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

Book Review | Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Last weekend, I read Rachel Lynn Solomon’s new book, Weather Girl, and I absolutely loved it!

I am such a big fantasy reader, so reading a contemporary romance was a nice change of scenery. The book was quirky, cute, funny, well-written, and super entertaining. If it was a movie I would watch it nonstop. (Please make it a movie!)

A little more about Weather Girl:

Ari Abrams has always been fascinated by the weather, and she loves almost everything about her job as a TV meteorologist. Her boss, legendary Seattle weatherwoman Torrance Hale, is too distracted by her tempestuous relationship with her ex-husband, the station’s news director, to give Ari the mentorship she wants. Ari, who runs on sunshine and optimism, is at her wits’ end. The only person who seems to understand how she feels is sweet but reserved sports reporter Russell Barringer.

In the aftermath of a disastrous holiday party, Ari and Russell decide to team up to solve their bosses’ relationship issues. Between secret gifts and double dates, they start nudging their bosses back together. But their well-meaning meddling backfires when the real chemistry builds between Ari and Russell.

Working closely with Russell means allowing him to get to know parts of herself that Ari keeps hidden from everyone. Will he be able to embrace her dark clouds as well as her clear skies?

My thoughts

I knew I was going to love this book the moment I saw the author’s note about mental health and for the reader to be gentle to themselves if they are triggered by mental health content. I remember turning to my husband and saying, “this is going to be a good one.” It shows the author is aware of the content she is writing about and cares about her readers. There are so many authors out there who do not do this, so I really appreciated the extra effort there.

Ari and Russell are such lovable characters. They are so sweet and you root for them to succeed. As they try to get their bosses back together, they start to fall for each other too. The friction and steam is REAL, friends! I really enjoyed following their story. It’s super fun, feel-good, and will leave you smiling at the end.

Sometimes you need some predictability in your life — and I love a good romance for those moments. While this book delivered on that front, it also had body positivity, LGBTQ rep, Jewish rep, and overall diversity rep. I am so happy I picked this one up. You should too!

Book Review | Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

I adore Fredrik Backman’s books. I discovered A Man Called Ove a few years ago, and I fell in love with Backman’s writing style and character development. Since then, I have read all of his novels. All I need to do is read his novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, and I will be done with all of his works!

I finished Britt-Marie Was Here this week and wow. Backman is a genius when it comes to writing about the human experience. His characters are flawed, but colorful and loveable. There is no such thing as a two-dimensional character. A misunderstood character will have qualities about them that you adore. Backman can also introduce a character briefly on one page, and that character will possess enough emotional depth that they leave a mark when they exit the scene. It’s just truly remarkable. His books have humor, suffering, pain, heartache, romance and humor. They are all masterpieces.

A little more about Britt-Marie Was Here:

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.

When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?

My thoughts

Readers first meet Britt-Marie in Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. She’s not exactly a likable character…but just you wait. At the end of the book, Britt-Marie has left Kent, her cheating husband, and Britt-Marie Was Here picks up where we left off.

Backman is wonderful at creating main characters that are prickly and annoying, but you eventually grow to absolutely adore them – this is Britt-Marie. Britt-Marie certainly has her quirks. She’s socially awkward and very set in her ways, but a lot like Ove in A Man Called Ove, you learn her backstory and you laugh out loud at their mannerisms and interactions with other folks. You wish you knew them in real life.

Backman is also incredible at creating communities. Borg is a small, washed-out town, but the people who live in the town are tight knit and there for one another. Like the Beartown series, the town is deeply connected to a sport. Britt-Marie finds herself working at a soon-to-be-closed recreational center and then the coach for the soccer team, a sport she knows nothing about. Soccer is what brings the town together, and though the kids aren’t very good and practice on a crappy pitch, the entire town comes to watch them play in the Cup. It is so heartwarming and Backman excels on capturing these moments. Though the town is a mess and its people are “seedy,” they are well-rounded and you grow to like them and defend them.

As I mentioned, Backman has such a talent for writing about life in its most fragile and powerful moments. Here’s an absurdly long excerpt that made me cry:

At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?

If a human being closes her eyes hard enough and for long enough, she can remember pretty well everything that has made her happy. The fragrance of her mother’s skin at the age of five and how they fled giggling into a porch to get out of a sudden downpour. The cold tip of her father’s nose against her cheek. The consolation of the rough paw of a soft toy that she has refused to let them wash. The sound of waves stealing in over rocks during their last seaside holiday. Applause in a theater. Her sister’s hair, afterwards, carelessly waving in the breeze as they’re walking down the street.

And apart from that? When has she been happy? A few moments. The jangling of keys in the door. The beating of Kent’s heart against the palm of her hands while he lay sleeping. Children’s laughter. The feel of the wind on her balcony. Fragrant tulips. True love.

The first kiss.

A few moments. A human being, any human being at all, has so perishingly few chances to stay right there, to let go of time and fall into the moment. And to love someone without measure. Explode with passion (261).

My favorite part of Britt-Marie Was Here was the ending, because it was just about her and the mark she left on the town. It wasn’t about her marriage with Kent, or any new relationships she formed along the way; it was about her journey and the next steps she took for her own healing and well-being. In the end, she chose herself, and that was beautiful.

Have you read this one? If you’re a Fredrik Backman fan, what book is your favorite?