Solo Lisa Reads: February 2021

Book covers for the 9 books featured in this post, including: 1. Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson; 2. The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams; 3. Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; 4. Eat A Peach by David Chang; 5. If Only by Kate Eberlen; 6. Self Care by Leigh Stein; 7. The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim; 8. White Ivy by Susie Yang; and 9. Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

My reading habits took a post-New-Year nosedive. Work dominated for 3 weeks, and after the anxiety and adrenaline of meeting my big January deadline wore off, I found to my dismay that I had the attention span of a goldfish. Some of the books on this list date back to Christmas break, but I stand by all the recommendations here wholeheartedly. Do you see anything here you want to add to your reading list?

1. Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

Aspiring young Black singer Enchanted thinks her dreams have come true when she's discovered by legendary R&B artist Korey Fields. Korey takes Enchanted under his wing and seems romantically interested in her, but it quickly becomes apparent (to the reader, at least) that this relationship is abusive and he is grooming an emotionally vulnerable, underage girl. Fast forward to the present day, and Korey Fields is dead in the other room; Enchanted is covered in blood and has no memory of what happened just as the police are knocking on the door. What led up to the fateful night of Korey's death, and who killed him? This was a riveting but emotionally disturbing read that prompted me to look up the new-to-me term "misogynoir."

2. The Love Square by Laura Jane Williams

Talented chef and unlucky-in-love Penny Bridge goes from having no boyfriends to having three men who all want to date her. Love square indeed! What follows is a meandering tale about falling in and out of love over the course of a year, and figuring out what the heart truly wants. I always enjoy a good lighthearted English romance, and this one definitely delivers on the cozy vibes and warm characters.

3. Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

This book is basically an incredibly sweet YA twist on You've Got Mail and the enemies-to-lovers trope, starring two teens who run the Twitter accounts for their families' rival food businesses. Pepper is a consummate overachiever and perfectionist, and the snarky voice behind the Twitter account for Big League Burger, her family's mega-successful fast food chain. Jack, the class clown, tweets for his family deli, which has been a beloved NYC institution for decades. When Jack starts an online feud with Pepper/Big League Burger and accuses them of stealing his grandma's grilled-cheese recipe, it's only a matter of time before the tweets spark something else. The devil's in the details when executing predictable romance tropes, and Lord does a beautiful job here with the food references and the genuine warmth in the characters' interactions.

4. Eat A Peach by David Chang

I love David Chang's Netflix shows and admire what Momofuku has accomplished in the culinary world, so of course I was intrigued by Chang's memoir. This book covers a lot of ground, from his formative years as a golf prodigy and feeling like an outsider growing up in white America, to his first manic episode, his food and travel experiences in Japan, and the early days of the first Momofuku. Eat A Peach is full of remarkable details, but the thing I was most struck by was how Chang managed to find success in an incredibly stressful industry despite his mental health struggles. I also liked how he reflected on past mistakes and misguided attitudes (like the boys' club approach to cooking and the lack of diversity in haute cuisine) with increased self-awareness.

5. If Only by Kate Eberlen

This is such a tender love story about two damaged individuals moving on from past traumas. 22-year-old Letty and 19-year-old Alf are both English speakers taking an Italian class in Rome. Alf is attracted to Letty right away, but Letty is very reserved. The only thing that connects them is dance: Alf was a former teen ballroom champion and Letty was passionate about ballet before a career-ending injury in her teens. The book goes between the present day and Letty and Alf's past lives, moving through the many serendipitous moments, near misses, and coincidences connecting them both. I can't say any more because spoilers, but it's a lovely novel. Plus, it takes place in Rome so that's one way to satisfy your wanderlust. UPDATED TO ADD: In the book, Alf has an Instagram account featuring Rome travel photos and oblique references to his feelings for Letty. When I shared this post on Instagram, Kate Eberlen DM'd me and informed me that Alf's IG account exists in real life. Delightful!

6. Self Care by Leigh Stein

First of all, isn't that a great book cover? I started reading Self Care expecting a lighthearted satire of the fitness and wellness industries like Fitness Junkie (which I reviewed here). Wow, that was not the case at all. Stein's take has bite; it doesn't hold back as it skewers the ways these industries are predicated on putting privileged white womanhood on a pedestal. The characters aren't very likeable, but there are enough details in Stein's sharply observed (albeit brief) novel that will make you smile wryly with recognition.

7. The Last Story Of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

The Last Story Of Mina Lee jumps back and forth between the 1980s, when Mina arrives in Los Angeles as an undocumented immigrant and begins a new life after a devastating loss, and the present day, when Mina's adult daughter Margot is trying to piece together what happened in the days leading up to her mother's sudden death, and all the secrets Mina kept from her. Kim's novel is a remarkable feat of storytelling; it feels epic and expansive even though the story is intimate and small-scale in its focus. I also find it interesting how this book takes someone who would normally be a side character(an immigrant working as a grocery store cashier, an elderly Korean woman on the bus) and puts her story front and centre.

8. White Ivy by Susie Yang

White Ivy ticks a lot of boxes for me: it's set in Boston; it's an Asian immigrant story; it features WASP-y Boston Brahmin types; and it deals with issues of race, class, and privilege. Ivy Yang manipulates, steals, and lies. She's a social climber who wants to escape the desperate poverty of her family's early years in America, and she does so by becoming engaged to Gideon Speyer, a golden boy descended from a wealthy political family who also happens to be Ivy's former childhood crush. Ivy's journey has whiffs of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair about it, with an engrossing and twisty thriller feel. I couldn't put it down.

9. Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

Another enemies-to-lovers rom-com, this time set in Hawaii and starring rival food truck owners! Nikki DiMarco is struggling financially and emotionally: Her father's sudden death prompted her to leave a dream job in Portland and move to Hawaii, where she runs a Filipino food truck with her mother that's just barely staying afloat. Things become complicated when a British food truck, run by the handsome Callum James, starts parking in the same location. Nikki and Callum make a wager: The winner of the Maui Food Festival gets the spot and the other food truck has to move. Too bad they didn't wager on the sparks that would fly between them. The enemies-to-lovers trope can get tired, but Smith keeps the story fresh with food truck and Filipino cuisine references galore.

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2 comments

  1. So happy you enjoyed Simmer Down!

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    1. It was like a COVID-safe Hawaiian vacation between the covers of a book. My husband is Filipino Chinese and I was constantly tapping him on the shoulder asking how to pronounce the food names haha.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

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