Solo Lisa Reads: May 2021 (Part 1)

Round-up of books featuring Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Three Perfect Liars by Heidi Perks, Not So Pure And Simple by Lamar Giles, The Guest List by Lucy Foley, Love Is A Revolution by Renee Watson, Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Before I launch into my latest book review round-up, I want to say a huge thank you to anyone who read, commented on, or shared my post about my own experiences with anti-Asian hate. That was an intensely personal and difficult piece to write and publish and the entire process left me feeling more emotional and vulnerable than I anticipated. As I noted on Instagram, I've taken actions when and where I could, but in the last while I've also found that I needed breaks, both for my own mental health and to free up bandwidth so I could focus on a big deadline at work.

Now, onto the books. Because of the aforementioned breaks, I've built up quite a backlog of books I enjoyed and want to feature! I'm hoping to give them all a well-deseved shout-out, which is why I'm doing two book posts this month. These reads are notable in that they offered me moments of joy and forgetfulness, especially as BC enters the third wave of the pandemic and restrictions have become stricter again. May they do the same for you.

1. Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Yoon's sophomore novel is about a geeky high school boy who inadvertently lies to his crush about being the frontman of a rock band, then has to follow through on his lies by actually performing in the school talent show. It's good gentle fun, and while it didn't have the layered complexity and tender nuances of Frankly In Love, it had enough humorous one-liners and moments to keep me smiling the entire way through.

2. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I'm a strangely contrarian reader when it comes to bestsellers. If something is wildly popular I'm more reluctant to pick it up, which explains why I didn't read Homegoing until I joined the book club at work and this novel was its inaugural selection. Gyasi's debut novel starts with two half-sisters in Ghana. One is a renowned beauty who marries a British slave trader and stays in Ghana and enjoys a relatively privileged socioeconomic positon, while the other is captured and sold into slavery in the United States. From there, the stories of these two half-sisters and their descendents diverge, spanning centuries and covering key historical moments for Black people in American history. Elements of the book reminded me of other novels I enjoyed, namely The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (also about two sisters whose fates diverge) and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (also an epic tale about a family dealing with racial discrimination across multiple generations). I loved Homegoing and my only regret is that I let my contrarian ways self-sabotage me into not picking it up sooner.

3. Three Perfect Liars by Heidi Perks

You know when you feel like you have the attention span of a goldfish, nothing on your TBR list appeals to you, and you just want a read-in-a-day thriller as a palate cleanser? Three Perfect Liars was exactly that for me. This novel alternates between three unreliable female narrators who all work at the same advertising agency: Laura, who has just come back from maternity leave and is paranoid that her replacement will take her job permanently; Mia, who was supposed to be Laura's replacement but is now staying on permanently for unknown reasons; and Janie, a stay-at-home mom who is the wife of the advertising agency's CEO and has secrets of her own. One night there is a fire that completely destroys the building that the ad agency is in and a body is found. What happened? Who's responsible? And what secrets are all three women hiding? The pages practically turn themselves.

4. Not So Pure And Simple by Lamar Giles

As a vehement defender of "light and fluffy" books, one of the hills I will die on is that it's much harder to do light and fluffy well while making acerbic points than it is to do faux profundity. Lamar Giles pulls off just this balancing act in Not So Pure And Simple, and wow does he make it look effortless. This story about a Black boy who accidentally signs up for his church's teen purity pledge while pursuing his lifelong crush is hilarious, but also has thoughtful points to make about evangelical Christianity, teen sexuality, toxic masculinity, and female consent. Del is such a winning and sympathetic protagonist, and his descent into toxic "Nice Guy" territory so gradual, that I didn't see it until three quarters of the way through the book...and then I was glad to see the people in his life calling him out on it. The dialogues between Del and his parents and sister should function as a conversational blueprint for any parents of teen boys, proving that YA is not just for teens.

5. The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Me while reading The Guest List and telling my husband about it: "It's a murder mystery/thriller set at a wedding on a remote island off the coast of Ireland." Him thinking of Foley's other novel The Hunting Party: "Weren't you reading this before?" Me: "No, that was a different one, that one was at a New Year's Eve party set on a remote estate in Scotland. Completely different." Him (laughing): "Completely." All of this is just to say, this novel is great escapist fun if you enjoyed her other work.

6. Love Is A Revolution by Renee Watson

Nala doesn't consider herself an activist type; she'd much rather spend her summer watching movies, trying new ice cream flavours, and just hanging out. But when she meets the adorable Tye at a Harlem youth event, she finds herself telling a few tiny lies and playing up her community involvement and activism to impress him. This is a gentle and winsome novel that also feels quietly radical at the same time, and that all comes down to Nala's characterization. Watson presents Nala as she is in all her glory and her flaws. She's a plus-size Black girl and she has some insecurities, but she is confident in her looks, loves music and making lists, and has loving relationships with the people around her, particularly her grandmother and the residents of her grandmother's retirement home.

7. Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

Molloy's sophomore novel is an entertaining and well-crafted twist-y thriller about a pair of newlyweds, a handsome psychotherapist and his wife, who move to a sleepy town in upstate New York. He is there to care for his aging mother and set up a new practice; she is lonely and bored. One day she discovers that she can hear every word of her husband's sessions with his patients through an air vent upstairs from his home office. I won't reveal any spoilers here, but I will say that Molloy pulls off some major surprises by upending readers' expectations. The book has shades of Misery and Rear Window about it, and there's a clever allusion to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper."

8. Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

If I were to describe Happily Ever Afters in one sentence, it'd be "Portrait of the budding romance novelist as a young Black woman." For 16-year-old Tessa Johnson, the words and love stories have always come effortlessly, but when she gets into an alternative high school for gifted arts students, she suddenly finds herself struggling with writer's block. Her plan to get the words flowing again? Turn her life into the perfect rom-com by pursuing a broodingly handsome classmate. Little does she realize that the perfect guy for her lives just down the street. Rom-com storyline aside, I really enjoyed the joyful details in Happily Ever Afters and Bryant's nuanced depiction of Tessa's relationship with her brother who has disabilities. There were also aspects of Tessa's characterization that made me nostalgic for my past as a high-schooler who was super into creative writing and in a gifted program.

9. Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

This delightful rom-com novel is a love letter to fanfic culture and it stars a plus-size heroine. April is a geologist by day; by night, she's a superfan of a Game of Thrones-esque fantasy show based on Greek mythology, indulging in cosplay, writing fanfic, and corresponding with one particularly thoughtful and mysterious fanfic author who just seems to get her. When a photo of April's latest cosplay goes viral and online trolls attack her, the handsome star who plays Aeneas on the show, Marcus, asks her out on Twitter. Little does April know that Marcus is also her fanfic friend. The fanfic bits had me laughing me out loud, while the insecurities and secrets April and Marcus struggled with had me rooting for them. I'm already looking forward to the sequel.

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