Solo Lisa Reads: January 2020

Round-up of books read and recommended by Vancouver life and style blogger Solo Lisa in January 2020

Re-activating my library card and reading more often were two of the most positive changes I made in 2019, and I hope to keep up the reading in 2020! January is a time for new beginnings, and true to the spirit of this month, I've been drawn to stories about characters pursuing fresh starts. If you're looking for a new read, here are six that I enjoyed recently.

1. The Last Resort by Marissa Stapley

Who here hasn't dreamed of escaping the bleak Canadian winter for sunnier climes? The Last Resort—a thriller about a couples' therapy retreat at a luxurious resort in the Mayan Riviera—offers armchair escapism in more ways than one. But not all is as idyllic as the Harmony Resort's brochures would have you believe. Each couple at the retreat harbours dark secrets—including the self-help gurus and seemingly perfect couple leading the therapy sessions, Doctors Miles and Grace Markell—and tensions heighten as a powerful hurricane hits the coast. Tightly plotted, suspenseful, and fun.

2. Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao

I was a big fan of Gloria Chao's debut novel American Panda (which I reviewed here), so when I saw that she had a second book out I instantly clicked purchase on my Kobo reader. Our Wayward Fate shares a lot of narrative DNA with American Panda in that it, too, focuses on a first-generation Taiwanese daughter of immigrants, growing up in America and struggling with her parents' outsize expectations and failure to communicate. 17-year-old Ali Chu is the only Asian person at her small-town Indiana high school, used to diminishing her "Chinese-ness" to try to blend in with white classmates.

When another Chinese boy, Chase Yu, moves into town, Ali bristles at the idea of them dating by default because they happen to both be Asian, but she and Chase quickly form a romantic bond over their shared cultural backgrounds, love of martial arts, and offbeat sense of humour. Ali expects her mother to be psyched that she's dating a Chinese boy, but instead her mother clams up and forbids her from being with Chase with no further explanation. Ali's quest for answers up uncovering more than a few family secrets, including a possible link to the heroes of an old Chinese folktale, The Butterfly Lovers. The sections featuring a retelling of The Butterfly Lovers didn't quite work for me, but I enjoyed Ali's hilarious narrative voice.

3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Have you ever watched one of those stadium Jumbo-tron proposals and been mortified on the woman's behalf? What if she wants to say no, thereby humiliating the guy proposing in front of thousands? Jasmine Guillory's follow-up to The Wedding Date places her protagonist, Nikole Paterson, in just such a conundrum at a Dodgers game. Luckily for Nik though, Carlos Ibarra (who just happens to be sitting behind her) pretends that he knows her and has run into her like a long-lost friend, then whisks her away from a stadium full of curious onlookers and media journalists. Nik ends up spending more time with Carlos in the ensuing weeks and falling for him. Could this budding relationship be the real thing? As with The Wedding Date, the joy of Jasmine Guillory's romance writing lies in her diverse characters, and how their storylines straddle the line between grounded, realistic-sounding contemporary concerns and the stuff of rom-coms.

4. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

As soon I read the first few pages of The Hating Game and protagonist Lucy Hutton's acerbic first-person narration began, I knew that I was in for a treat. Lucy and Joshua Templeman are both executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company and they can't stand each other. Lucy (whose life and aesthetic make her sound like someone who stepped out of an Anthropologie catalogue) loves books for their literary merit, has dreamed of working in publishing her entire life, wears colourful clothes, and collects Smurfs. Josh is so regimented that he wears the same 10 different-coloured shirts, in the same order, week in and week out. They spend their work days sitting directly across from each other and playing passive-aggressive mind games.

But as the old adage goes, the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. Lucy soon finds that the thoughts of Josh filling her head changing from hatred to...something else. Too bad they're both up for the same promotion, and whoever gets the job will have the other person reporting to him/her. The Hating Game is definitely worth reading before the movie comes out.

5. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Meet Nina Hill, an introvert and lifelong bibliophile who works in a bookstore in sunny LA. She belongs to a trivia team, she has a cat named Phil, she walks to work, she goes to the occasional spin or yoga class, and she uses a paper planner. Nina is very comfortable with staying in her shell—until her biological father (whom she has never known) passes away and names her as a beneficiary in his will. Suddenly she finds the quiet confines of her life expanding outward to include a gaggle of long-lost family members, as well as a new romantic interest (a guy on a rival trivia team).

I love, love, love this book. The wit and whimsy of Waxman's omniscient narration, and the story of how Nina comes out of her introverted shell, remind me of a lot of Amelie. (There are even passages where Nina imagines her cat Phil talking back!) I found myself relating so hard to Nina's love of books and quiet solitude and paper-planner-loving ways and coveting her fictional life, even as I empathized with her tendency towards loneliness and anxiety and wanted her to learn how to connect with others. This book charmed me so much, I purchased it when my OverDrive borrowing period expired.

6. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Evvie Drake was planning to leave her emotionally abusive husband on the day he died in a car crash. Now, more than a year later, she lives in the shadow of his death in more ways than one, in a big house in a quiet seaside town in Maine. Dean Tenney, a former pitcher for the Yankees, is suffering from a bad case of the "yips"—he can't seem to throw straight or pitch anymore and is facing down an unexpectedly early retirement, and is eager to escape media attention. Evvie agrees to rent Dean the apartment suite in her house one condition: Dean doesn't ask her about her husband, and Evvie doesn't ask him about baseball. You can guess what happens next. I was utterly charmed by NPR host Linda Holmes's authorial debut, from the Maine setting to the loveable characters, to all the trivia tidbits about lobsters and major league baseball and the yips.

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