gives You Lululemons a lot more entertaining. I chalk it up to the shift in focus from nice-but-bland Andy to Emily, who really leans into the unrepentently catty and superficial.

3. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. This book has been sitting unread on my Kobo app for ages, but it wasn't until watching The Alienist whetted my appetite for all things Gilded Age that I cracked it open. Set in late 1800s New York, the novel tells the story of three women with supernatural abilities who run a shop purveying tea, sympathy, apothecary remedies, and witchcraft—a dangerous occupation considering the fact that a serial killer is stalking the streets and targeting suspected witches. Think Practical Magic meets The Age of Innocence, with a story in which witchcraft also functions as an allegory for female autonomy and power. Fans of McKay's previous book The Virgin Cure will be pleased to see Moth in this sequel (she's one of the tea shop proprietors). Having read both novels, the thing I found most jarring was the tonal shift between the two: The Virgin Cure was realistic historical fiction with social justice undertones reminiscent of Elizabeth Gaskell or Charles Dickens's work, whereas The Witches of New York has a lot more magical and supernatural elements. (I remember thinking to myself at one point, "Holy s***, the raven talks!") If you can get past that tonal shift though, you'll find The Witches of New York to be a rich and satisfying read.

4. The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll. I was a huge fan of Jessica Knoll's debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive and her knack for writing unlikeable but sympathetic heroines. In The Favorite Sister, Knoll extends this knack to the entire cast and crew of a fictional Real Housewives-style reality TV show about female entrepreneurs. The story starts with cast member Kelly being interviewed in the present day; her sister and fellow cast member Brett has just died. As the viewpoint switches between cast and crew members, it becomes apparent that none of the narrators are reliable and every woman has her own motive for wanting Brett's death. Knoll is ruthless as she skewers how society compels women to compete with and undermine each other, even as they're encouraged to "play nicely" and be "babes supporting babes." I found the constantly shifting perspectives and the fact that all the narrators are unreliable disorienting at first, particularly since I was only reading a couple of pages at a time late at night before bed—I'd have to flip back at least 5 pages to re-orient myself and see which points one character was refuting in another character's account of events. This is a book that's better devoured over a couple of sunny afternoons.

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