Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

5 stars

Elizabeth Zott is a chemist in the early 1960s, a time when it was unheard of for a woman to be in a lab. She receives so little support from the all-male research team at Hastings Institute that she has to resort to stealing beakers to keep her research going. Calvin Evans, the Nobel prize-nominated scientist whose lab Elizabeth pilfers, ends up becoming her romantic partner.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

After a few years together, life intervenes and Elizabeth, now a single mother, finds herself hosting a popular cooking show. She takes a highly scientific approach to cooking and again refuses to conform to traditional norms for women.

This historical fiction book gets five stars from me, primarily for its originality and memorable main character. While the sexism and abuse Elizabeth is subjected to throughout the course of the book aren’t unusual, the overall story was unique and it was told in a quirky, interesting way. 

The book explores the definition of family, observing that being born into a family “doesn’t necessarily mean we belong to them.” The storyline demonstrates the different impacts that living in a male-dominated world had on the relationships women had with each other.

The unconventional main character and the writing style were reminiscent of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. However, while Garmus writes Elizabeth with a bit more edge than Bernadette, she manages to make her come across as more likable. 

Garmus’ skillfully handled the insertion of Six Thirty’s voice. In my opinion, knowing what the family dog thought at certain points in the story added to the narrative. The restraint Garmus used illustrates her talents as a writer and storyteller. Sharing the dog’s perspective could have easily been overdone, but it was sprinkled in just enough to make it moving and endearing.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strong female main characters, stories about people who challenge the status quo, or reading about what it was like to be a career woman in the 60s. Really, I recommend this to anyone who loves an excellent book!

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

4 stars

The cover of The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont.
The Christie Affair

I picked up The Christie Affair because it is my book club’s pick this month. A historical fiction work, the novel imagines what happened during Agatha Christie’s brief, unexplained disappearance. 

Told from the point of view of Nan O’Dea, Archie Christie’s mistress, the story opens with a glimpse into O’Dea’s past and jumps to the present, a few days before Agatha vanishes. The story alternates back and forth between the two time periods, weaving in a lot of grief, heartbreak, and intrigue along the way.

The author’s explanation behind why the famous author disappeared is both fascinating and moving, though some of the events seemed a little far-fetched. The lovely prose, shrewd observations about humans, and a surprising take on the relationship between Nan and Agatha helped me look past some of the implausible moments. 

“I hadn’t learned yet. In this world, it’s the obedient girls who are most in danger.”

The Christie Affair

One of the lines that resonated with me in the book was, “I hadn’t learned yet. In this world, it’s the obedient girls who are most in danger.” I think every woman wonders at some point whether following the rules is going to be her downfall in the end.

Overall, this was a pleasant, well-written read that has me wanting to learn more about Agatha Christie. In fact, I’ve started to read The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, which is Marie Benedict’s take on the unsolved mystery of Agatha Christie’s 11-day disappearance. It will be interesting to compare the two novels once I’ve finished.

Are you an Agatha Christie fan? Have you read either of these books attempting to explain her disappearance?

Malibu Rising by Tara Jenkins Reid

4 out of 5 stars 

The tops of 4 palm trees against a sherbet colored sunset.
photo by Flash Mama Photography

My book feeds have been filled with gushing comments and reviews about Tara Jenkins Reid, so I was pretty jazzed when my book club picked Malibu Rising as our pick this month. 

Malibu Rising is my first TJR book. Set in Malibu in 1983, I thought the story was original. 

While I don’t get the sense that it is the best of her works, I can still kinda see what some of the hype is all about. Her writing style is breezy with substance. 

“She knew it was up to her to say what had to be said. To do what had to be done. When there is only you, you do not get to choose which jobs you want, you do not get to decide you are incapable of anything.” 

Tara Jenkins Reid, Malibu Rising

The inner thoughts of the characters she creates are filled with truisms about different kinds of people and how they exist in relationships with others. 

For me, Nina, the oldest Riva sibling, made the book. I really connected with her and the way she held everything together.  I liked that the story focused on a family, and, for me, the relationships between the siblings were the best part of the book. 

Up next on my TBR list by this author is “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”.

Verity by Colleen Hoover

4 out of 5 stars

Verity was my book club’s most recent pick. All I can say is “Wow, wow, wow!” It pulled me in from the very first page and didn’t let go. 

The book opens with relatively unknown author Lowen Ashleigh witnessing a gruesome accident on her way to meet with a potential client. Still unsettled from the accident, she is offered a lucrative deal to co-write for best-selling author Verity Crawford, who has been injured in a car crash.

After moving into the Crawford family home, Lowen discovers Verity’s disturbing memoirs, and things start to really get interesting for Lowen and the Crawford family.

I read the book in a few hours because I was compelled to find out what happened. The storyline is unique and layered, and the writing is good, which helps make up for some of the flaws.

The good thing about sins is they don’t have to be atoned for immediately.

Colleen Hoover, Verity

There are several graphic sex scenes in the book, which I could have done without. The reader has to suspend belief in more than one place in the book and overlook some terrible decisions by the main character.

Between Verity’s enigmatic character, Lowen’s questionable choices, and the dark and twisty plot, there is plenty for book clubs to discuss after reading this one. 

Verity was the first book I’ve read by Hoover, a self-publishing success story. I’m intrigued by Hoover’s writing style and have downloaded “Layla” as my next read from her.

To read my review of Layla, visit this link.