Solo Lisa Reads: July 2019

Book recommendations round-up for July 2019 featuring On The Come Up by Angie Thomas, The Bride Test by Helen Hoang, A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler, and The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

It's been a while since I've done a book review round-up, but this month I'm back with 4 recommendations that are sure to engage and delight you as you head for the beach, park or cabin!

1. On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

Following her stunning debut novel The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas returns to the fictional, predominantly black neighbourhood of Garden Heights after the events and riots of the first book. This time the story centres on Bri, a teenage girl and aspiring rapper, best known as the daughter of deceased up-and-coming rapper Lawless. Bri's dreams of stardom seem more out of reach than ever considering the problems in her life. There's trouble at school; a loving aunt who promises to shepherd her career, but can't seem to stay out of trouble with the Garden Heights gangs; and her mom, who's struggling to pay for food and rent after she loses her job.

Bri desperately wants to succeed at rap because she sees it as her one chance to help her family. That success suddenly seems feasible when she wins her first rap battle, her father's former manager offers to represent her, and a song she uploads goes viral (albeit for all the wrong reasons). But what if having this one shot means compromising her integrity as a person and an artist? Just as she did with The Hate U Give, Thomas writes with confidence and empathy, creating a rich world full of detail that will make you feel Bri's every struggle and conflicting emotion on a visceral level.

2. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang's follow-up to last summer's smash hit, The Kiss Quotient, boasts all the earmarks that made her debut novel such a delicious read: an appealing romantic lead who has autism spectrum disorder; plenty of Asian-American characters; references to Vietnamese culture and food; and straightforward and empathetic writing.

Khai Diep believes he's incapable of feeling things as normal people do and therefore incapable of love, so he's never had a serious relationship before. His mother, anxious to see him marry and produce grandchildren, decides to take matters into her own hands by going back to Vietnam and finding a bride for him. She sets her sights on Esme Tran, a mixed-race girl living in poverty in Ho Chi Minh City who scrubs toilets for a living. The deal? Esme will get a chance to go to America for two months, and she and Khai will live together and treat each other like an engaged couple as she accompanies him to a series of family weddings. If sparks fly, she gets to stay and they get married. If not, she goes home to Vietnam. Esme is anxious for things to work out—not just because staying in America means a better life for her and her family, but more importantly because she finds herself falling HARD for handsome, sweet Khai. The rom-com-worthy premise and Hoang's skillful storytelling will have you rooting hard for Khai and Esme to overcome the emotional and class barriers between them.

3. A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

I love anything Victorian and was lucky enough to tour the Gilded Age mansions in Newport, RI, several years ago, which explains why I have a soft spot for this feminist fictionalized retelling of Alva Vanderbilt's life. Alva Smith is a young woman from a respectable Southern family on the brink of financial ruin when she makes the matrimonial match of a lifetime by marrying into the Vanderbilt family. Alva's taste, intelligence and grit help propel the Vanderbilts from "new money" status to the top of the social ladder, making the Vanderbilts the toast of New York and earning them notoriety across the nation.

However, once she has achieved all the outward trappings of status and success that a leading society matron can have, Alva realizes that she is deeply unhappy. How she carves out a happy life on her own terms (defying societal norms, her powerful husband, and her in-laws' wealth and influence) is nothing short of inspiring. Fowler does a good job of grounding Alva's rags-to-riches story and making her sympathetic—no small feat considering the glitz and glamour of the Gilded Age can be so superlative as to feel completely unrelatable to a modern reader. Highly recommend if you have a yen for Edith Wharton but are craving it in beach read form.

4. The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I booked our first cruise ever (3 nights to LA this September!) and in a fit of anticipation I suddenly wanted to read all the books and watch all the movies set on cruise ships, which is why I bought Ware's novel.

Lo Blacklock is a travel journalist who's just received a dream assignment: Covering the maiden voyage of the Aurora, a small-scale, ultra-exclusive luxury cruise ship sailing the North Sea. Despite her lingering PTSD after a violent break-in in her apartment and burgeoning relationship problems, Lo forges ahead with the assignment; it seems to be just the thing to help her forget her troubles and is a huge stepping stone in her career. That is, until one night when Lo witnesses a woman being thrown overboard from the cabin next to hers. Lo reports the crime, only to discover that all of the ship's passengers are accounted for and nobody else witnessed anything. This is a juicy twists-and-turns thriller that you'll want to devour in one day, made even more fun by the cruise ship setting.

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