Solo Lisa Reads: May 2021 (Part 2)

Round-up of book covers featuring Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho, A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey, A Pho Love Story by Loan Le, This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, Life's Too Short by Abby Jimenez, and The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

As promised in my last book review post, here's part 2!

1. Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho

This is basically Crazy Rich Asians meets Bridget Jones's Diary; it's so much fun and just laugh-out-loud hilarious from beginning to end. Protagonist Andrea Tang is a thirtysomething single Malaysian Chinese woman living in Singapore and working as a lawyer at a top law firm. The novel follows Andrea's misadventures over the course of a year, through dating ups and downs (culminating in a relationship with billionaire Eric Deng and a more-than-friends flirtation with her colleague and rival, the handsome Suresh), long work hours as she tries to make partner, encounters with her overbearing mother (who wants her to get married and have kids ASAP), and a constant cycle of binge drinking and hangovers. Somebody please option this book for a film.

2. A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

Lila Reyes feels as though her life is falling apart. Her grandmother has passed away, her best friend is moving away after graduation, and her boyfriend has broken up with her. Concerned about Lila's mental health, her parents send her to England to live with an aunt for a summer, and it is there that Lila's journey towards healing begins. This is a sweet and cozy YA romance with plenty of baking references and Miami flavour, and although I was skeptical that I would enjoy the book initially, its storytelling rhythm eventually lured me in.

3. A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

Another sweet YA romance! Picture Romeo and Juliet as the children of rival pho restaurant owners who despise each other, and you have A Pho Love Story. Bao Nguyen is perfectly average in every way and trying to figure out his passion in life. Linh Mai has already figured out her passion, art, but is too scared to go against her parents who want her to go into a more stable profession. Bao and Linh bond over their common background as the children of Vietnamese immigrants and restaurant owners, and they both encourage each other to pursue their dreams. Le's details about life as restaurant kids have an authentic ring to them, as does her depiction of how the adults are caught up in family secrets but won't reveal anything for fear of losing face.

4. This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens

I love charming and heartfelt British rom-coms like this one. Minnie Cooper has always felt that her birthday was unlucky. It started on New Year's Eve 1990, when her mother was in hospital about to give birth to Minnie and win a major contest for giving birth to the first baby of the decade. Not only did her mother lose the contest to another woman in the same hospital, the other woman stole the baby name that was intended for Minnie as well: Quinn. The years unspool and serendipitious encounters keep bringing Minnie and Quinn together, but it isn't until New Year's Eve in the present day that they meet face-to-face for the first time. Minnie has always resented Quinn as someone who is rich and privileged, someone who stole all the "birth luck" Minnie should've gotten when he got her name, but truth be told Quinn's life hasn't been as charmed and easy as she thinks it is. I started out annoyed with Minnie and her lack of self-awareness, especially her terrible decision-making and tendency to blame everything on bad luck, but by the end I was charmed and rooting for her and Quinn to get together.

5. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

I read this for book club at work, and although this isn't normally the type of book I'd pick up I really enjoyed it. Addie LaRue begins life in a sleepy French village in 1714. One night, fleeing a marriage she doesn't want, she prays to the wrong god and ends up with immortality. But there's a catch: Nobody remembers Addie's face or meeting her within moments of encountering her, and she can't leave any trace of her existence. Schwab's premise allows her to sidestep the standard tropes (i.e. the immortals can't be caught by the authorities and they have to keep it a secret) and ask more intriguing questions. What does it mean to live a life worth living, to leave a legacy, to be remembered by those who love you?

6. Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

If you've read Angie Thomas's debut novel The Hate U Give, you were probably as charmed as I was by the rich characterization of Starr's father Maverick, especially all the details that hinted at a rich and storied past. Well, this novel is that past, recounting the months leading up to Starr's birth when Mav is still in a gang. He's struggling with the recent death of his cousin, the birth of his son Seven and suddenly becoming a father, and paying the bills. Mav starts a part-time job at the local grocery store where the elderly owner becomes a surrogate father figure to him and sets him on a better path. It's interesting to see Thomas write first-person from a male point of view and she nails it; Mav's inner monologue feels authentic and three-dimensional.

7. Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

[Trigger warning: This book deals with eating disorders.] Rachel is a 24-year-old lapsed Jewish woman living in LA and working a dead-end job at a talent management agency. Every day, her food rituals, calorie-counting, and overexercising give her a sense of control over her life. But this careful control unravels when she decides at her therapist's urging to cut off contact with her mother, and when she meets Miriam, an Orthodox Jewish woman who works at Rachel's favourite frozen yogurt shop. Miriam's friendship opens Rachel up to all the sides of her character that she has been repressing--her appetite for food, her longing for familial connection, her Jewishness, her latent homosexuality. There is nothing sweet, cozy, or feel-good about Milk Fed which makes it very different from the type of book I normally gravitate towards, but I admired the specificity and detail of the story Broder weaves.

8. Life's Too Short by Abby Jimenez

Abby Jimenez rom-coms are must-reads for me. They always have charming characters, genuine laughs, emotional moments that'll tug at your heart strings and leave you close to tears...and dogs! This latest one is no different. Vanessa is a travel influencer intent on living life to the fullest before her 30th birthday; her mom and sister both died young from the same hereditary disease that Vanessa suspects is lying dormant in her genes and she feels as though she has no time to waste. But when her half sister abandons her baby with Vanessa, she suddenly finds herself a captive in her own apartment. Luckily, Adrian, the hot lawyer next door, is there to help. Vanessa and Adrian find themselves falling hard for each other, but can Vanessa really start a relationship with him when she knows she won't be around?

9. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

The Secret Commonwealth positively crackles with excitement from the beginning. The story picks up years after the events of His Dark Materials; Lyra is now a 20-year-old scholar, deeply insecure and melancholy, no longer the confident happy-go-lucky child she once was. What's more, she and her daemon Pantalaimon have had a rift and don't get along anymore. One night while out on his own, Pan witnesses a man being brutally murdered. Their investigation brings them into the fold of political conspiracies and strange new characters, and takes them from the gyptians' boats to far-flung destinations. If you're a longtime fan of His Dark Materials like I am, it's more than a little sad to see Lyra and Pan not getting along and being separated, but damn if this narrative conceit doesn't make the book more intriguing.

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