Book Review | Lessons in Chemistry

“Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.”

This line immediately grabbed my attention as I picked up Bonnie Garmus’s debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry. I had recently joined a new book club, a goal I’ve had for some time now, so I was looking forward to reading this book and meeting some new bookworms in my area.

A little about Lessons in Chemistry (from the book jacket): Chemist Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans, the lonely, brilliant, Nobel Prize-nominated grudge holder who falls in love with — of all things — her mind. True chemistry results.

Like science, though, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother but also the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show, “Supper at Six.” Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because, as it turns out, Elizabeth isn’t teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

My review

I read somewhere that it took Garmus 10 years to write this book, and it shows. Her writing is deliberate, quirky, and smart. I loved the matter-of-fact narration and her storytelling. I was instantly hooked and knew I was going to enjoy this book about feminism and motherhood. As a new mom, I was all about it!

Elizabeth Zott is such an interesting and fabulous character. She is brilliant, sharp-tongued, and clearly advanced when it comes to cultural norms. It was frustrating reading this book sometimes. The writer, who sprinkles in free indirect discourse throughout her prose, demonstrates how men perceived Zott. Even more frustrating was the women who did not support her. Some parts were hard to read, especially since we still live in a world where women do not have autonomy over their bodies and their livelihood. There are some other trigger warnings, which I list at the bottom of the post.

One of the novel’s biggest strengths was its side characters. While I was not a Calvin fan, I did enjoy Mad (their daughter), Harriet (the neighbor/nanny/babysitter/stand-in grandmother), and Six-Thirty, the sweet and smart dog. They really made the book special.

OK. Some dislikes.

The book opens with promise talking about Zott on her television show and its success, but then it takes a turn and brings readers through her entire backstory. This includes her education, early career, meeting Calvin, losing Calvin, and getting the television gig. While I appreciate a good backstory and its importance to setting up the plot and character development, it was very convoluted. There wasn’t enough balance and could have benefitted from some cuts. Rowing is cool, I guess? But I wanted more of the present and the television show, which was the real draw of the book.

Another dislike. Does she have to be hot? Like. Can’t she just be a regular woman? Not this stunningly hot, brilliant chemist? Just an average looking working mom would have made it a little more realistic.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book that I zoomed through. But what I liked more was meeting this group of ladies!

Some trigger warnings if you want to read … and I would have appreciated an author’s note at the beginning about these (proceed with caution because there are spoilers):

  • rape
  • sexism
  • suicide
  • homophobia
  • cult
  • death of parents
  • death of loved one
  • assault
  • domestic violence
  • incarcerated parent
  • almost death of pet

Series Review | The Folk of the Air by Holly Black

If you are looking for a fantasy series that you will breeze through but not love, then the Folk of the Air series is for you.

Spoiler: This series review will be on the scathing side and there will be some spoilers ahead. If you want to read these books, please do. I am just one reader. That’s why art exists – to enjoy and critique and discuss.

I read the Folk of the Air series fairly quickly – I read the second book in just one day. But don’t let that fool you – I did not enjoy them.

Me not enjoying them.

They were alright … I wouldn’t recommend them to a friend who loves epic fantasy. But would I recommend them to someone just starting to read fantasy? Maybe. Eh. No. I just wouldn’t recommend them. I hate when books don’t live up to the hype.

I admit that the storyline and premise of these books are compelling. Three sisters are dragged away from our world to the magical world by a sadistic lunatic. Seven-year-old Jude (our MC/morally gray heroine) watches her parents get murdered by this guy Madoc, and then she is swept off to Faerieland (very original name, by the way), and then she and her sisters are raised as his own. Turns out one of his sisters, Vivienne, is his actual daughter, but Jude and Taryn’s mother fled from Madoc and married Justin (lol) and was in hiding. Well, he found them!

As you attempt to grapple with the very bloody, violent first chapter (isn’t this YA? Jeez), you learn that now 17-ish-year-old Jude has some sort of Stockholm syndrome, icky I-want-to-please-my-new-daddy relationship with Madoc. It’s gross. GROSS. Jude and Taryn strive for his approval and are constantly trying to make Faerieworld/Faerieland work while they are literally being ABUSED by their fae magical classmates. They are almost killed or manipulated/drugged on multiple occasions by their peers. Jude is also almost killed by her eventual love interest. But don’t worry. He is *hot* and *misunderstood* like every abusive dude in fantasy books. He also has a tail.

Jude is definitely a character with potential. She has that morally gray/power thirsty personality that fantasy authors love so much. She wants to be a knight and wants to be accepted by Faerietown. She will do what it takes to get there, including spying on the king and working undercover. See? Cool stuff. POTENTIAL.

Like I said, the books have potential, but they all fall SO. FLAT. It’s disappointing. You have an interesting world (which the author does not thoroughly explain or describe, so you are doing your best to create a hodgepodge fantasy world in your head as you read), with characters that seem cool and interesting (but again, hardly described), but they are too two-dimensional to really grasp. I wanted more in every book.

Again, I will say this to authors: We want more than flowery prose! We want substance! I’m looking at you, Addie LaRue! From the plot and cringeworthy dialogue to the prose and internal monologues, I kept on shouting “GIVE ME SOMETHING!” The romance between Jude and Cardan is even flat and unconvincing. If you’re going to try and normalize toxic boy behavior at least make the lovers compatible/interesting.

These books just weren’t it. They all followed the same structure … slow start, picked up in the middle with the big climatic finish. OK. Next book. Oh, same structure? OK. Last book. SAME STRUCTURE. The EPILOGUE had more context and closure than the entire series …

There’s much more I can say, but I’ll end it with this sassy note: You’ll fully describe an entire family being gruesomely butchered, but you won’t describe a sex scene? K.

July Hopefuls

Summer is here, and for once, I am excited about it! I’m typically strictly a cooler weather gal, but with a cute little baby, I am excited for beach days and fun in the sun.

Speaking of fun in the sun, we are going on vacation in a few weeks, and I can’t wait to get some reading in! Here are the books I’d like to read in July (all on my Kindle!!):

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Nora Goes Off Script by Annabell Monaghan

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

June Wrap-Up

This past month, I started work full-time and adjusted to mom-ing and job-ing and wife-ing all at once (OK, still adjusting) …

But I am proud to share that I read THREE books in June … finishing them all within the last week.

Here’s what I read (with a new rating/review system!):

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

What I liked:

  • The writing. It was the quirky/quippy, matter-of-fact narration that I enjoy so much in books. Garmus is a smart writer.
  • Side characters: I really loved Harriet, Mad, and the inner monologues of Six-Thirty. Six-Thirty was adorable (he’s the dog).
  • The discussions/shedding light on sexism and lack of autonomy women faced in the ’60s … (and continue to face)…

What I disliked:

  • The book was a little top heavy with the backstory. It started strong, but then jumped to Elizabeth and Calvin’s history. It was a little too much for me. I wanted more of the television show and her relationship with Mad.
  • Did she have to be hot? Like was it NECESSARY that she was a skinny, hot scientist? Rolls eyes at that…

Trigger Warnings: sexism, rape, suicide, homophobia, religious cult, death of parents, death of loved ones, assault, domestic violence, incarcerated parents, verbal abuse.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

What I liked:

  • LGBTQ representation.
  • The lovable characters, particularly the main character, Chloe. She was a great narrator.
  • The pop culture references.
  • The high school nostalgia.
  • The storyline was super fun and interesting.
  • Smith. ❤
  • Georgia and her bookish ways.
  • Unconditional love from parents and friends.

What I didn’t like:

  • Shara Wheeler. Yawn. Don’t understand the obsession.

Trigger Warnings: homophobia, repressive religious environments, discussions of racism, threatened outing, off-page outing.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

What I liked:

  • SEL.
  • Diversity in the main characters as well as LGBTQ+ rep.
  • The concept of the plot and storyline was interesting.

What I didn’t like:

  • … A lot.
  • The classic fantasy heroine falls in love with the vanilla hero. She gets all giggly and forgetful and weak around him and he is NOT worth it, Bree. NOT WORTH IT.
  • Storyworld/world-building was so convoluted. The King Arthur legend and Deonn’s interpretation of it was not explained. Root, Legendborn, aether, and all of her terminology and monsters, etc., were all just so confusing and rushed. I just didn’t get it.
  • The book was soooooooo slow – and not in a good way. I read it just to finish and it felt like a chore.
  • Don’t need the silly friend drama.

Trigger Warnings: parental death, death, racism, racial slurs, slavery, violence, rape, possession, traumatic grief/flashbacks, mind control/manipulation, blood/gore.