Solo Lisa Reads: June 2020

Round-up of YA, romance, and thriller book recommendations featuring Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn, The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary, The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton, You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson, The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa, and The Happy Every After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

My social media and blog have been pretty quiet lately for a number of reasons. I've been WFH all this time, on a team that is committed to delivering a lot and understaffed for what we have to do, and I've just been feeling burnt out from 2020 overall. I've also been listening and learning as much as possible about Black Lives Matter and anti-racism, reflecting on my own behaviours and possible biases and where I can do better. And while learning to become a better ally can be a lifelong journey, I immediately identified one small area where I could improve right away: Featuring more books by Black authors in these monthly round-ups. Going forward, I'm going to try to feature 1-2 books a month by Black authors, and true to my literary tastes, the books will probably be a mix of YA, romance, and pure escapism. So if you're looking to add something light and joyful to your summer reading list, might I recommend these 6 books?

1. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Meg Mackworth, dubbed "the Planner of Park Slope," spends her days hand-lettering and illustrating everything from custom journals and planners to wedding stationery for her clients. A year after Meg finishes a suite of wedding stationery for investment banker Reid Sutherland and his wealthy fiancee, Reid himself—now single, having not gone through with wedding—shows up at Meg's Brooklyn stationery shop and demands to know why she embedded a hidden message in his wedding programs, a message that accurately predicted the end of his relationship. What follows is a story about two people who learn what they want out of their lives, careers, and relationships, and who give each other the strength to go for it. I loved the references to fancy stationery and typefaces in this novel. Truly, Love Lettering is the ultimate soothing rom-com if you're into bullet journals and paper planners and calligraphy.

2. The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

Tiffy is weathering a bad breakup and needs an affordable place to live. Leon is a hospice nurse who works nights and weekends, and he needs money for his brother Ritchie's legal bills. Leon places an ad for an unusual roommate arrangement seeking someone who works a standard 9-5 Monday-to-Friday office job and is willing to share his one-bedroom flat. Because their hours don't line up, only one person would ever be home at any given time and they could even sleep in the same bed—sort of like having your own apartment but at half the rent. Tiffy and Leon never meet as roommates, but through a series of increasingly friendly and then flirty notes, they find themselves slowly falling for each other. The Flatshare is a sweet and whimsical romance, but it has its darker moments too, like Tiffy's emotionally abusive ex and Ritchie's case. Although O'Leary never explicitly states Leon and Ritchie's ethnicity, references to their skin tone and hair imply they're POC and that this is a contributing factor to the injustice facing Ritchie.

3. The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

Juliette is hellbent on reinventing herself as the perfect girlfriend and making her ex Nate regret breaking up with her. She's training for a new career as a flight attendant at the same airline where Nate works as a pilot (although he doesn't know it yet). And she'd do anything to get back together, from breaking into his apartment when he's not there to hacking his phone and infiltrating his friends' and family's lives. Hamilton's first-person narration from Juliette's perspective makes The Perfect Girlfriend an eerily hypnotic thriller that also somehow feels...cozy? I can't explain it, but something about the rhythm of the prose and the way the story bounces from one of Juliette's machinations to the next makes this novel feel like you're sinking into something and you don't want to get out. Before you know it, you'll find yourself racing through the pages in one sitting, equal parts repulsed and fascinated by its anti-heroine.

4. You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty is as smart and sweet as YA heroines come. She also feels as though she's "too black, too poor, too awkward" to fit in in her small hometown of Campbell, Indiana, and she dreams of escaping by attending Pennington College. The only snag in her life plans? Pennington's financial aid fell through. With no other options, Liz runs for prom queen in the hopes of snagging the big scholarship awarded to the winner. You'll have to read the book to find out if she succeeds despite the mean girls and the social media trolls, as well as her burgeoning crush on fellow prom queen competitor Mack. Johnson's debut novel is gentle and winsome and already has me wanting to see more from her. Although Liz's situation is rooted in the intersectionality of her experience, her dilemma (being able to afford college) is relatable for a lot of teens today. I also really enjoyed the loving dynamic between Liz and her friends and family.

5. The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

Five years ago, Lina Santos was left at the altar when best man Max Hartley talked his brother out of walking down the aisle. But she's mostly over it these days: She has a thriving career as one of DC's premiere wedding planners and she's up for a sweet gig as wedding director of a boutique hotel chain. At least, she thinks she's over it until she finds out that as part of the job interview, Lina has to team up with Max (who's part of the hotel chain's marketing agency) on a big presentation for her potential boss. Sosa's rom-com novel feels fresh thanks to her Afro-Brazilian heroine and all the glimpses into Brazilian culture (the Rio de Wheaton grocery store! the food! the snippets of Portuguese!). Amidst the frothy rom-com scenes and fantastic set-pieces, there's also a superb teachable moment where Lina calls out Max on his white male privilege and explains how she, as an Afro-Latinx woman, cannot afford to be seen as overly emotional.

6. The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

I adored Abby Jimenez's The Friend Zone (which I reviewed here) and its sequel does not disappoint. 2 years after Sloan loses her fiance Brandon in a tragic motorcycle accident, she is still deeply depressed and unable to move on. That is, until a strange dog jumps through her car's sun-roof while she's stuck in traffic. Caring for her new pet awakens something in Sloan and sets her on the path toward healing. As the weeks pass, Sloan is all set on keeping the dog—until someone named Jason calls and says he wants him back. Jason is a talented musician who's about to hit the big time, and as their conversations about dog custody turn into flirty texts and marathon phone calls, he finds himself falling hard for Sloan. Can she work through her inner demons and find love again, and can they both weather the obstacles that Jason's newfound fame throws at them? The chemistry between Sloan and Jason is off-the-charts adorable, and Jimenez handles Sloan's emotional journey and grief with sensitivity and grace.

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