Solo Lisa Reads: March 2020

Round-up of books

I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic! Although our bodies may be self-isolating, at least our minds can wander and escape the relentless news cycle by diving in the pages of a good book. My March book review round-up offers plenty of escapism: dystopian fiction, YA coming-of-age stories, and lighthearted adult romances. If you're looking for more recommendations, you can check out my past book posts here.

1. Love Her Or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

Rosie and Dominic Vega have always been one of those couples that were meant to be together; they even made it through Dom's deployment to Afghanistan. These days though, they barely communicate and their once-solid relationship seems headed for divorce. The solution? Extreme marriage counseling run by an unconventional woo-woo therapist. Tessa Bailey's follow-up to Fix Her Up is just as steamy and entertaining as the original. As far as romance novels go, I also found the storyline (about a couple learning to communicate and discovering each other's love languages) surprisingly grounded and relatable.

2. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I resisted picking up The Testaments for the longest time because The Handmaid's Tale terrified and depressed me. The sequel features the testimonies of three women with different perspectives of Gilead: a Commander's daughter growing up in the regime and realizing that, even in her relatively privileged position, she can't win; a girl in Canada who discovers a secret about her past; and Aunt Lydia, who recounts how the early days of Gilead broke her and remade her into someone crueler. If you're thinking that this isn't the most uplifting reading material during a global pandemic, know that Atwood deftly ties together these testimonials and recounts how these women bring about the downfall of Gilead. So yes, there is a happy-ish ending.

3. Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

When fashion stylist Maddie gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to dress a member of the royal family, she invites her mother Vivian Forest to tag along for an English holiday. Vivian is excited to see the sights and have her first real vacation in ages. What she doesn't expect is finding romance with Malcolm Hudson, a handsome private secretary who works for the queen. Guillory's rom-com universe is always a joy to spend time in. I particularly enjoyed Royal Holiday because it was quietly subversive in its depiction of a WOC, who always puts others first, finally reclaiming what she needs to feel happy and fulfilled.

4. A Lady's Guide To Selling Out by Sally Franson

Once an idealistic English major, now working a well-paid corporate gig at an advertising agency, Casey Pendergast gets what seems to be the assignment of a lifetime: Recruiting major writers and literary figures for a new advertising and social influencer agency. As she crisscrosses the country and signs new talent, tensions between Casey and her struggling writer BFF rise, and Casey herself becomes disillusioned with how easily her former literary idols can be bought. Where does one draw the line between art and commerce, integrity and making a living? Anyone who's ever had friends in different economic/income situations will probably relate to Casey's tension with her best friend. A Lady's Guide To Selling Out hit uncomfortably close to home in other ways as well. I myself am a former English major who once had literary aspirations and now I work in software; how much of a sellout does that make me?

5. Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

Successful fashion CEO Janey Sweet has had a stressful couple of years with both her parents passing away and her divorce, and she's gained some weight as a result. But when Janey is photographed front row at Fashion Week eating a pastry and the picture goes viral, her business partner issues her an ultimatum: Lose 30 pounds or she's out. This kicks off a surreal yet hilarious send-up of the modern fitness and wellness industrial complex, from juicing and boutique workout classes to topless yoga and eating clay. Recommended for anyone who's ever eye-rolled at Goop.

6. Frankly In Love by David Yoon

Korean-American teenager Frank Li wants to date a Caucasian classmate, something his strict immigrant parents would definitely disapprove of, so he concocts a scheme with family friend Joy Song (who also has a forbidden boyfriend) to pretend to date each other. You can probably guess where the plot is going, and yes, complications arise when Frank and Joy fall for each other. But this straightforward "contract relationship" rom-com formula is just the beginning of the story. Yoon's debut novel tackles issues of race, economic inequality, and the outsize expectations of immigrant parents with humour and poignancy. This tender portrait of a teenage boy's coming-of-age is so much more than your typical YA romance.

7. Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Of all the things Kaitlyn Flowers expected to happen on the first day of law school, literally running into teen heartthrob Daxton Hughes—a guy she has had a crush on since forever—was not one of them. Kaitlyn and Dax were amenable classmates, until one day when Dax did something she couldn't forgive. Now both successful attorneys in the present day, Dax suddently re-enters Kaitlyn's life and needs her help. His parents have passed away suddenly in a car accident, leaving him the sole guardian of his thirteen-year-old sister, and he's in way over his head. What's more, an unscrupulous aunt is fighting Dax for custody of his sister. Can Kaitlyn put aside her feelings about the past and step in? Meet Cute follows the rom-com formula to a tee and there are very few surprises, but I liked the character of the little sister and how much levity and life she added to the story.

8. The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

As hard as quarantine may feel right now, just be thankful that you're not one of the characters in The Escape Room stuck in a corporate exercise from hell. Up-and-coming Wall Street hotshots Vincent, Sylvie, Sam, and Jules get messages about a compulsory team-building event. They show up for an escape room activity that takes place in the elevator of a high-rise building still under construction. The elevator becomes stuck with all of them still in it, and then an ominous message flashes across the screen informing them that their goal is to stay alive. As tensions ratchet up in the confines of the elevator, secrets unfurl and rivalries emerge. A fun premise with well-executed, well-paced storytelling.

9. Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

High school senior Ever Wong's strict Taiwanese immigrant parents want her to study hard, stay away from boys, get into medical school, become a doctor, and give up dance. When Ever's parents sign her up for a summer abroad in Taipei, in a cultural exchange program intended for overseas Taiwanese youth, it seems like just the latest in a long line of controlling measures. But that's before Ever discovers that this program (nicknamed "Loveboat") is known for zero supervision and hook-ups between students. Away from the confines of home, Ever rebels and finds love and friendship, and in the process learns that her passions are worth fighting for. I loved the diversity of experiences and motivations represented by the students in the program, proving yet again that "Asian" is not a monolithic one-size-fits-all label. Loveboat, Taipei has already been optioned by the producers of To All The Boys I've Loved Before; you're going to want to read the book before the movie comes out.

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