Solo Lisa Reads: August 2021 (Part 1)

Round-up of book covers featuring The Dating Plan by Sara Desai, A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers, Love at First by Kate Clayborn, Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney, Don't Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd, Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid, People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry, It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey, and If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Greetings, dear readers! I hope you're all having a good summer so far. Mine has been pretty meh, truthfully. Between heat waves and wildfire smoke, the depressing news cycle and working long hours for a July deadline, I'd say this summer has been more of a downer than usual and I haven't felt like blogging very much. To combat my flagging mood, I'm trying to exercise and read more and limit my doomscrolling. With all that said, here's the first of two book review round-ups! Gotta take advantage of that summer reading time while it lasts.

1. The Dating Plan by Sara Desai

Sara Desai's second novel puts a charming spin on the fake relationship trope with an appealing and diverse cast of characters. Daisy Patel is a software engineer fed up with her family's matchmaking attempts, so she enlists the help of Liam Murphy, her brother's friend and her childhood crush, to play her fake fiance. As it happens, Liam is in line to inherit a family-owned distillery if he gets married by a certain date and agrees. I loved Daisy as a character; the descriptions of her workplace ring true to my experiences in software, and her love of Marvel and quirky sense of fashion made me wish I could be friends with her in real life.

2. A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers

The entire time I was reading this novel about a female food critic who's secretly a serial killer and a cannibal, I couldn't help thinking of that infamous Hannibal Lecter quote ("I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti"). A Certain Hunger recounts pivotal moments in Dorothy Daniels's double life, juxtaposing a satire of foodie culture and the media industry with graphic descriptions of violence. Is it disturbing? Yes. Is it mordantly funny? Also yes.

3. Love at First by Kate Clayborn

Is it possible to fall in love at first sound? That's what happens to young Will Sterling when he and his mother visit an estranged uncle at his apartment building. Near-sighted Will hears a girl but can't see her, and he has never forgotten the sound of her laughter or voice. Flash forward several years and Will has inherited his uncle's apartment. Will doesn't want to live there and intends to fix it up as an Airbnb, but these plans clash with the desires of the apartment's elderly residents and Nora Clarke, the girl whose voice he heard all those years ago. This is a sweet, charming, heartfelt romance.

4. Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

This is such a good contemporary YA romance! Quinn keeps a journal of highly sensitive, super private lists. Shortly before graduation, the journal goes missing and an anonymous Instagrammer starts posting photos of her entries online, much to Quinn's mortification. The anonymous Instagrammer also starts blackmailing her into completing items on her secret to-do list. Her only hope of getting the journal back is teaming up with her classmate Carter Bennett, who was the last one to see her journal...and yes, also happens to be really cute. While the premise is breezy and the characters are likeable, Goffney's debut novel also treads more poignant territory in exploring what it's like to grow up as a Black girl in a privileged environment of mostly white people.

5. Don't Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd

I've followed Alexis Nedd on Twitter for a while now because of her hilarious hot takes on Marvel, so of course I was excited for her YA debut. Don't Hate the Player follows Emilia and Jake, who met as children at an arcade birthday party and bonded over their love of gaming. Flash forward to high school, and Emilia is now a star student and field hockey player who's still secretly into gaming, while Jake is a bit of an underachiever in everything except gaming. The two are reunited when their eSports teams enter a high-stakes tournament. This book is every bit as charming and hilarious as I expected, and had me hooked from beginning to end even though I'm not a gamer.

6. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Doesn't that turquoise blue book cover just scream quintessential beach read? Reid's latest is about the Riva siblings, the notable offspring of legendary singer Mick Riva. The eldest, Nina, is a model; brothers Jay and Hud are pro surfer and photographer, respectively; and the youngest, Kit, is a female surfer to be reckoned with. The novel toggles back and forth between the present (when Nina is reeling from the dissolution of her marriage to a tennis pro and getting ready to throw the infamous annual Riva summer party at her Malibu mansion), and the past, recounting the fateful first meeting of their parents and their tumultuous upbringing. If you're into beaches, surf culture, and 80s California/Hollywood nostalgia, this book hits all the sweet spots.

7. People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry

I loved Emily Henry's Beach Read so much that I prepurchased People We Meet On Vacation...and then held off reading it for as long as possible so I could "save" it. Does anyone else do that with books they look forward to? I knew that once I started this sweet friends-to-lovers rom-com, I wouldn't be able to stop reading. Anyway, People We Meet On Vacation follows Poppy and Alex, longtime friends who have always vacationed together up until a couple of years ago, when an incident in Croatia prompted them to stop speaking to each other. Now, Poppy feels as though she has everything she wants in life but is unhappy. Thinking of the last time she felt happy (while on vacation with Alex), she reconnects with him by inviting him on a trip to Palm Springs. I really liked Henry's concept of millennial ennui (a feeling I've had a lot lately) and the fact that a vacation spot in my neck of the woods (Tofino and Vancouver Island!) made an appearance in the book.

8. It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey

Tessa Bailey's latest rom-com novel is like a mash-up of Deadliest Catch and Schitt's Creek. Socialite Piper Bellinger has caused one scandal too many in LA. Her stepfather's response? Send Piper to the small fishing village of Westport in Washington state, her birthplace and the hometown of her late father. It is there that Piper refurbishes a dive bar, befriends the locals, reconnects with what truly matter in life, and kindles a romance with a handsome captain/king crab fisherman.

9. If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

Fake Relationship Turned Real might be my favourite rom-com trope of all, and boy does this one deliver. 36-year-old Laurie is thrown for a loop when her longtime partner of 18 years suddenly breaks up with her. Even worse? It turns out he was having an emotional affair turned real affair with someone else, they are expecting a baby, and Laurie and her ex are coworkers, so every day she has to confront him and her coworkers' pitying looks and gossip. How humiliating. Her solution to her problems is to start fake-dating handsome office scoundrel Jamie. Jamie, in turn, is intent on a promotion and thinks having a steady girlfriend will give him a stable, reliable image and impress their bosses. Although the rom-com tropes are predictable, McFarlane imbues Laurie and Jamie's characters with such pathos that you can't help but be drawn into the story. I was also really impressed with how this book delves into office politics and sexist workplace dynamics.

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