Read & loved:
Joanna Ramos's wonderful debut novel The Farm is so many things but has a bit of the classic The Joy Luck Club and dash of last year's The Perfect Mother. The Farm is a confidently paced page-turner that takes you through the lives of four very different women who struggle and strive to take control of their surroundings and take care of the people they love. The story follows Jane, a young single mother from the Philippines who is in desperate need of work to support herself and her newborn daughter. She is selected as a "Host" at the prestigious Golden Oaks, where the wealthy pay to have their babies carried to term by surrogates––with the promise of a life-changing bonus upon delivery. Jane wants to quietly get through the nine months, but the lies told by the facility and the people she thought she trusted drive her to drastic measures. The story is from multiple POVs, each from a woman with a complex background of sorrow, heartaches, and hardships. Jane, Mae, Reagan, and Ate are very different people but so realistically conceptualized that I felt like I can pin their experiences to people in my own life. With nuance, Ramos paints a deeply compelling story of women needing freedom and how the biases that shape the world can tempered with compassion and understanding.
If you made Rory Gilmore a Persian-American cheerleader with med school ambitions, and Paris Geller an aspiring Mexican-Jewish filmmaker, added a heaping dose of attraction and set it in Los Angeles, you would get Aminah Mae Safi’s wonderful YA rom-com, Tell Me How You Really Feel. Safi dedicated her book to Amy Sherman-Palladino so it’s fair to say that she wrote her characters with The Gilmore Girls in mind.
Sana Khan has strived for perfection her entire life. She is about to get everything she has ever worked for but can’t bring herself to mail in her deposit to Princeton, her dream school. Rachel Recht terrifies everyone who crosses her path and is relentless in her ambitions. Through a series of mishaps, she is forced to cast her nemesis Sana in her final film project. Loathing, then respect, and eventually searing attraction develop between Sana and Rachel and their relationship forces them to question everything they’ve always believed. Told from dual perspectives, and crackling with charm and winning characters, this is the perfect summer read.
Where does the line between reality and acting begin and end? Temper by Layne Fargo straddles this fine line, in an addicting psychological suspense novel with characters clashing over power struggles, manipulations, and rage. Actor Kira Rascher gets a role that can make her career with legendary actor and director Malcolm Mercer, known for his flawless performances on stage as well as his mind games. Kira thinks she’ll be able to handle him, but soon, Malcolm’s demanding rehearsal regiment takes its toll on Kira’s sanity. Joanna Cuyler, Malcolm’s theater co-founder, is well-acquainted with Malcolm’s brutal treatment of actors but her own secrets and history with him keep her in the shadows. It isn’t until Malcolm pushes both women past their limits, that he sees what they’re truly capable of. Dark, twisty, and seductive, Temper is Black Swan or Perfect Blue on stage, told between two compelling protagonists, and I loved it.
The Right Swipe is a perfect summer cocktail of a sizzling romance mixed with all the elements of modern day complexity (apps, activism, social media!). Samson’s family is widely regarded as football royalty, but his father and uncle’s lives were both tragically struck short by CTE. He enters the tech world after the loss of his beloved uncle, but never expected to see the woman he ghosted after one night of passion, on stage with him as the CEO of a major dating app. Rhiannon’s insider knowledge of bad dating behavior and brutal previous break-up has made her wary of men and romance. But Samson’s vulnerability and honesty show her how to trust again, and both learn how to lean on one another. Hot POC, a badass protag, and a love story that addresses (but doesn’t preach) today’s major issues, if you’re looking for a delicious summer beach read, this is it!
In The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell constructs a labyrinthian story connected by dark histories, missing family, and old secrets. It begins with an inheritance of a gigantic mansion in the most tony part of London. Libby has had a loving and uneventful upbringing by her adoptive parents. When she visits the house she inherits, she is shocked by its size and disrepair. Years ago there was a double suicide, and she was the baby discovered alone in the house. Henry grew up in the same house and recounts the disturbing events that occurred when his mother invites mysterious strangers to stay with them. And in France, Lucy travels with her two small children when a notice comes up that a baby has turned 25. Their stories twist and intertwine and Lisa Jewell masterfully orchestrates each shocking reveal with the dexterity of an absolute maestro. The Family Upstairs kept me up late into the night––this was truly an unputdownable read and the perfect book to spend a few thrilling hours with.
Raybearer is gorgeously written, and filled with legends, mystical powers, blood oaths, and curses. It begins in a fable-like setting that unfolds into a complex world of secret histories and betrayals. Tarisai was raised in a mysterious fortress, where everyone around her feared her and left her in isolation. Her mother, The Lady, disappeared for weeks. She is sent to try out for the royal council with a terrible task. As Tar discovers more about herself and her capabilities, she gloriously comes into her birthright and legacy. The world building was phenomenal and intricately crafted and I can't wait for the next one!
Yolanda's beloved grandmother is dying and social services is knocking on her door. Yolanda doesn't exhibit any of the wondrous skills that the other women of her family have, but she's determined to help her dying grandmother fulfill her last wish: a trip to the mysterious pecan tree on their property. Along the way, she discovers family stories and secrets she never knew and the importance of dealing with both life and death. Into the Tall Tall Grass is Practical Magic meets your friendly neighborhood brujas, a magical story with family secrets, a charming cast of characters, and emotional life lessons.
Yumi Chung juggles her responsibilities to her parents (helping with her father's struggling restaurant, maintaining her grades for a school scholarship) with her love of stand-up comedy. When the opportunity to learn from her favorite comedian comes up through a case a mistaken identity, Yumi goes for it, lying to her family in the process. She realizes that her family understands her more than she thinks and there is more than one way to achieve her dreams. Yumi is a smart and sassy heroine, and Stand Up Yumi Chung is a poignant and charming story that appeals to the dreamer in all of us.
Beautifully written, musical, and lyrical, Private Lessons is a coming-of-age novel that pulled at my heartstrings. Claire's relationship with her mother and father had me weeping early on in the book, and I admired and understood her drive to escape her suburban life. Her Filipino heritage is a part of the story, but doesn't define her, and the microaggressions that she faces is depicted in the way it would be in real life––cutting but ultimately unnoticed by anyone but the target. The lens of Claire's journey is beautiful and brilliant and I enjoyed reading about her growing up.
The Silence of Bones is a murder mystery that takes place in medieval Korea––a setting popular in Korean dramas but we don't see in YA. Seol has a strong internal monologue, and is gritty and steely in the face of derision and condescension from men in her world. She takes it upon herself to clear the name of her mentor and solve the murder herself, risking her own life in the process. A well-written depiction of a part of history that we rarely see, led by a smart heroine who defies everyone's expectations of her.
Efren is a good kid and the events of his life are that of a regular middle schooler: annoying younger siblings, hanging out with friends, worrying about homework. Until his mother gets deported. Very quickly, Efren steps into the role that his mother was forcibly vacated and he becomes his siblings’ surrogate parent, making me cry several times in the first few pages. It’s a heartbreaking account of something that is happening all around usl and I hope that everyone gets a chance to read it.