Solo Lisa Reads: November 2018

Round-up of book recommendations for November 2018 from Vancouver life and style blogger Solo Lisa, including The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines, and The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

True to my winter wellness goals, I've been trying to go to bed by 11pm and read more. This month's round-up includes a couple of lighthearted romances, a cookbook, and a prequel to one of my most beloved childhood books. Looking for more reads? Check out some of my past book reviews.

1. Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines. Full disclaimer: I received this cookbook in a gift bag from an Indigo event, I've never seen an episode of Fixer Upper, and I'm not a fan of anything within the Gaines lifestyle industrial complex. Despite all that, I still really enjoyed this book and think it's very well done. As a home cook with very basic skills, there are a lot of things that can put me off a cookbook: overly complicated recipes with lots of steps or fussy techniques; too many recipes for baked goods, desserts, or side dishes (I'd rather make a savoury main dish, ideally something that yields a big batch and can be eaten over a couple of days); obscure or expensive ingredients. Thankfully, Gaines's debut cookbook does not fall into any of these categories which means it's one I'll actually want to use time and again. The recipes are practical and delicious and make the sort of nourishing comfort food that adults and kids will both find pleasing. What's more, Gaines includes a few recipes that touch on her Korean and Lebanese heritage. So far I've made the beef stew and jalapeno cornbread recipes several times (they're just that good), and I'm eyeing the chicken and rice soup and Sunday slow cooker beef tips as my next must-tries. What else can I say about this cookbook? Nice hardcover edition (although I wish it'd been bound with a lie-flat spine), lovely photos, pretty typography, some cute anecdotes about Gaines's family and businesses. This would be a great gift idea for a beginner home cook.

2. My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. Think of this as an "All that glitters isn't gold" tale updated for the Instagram age. Katie Brenner is a twenty-something trying to make it big in London, despite a junior-level job at a branding agency that barely pays the bills, a soul-crushing commute, wacky roommates, and a non-existent love life. It seems like everyone is living a better life than she is, particularly her nightmare boss Demeter Farlowe (rich, town home in a posh London neighbourhood, designer clothes, glamorous social calendar, perfect family). When Demeter unceremoniously fires Katie, Katie returns to her family's Somerset farm deeply depressed and ashamed. Katie's family has no idea she's been fired as she helps them set up a glamping vacation resort on the farm. The glamping business becomes a huge success and it isn't long before London's fashionable set—including Demeter—come calling. Seeing her former boss face-to-face brings some shocking and uncomfortable truths to light, and makes Katie wonder if there is such a thing as a "perfect" life after all. My (Not So) Perfect Life touches on of-the-moment trends (social media, wellness, Gwyneth Paltrow) and combines them with a satisfying story on par with some of the best 90s rom-coms.

3. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. Speaking of rom-coms, if the buzz about author Helen Hoang's debut novel The Kiss Quotient hasn't hit you yet, then let me be the one to tell you that this gender-swapped take on Pretty Woman featuring diverse leads is a must-read. Protagonist Stella is a highly successful econometrician who designs shopping algorithms for a major online retailer, but feels desperately out of her depth when it comes to dating and relationships because of her Asperger's. Her solution? Hire handsome male escort Michael (half-Swedish, half-Vietnamese and described as a dead ringer for Daniel Henney) to teach her. As this is a rom-com, of course feelings develop and Stella and Michael end up falling for each other. Hoang's debut novel is by turns steamy and laugh-out-loud funny, the characters are well and sensitively drawn, and you'll find yourself rooting hard for their happy ending.

4. The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy comprises some of my all-time favourite books, so obviously I was very excited to see The Book of Dust in-store. Then I bought the hardcover and didn't read it for another year. (Oops.) My "read more paper books" goal prompted me to pick it up and finally dive in. This prequel takes place shortly after Lyra's birth and is told through the eyes of an innkeeper's young son, Malcolm Polstead. Baby Lyra has been placed with a group of nuns across the way from Malcolm's parents' inn, and Malcolm is enchanted with the infant and would do anything to protect her. As rumours swirl about a witches' prophecy, the dictatorial Church of Consistorial Discipline—and the spies actively fighting the CCD—both become increasingly interested in Lyra and will do anything to claim her for their side; it's up to Malcolm to keep her safe. This story is more of slow burn compared to The Golden Compass, but fans of His Dark Materials will still be satisfied by this return to Lyra's realm.

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