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!