Solo Lisa Reads: October 2020

Round-up of book covers: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, The Marriage Game by Sara Desai, I'll Be The One by Lyla Lee, Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power, With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo, My Summer Of Love And Misfortune by Lindsay Wong, Tools Of Engagement by Tessa Bailey, A Rogue Of One's Own by Evie Dunmore, Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

Without meaning to, I've let almost 3 months go by without doing a book review round-up because I was stressed out of my mind with work. During that time, I've been going to a lot of barre classes (exercise was one of my few healthy stress relievers), ordering a lot of takeout (cooking and meal planning felt overwhelming), and obsessively seeking out nostalgic and/or feel-good pop culture. That meant a Sex and the City rewatch and Baby-Sitters Club reread, as well as as inviting YA novels and romances when I was in the mood for something new. May this reading list bring you a few moments of joy and escape as they did for me.

1. The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

17-year-old Jo Kuan is a ladies' maid by day. By night, she's Miss Sweetie, an advice columnist writing under a pseudonym in the local paper, known for dispensing witty, modern, and controversial responses to the social dilemmas of Atlanta high society. Lee's book is an entertaining look at a little-known slice of post-Civil-War Southern history, when Chinese workers were brought into Atlanta, Georgia, to address labour shortages during the rebuild. You can't help but root for Jo as she navigates the realities of life in between the white and Black communities without fully belonging to either, and carves out a path toward happiness.

2. The Marriage Game by Sara Desai

After losing her job and her boyfriend in New York, Layla Patel returns to San Francisco, where her father has promised she can use the office upstairs from the family restaurant to get her recruitment business up and running. The only problem? Layla's father has also rented out the office to Sam Mehta, the CEO of a corporate downsizing company who refuses to relocate. Sparks fly as Layla and Sam learn to work in the same space, and Sam helps screen Layla's potential husbands for an arranged marriage. The ending is predictable, but a loveable cast of supporting characters makes the journey worthwhile.

3. I'll Be the One by Lyla Lee

Plus-sized Korean-American teenager Skye Shin is a talented singer and dancer who wants to be a K-pop star, even if the fat-phobic beauty standards in Korean culture make this dream seemingly impossible—that is, until she aces the audition for a talent search reality show looking for the next great K-pop idol. As she works hard to survive the show's challenges and elimination rounds, Skye gains friends, a potential love interest, and a newfound sense of self-acceptance, but she also has to deal with a mean judge and her own mom's lack of support. Highly recommended if you watched the BLACKPINK documentary on Netflix and you're craving more K-pop goodness.

4. Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

All her life, Margot's relationship with her mother has been fraught, their bond overwhelmed by secrets and the mental health demons her mother battles daily. An old family photo leads Margot to the farming town of Phalene, where she finds a grandmother and a family home and past she knew nothing about. But her quest for answers only leads to more questions: What's the story behind the uncanny resemblance between Margot, her mother, and her grandmother? What happened on the Nielsen family farm that still has the Phalene townsfolk wary of them? And why does a girl who looks exactly like Margot's twin die on the first day Margot arrives in town? Power's sophomore novel is a hallucinatory fever dream of a book that will leave you feeling uneasy.

5. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

As an Afro-Latinx girl from an underprivileged household and a teen mom, Emoni Santiago is used to making hard choices and juggling competing priorities. But Emoni is also a talented home cook who wants to become a chef, and when her school establishes a culinary arts class with an exchange trip to Spain, she feels like this may be her chance. Acevedo's book seamlessly blends contemporary social issues with foodie references and a touch of magic realism, for a read that's as comforting as it is inspiring.

6. My Summer of Love and Misfortune by Lindsay Wong

No model minority behaviour here: Iris Wang is a walking disaster of a Chinese-American teenager. Iris's boyfriend is cheating on her with her best friend; she has racked up thousands in credit card debt that her parents don't know about; she is flunking out of high school and got into zero colleges; and she throws a wild house party during which she backs her parents' car into the garage door. In a fit of despair, Iris's parents send her to China to spend the summer with family, where Iris discovers much to her surprise that the other half of her family is Crazy Rich Asians levels of wealthy. Iris is pretty irritating for most of the novel—there were so many times where I just wanted to give her a good shake because of her stupidity and complete lack of self-control. But Iris's redemption arc, and the warm fuzzy feelings it elicits, make up for her initial selfishness and carelessness.

7. Tools of Engagement by Tessa Bailey

This is the third and final novel in Bailey's romance series about a family-owned house-flipping and construction business in Long Island. The romantic leads this time are Bethany Castle, an interior decorator and stager who's heading her first house flip and struggling with her tendency towards toxic perfectionism, and Wes Daniels, a Texan cowboy who quit the rodeo circuit to move to a small town and take care of his niece. I have to admit, I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first two, but I did like returning to a familiar world and seeing what has happened to the first two couples since.

8. A Rogue of One's Own by Evie Dunmore

I was blown away by Evie Dunmore's first romance in this series, Bringing Down the Duke, and the second book does not disappoint. Lady Lucie has big plans for the suffragist movement in England, starting with buying 50% of a publishing house and advancing her political agenda in the publishing house's ladies magazines. Too bad the co-owner is Tristan, Lord Ballentine, a handsome and notorious rogue who wants the publishing house to remain palatably conservative so that his poetry volumes sell well. Tristan proposes giving Lucie one of his shares so that she becomes majority stakeholder, if she agrees to spend a night in his bed. You'd think this would be a predictable romance with a predictable outcome, but Dunmore does such a great job setting up the characters and their disparate circumstances that there are moments where I genuinely had to guess exactly how they would end up together. Plus, the historical references and details are top-notch.

9. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

A wholesome YA novel about a middle-schooler Korean-American girl who wants to become a stand-up comedian? Yes, please! This book is the soothing balm I didn't know my post-deadline brain needed. Yumi Chung thinks she's in for a boring summer of cramming for a scholarship exam at a private prep school. That is, until she pops into a new comedy club nearby, meets her comedy idol Jasmine Jasper, and is mistaken for absentee student Kay Nakamura at a stand-up comedy summer camp for kids. As Kay, Yumi starts to come out of her shell and seriously considers pursuing comedy, especially when she learns of an opportunity for kids like her at a new performing arts magnet school. Now if only she can persuade her strict immigrant parents.

No comments

Back to Top