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!

I Let You Fall by Sara Downing

4 stars

In I Let You Fall, Eve Chapman observes an emergency operation on a woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury. When the bandages are removed, Eve realizes she was the person being operated on. While in a coma, Eve hears her family and friends visit, and she struggles to deal with being unable to communicate back with them. In fact, the only person who can see and hear her is Luca, a lawyer whose body is also trapped in a comatose state.

I Let You Fall by Sara Downing

The story primarily follows Eve and Luca, as Eve learns from him how to navigate her new state of being. There are a few side characters and stories thrown in that have more meaning as Eve’s story plays out. 

At its core, I Let You Fall is about the power of human connection. The novel started out a little rough for me, but after the first few chapters, it had me racing through each chapter to find out what would happen next. Ultimately, I felt it was an engaging read, with wholesome characters and light romance reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. 

After reading this book, I am interested in checking out others by Downing. She skillfully creates Eve’s reality without overexplaining how things worked. Some elements didn’t make complete sense to me and yet these mysterious bits were exactly what made a story about an unconscious main character work.

I recommend this book to readers who are fans of uplifting stories about overcoming difficult circumstances and a comfortable with a spiritual thread woven into the narrative.

I read this book at the request of an author support specialist with the publishing company. Thank you to Maria Inot, the author Sara Downing, and Quilla Books for mailing me a free paperback review copy. This review reflects my honest, unbiased opinion of the book.

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark

5 out of 5 stars

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark.

Julie Clark has done it again. She has written a completely captivating story about two traumatized women whose lives are intertwined. After reading and loving The Last Flight, I was prepared not to like this book (my June 2022 BOTM pick) as much, but I absolutely did!

In The Lies I Tell, Meg Williams is a con artist seeking revenge while Kat Roberts is a reporter looking for her big break. Everything changes for Kat after receiving a tip from Meg setting her on her own quest for revenge. 

The relationship between Meg and Kat kept me guessing throughout the course of the story. I also appreciated how technology was woven in. In my opinion, technology was used in a more believable way in The Lies I Tell than it was in The Last Flight.

There were a few confusing points and minor plot holes in the book. About 40 percent into the story, it jumps 10 years into the present day. Up until that point, I didn’t realize the parts I’d been reading were in the past. I was also a little confused when Kat was first introduced – I initially thought Kat was one of Meg’s aliases. I also didn’t completely follow the logic for when Meg used her real name and when she didn’t.

“Good fortune and second chances. Everyone wants to believe those are real.”

Julie Clark, The Lies I Tell

The writing and storytelling more than made up for these tiny issues. I could easily put these discrepancies aside because I was so invested in finding out where the story was going.

Clark is extremely gifted at writing about complicated women who are coping with difficult circumstances. She helps you understand who they are, and why they make the choices they do and makes them relatable enough that you care about what happens. Her writing is also filled with short, memorable observations that make you stop and take in just how true they are. 

Clark has now earned a spot among my “auto-buy” authors. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

My review of The Last Flight is available here.

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin.

I read The People We Keep for my book club, which focuses on books with strong women characters and/or by women authors. 

Set in the mid-90s, this tale follows the story of April Sawicki, a 16-year-old girl from a small town who has been dealt a raw deal when it comes to family. After a fight with her father, April steals a car and flees their motor-free motorhome to find somewhere she can fit in and call home.

This is a character-driven story with a stream-of-consciousness writing style that really resonated with me. We travel with April as she spends nights in her car, finds various people to stay with, and lines up various jobs and musical gigs. She meets an interesting array of people along the way, and we are immersed in her thoughts as she makes mistakes –sometimes the same mistake more than once – and learns to trust herself and others. 

The book fits the theme of my book club really well. Larkin creates a flawed, endearing, memorable character in April. Throughout the course of the novel, I was concerned, frustrated, and sad for her. Mostly, I wanted her to grow and find happiness – and Larkin ultimately allows her to do both.

The People We Keep is a touching story about found family and reminds me of both the people who have come into my life for a reason and those who will always be there no matter what.

If you enjoy books like Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, chances are you will be a fan of this one as well.

For more about The People We Keep and Allison Larkin, visit the author’s website.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

4 stars

I think I’m the last person on earth to read this book. I have seen it all over Bookstagram, the Twitter Reading Community, and my Goodreads feed. I am happy to report that it mostly lived up to the hype. 

A paperback copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid on a black slate background surrounded by pearls and gold earrings.

I knew from reading Malibu Rising a few months ago that Reid is an excellent storyteller. The pages of Evelyn Hugo ooze the same intoxicating readability as Malibu Rising. Again, I encountered characters who are flawed and complex and weirdly relatable given that I don’t have anything in common with their glamorous, star-powered lifestyles.

I liked the Old Hollywood setting of this novel. Reid succeeds in making the reader feel like an insider to the real story behind the lives of these (fictional) movie stars. Evelyn’s confidence and shrewdness combined with her vulnerability made her an interesting character. While there were moments in the book where I both loved and hated her, I was never bored by Evelyn.

In my opinion, Monique was an underrated character. She doesn’t get mentioned in the title and only a few of the chapters are told from her perspective but she’s more central to the plot than a couple of Evelyn’s husbands. Her life is also impacted more by Evelyn’s choices than are several of the other people in the novel. I loved how Monique grew through the small glimpses we got of her life.

A lot of readers and reviewers have commented positively on the gossip columns and news clips that were interspersed throughout the book. Personally, I didn’t feel like they added a lot of authenticity to the story since much of the plot already felt like it was ripped right out of a People magazine story.

Although I gave this book the same star rating as Malibu Rising, I’d give a slight edge to Evelyn Hugo. And, after reading and liking both, I’m looking forward to reading my third TJR book, Daisy Jones and the Six, which is waiting impatiently on my overflowing TBR shelf.

My review of Malibu Rising is linked here.

Have you read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

Waiting for Saturday by Catherine Morrison

5 stars

Waiting for Saturday by Catherine Morrison

I picked up a digital copy of this book because I was intrigued by the title – in some ways, aren’t we all “Waiting for Saturday” to come around? 

Based on the crushed red lollipop on the cover, I was expecting this book to be either a lighthearted YA romance or a sinister thriller about a young villain. Instead, I found an unexpected gem of a story about a young woman slowly opening her eyes to the mistreatment she suffers and regaining trust in herself. 

On the surface, Abi seems to have it all – a beautiful 4-year-old daughter, a gorgeous house in an upscale neighborhood, and a husband who provides for her every need. One Saturday morning, she meets Henry and his son at the play center. A friendship develops that gives Abi a new perspective on what’s really happening in her life. 

I devoured this fast flowing 150 page story in one weekend morning, cheering for Abi with each page. Not everyone will be satisfied with how this books ends, but I appreciated some of the warnings and the hope Abi’s story offers.

After reading Waiting for Saturday, I definitely plan to check out more of Morrison’s work.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

5 out of 5 stars

On the emotional evening of her father’s funeral, Lily Bloom meets a handsome stranger on a rooftop, and the two strangers have some shocking conversation. Fast forward a few months, Lily runs into the enigmatic Ryle Kincaid again, and the two cautiously embark on an intense relationship. 

Soon after she starts dating Ryle, an important figure from Lily’s teenage years enters the picture. This chance encounter with Atlas Corrigan puts Lily on a path re-examining her past and coming to terms with how it has shaped her.

Lily is a strong central figure in this book. Once I got past the messy, chaotic events of the opening chapters, I began to understand Lily and root for her to find true happiness. 

It seems inadequate to describe this book as a romance book featuring a love triangle, when in reality the story is so much more complex. The story is about one woman realizing her worth, seeing her mother in a different light, and making a hard choice to protect her family. The bonds between women were an unexpected theme in this story that seemed on the surface to be about romantic relationships.

If you read this book, be sure to read the author’s notes at the end, where Hoover talks about why she wrote this deeply personal book the way she did.

So far, this is my favorite of the three CoHo books I’ve read. Like both Verity and Layla, It Ends With Us defies the conventions of the romance genre. It also adds something that both of those books were missing for me – a likable main character that you cared about in the end.

Are you a Colleen Hoover fan? Which book of hers should I read next?

Finding Grace by Janis Thomas

4 out of 5 stars

Cover of Finding Grace

Finding Grace tells the story of three women, Grace, Louise, and Melanie, whose lives intersect. A bartender living in New York, Louise is estranged from her unreliable mother, Grace, who has been in and out of her life since she was 6 years old. Melanie is a 12-year-old girl who has been shuffled to different foster homes for most of her life. Their paths cross when Grace has a premonition that a young girl is in trouble. 

One of the things I liked most about this book was how the story unfolded. The story alternates among the perspectives of each of the women and it also bounces back and forth between the past and the present day. While this had the potential to be confusing, it was woven together deftly and was very easy to follow. It also kept me guessing and wondering what would happen next.

I also appreciated the distinct voices of each of the characters. With her calm demeanor and a deep wish to be loved, you root for Melanie right from the start. Louise’s strength pulls you in and Grace is written with just enough tenderness that you want her to be okay, despite being a terrible mom to Louise. 

I liked that there were both predictable elements and unexpected turns in this story that explores the depth of the bond between mother and daughter.

Overall, the storytelling and writing were memorable enough for me to want to read another book by this best-selling author.

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for providing a free e-ARC. I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Finding Grace will be available in April 2022 and can be pre-ordered now anywhere books are sold.

Shaken No More by Jacqui Morrison

3 stars

This women’s fiction/romance novel is about one woman’s fight to overcome several past traumas and find love, success, and happiness. 

Shaken No More

After leaving her abusive husband, Meredith Golden meets Paul and the two begin a romantic relationship. Things seem to be going well for Meredith in her career and in her love life until the past resurfaces.

Although Meredith’s experiences are the book’s main focus, Paul has some trauma of his own to work through. The fact that both people have emotional baggage makes their dating life relatable.

While I didn’t personally connect with every aspect of the author’s writing style, the overall story and message are meaningful. It was clear from the writing that Meredith’s story holds special significance to the author and I always appreciate when an author’s passion for a story comes through in the writing.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in stories about healing and women’s empowerment. Readers who enjoy stories featuring a strong, resilient woman as the main character should also consider this book.

I received a free e-review copy of Shaken No More from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

Shaken No More is available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.

Eighteen by Jenny Jaeckel

4 stars 

In this novel, 18-year-old Talia leaves her small town of Ukiah, California, and heads off to university in Washington state. The story starts off as shy and awkward as freshman year, and – like many college experiences – keeps getting better from there.

Eighteen

Told from Talia’s point of view, the reader follows this young woman as she makes friends, has her first sexual experience, and falls in love during the first few years of college. Set in the late 80s/early 90s, the story is sprinkled with a few references to HIV and what was known about sexual health at the time.

The book is a fast read – I was able to finish it in a few hours. I was invested in Talia’s dating life, particularly in what would happen with George.

I also really appreciated the book’s observations about the thin line between everything going well in a person’s life and complete disaster.

The part of this book that didn’t work as well for me is that Talia’s story felt a bit unfinished. While she was a relatable protagonist who demonstrated some growth, I would have liked for it to cover a longer time span of Talia’s life, or flesh out her back story as someone who spent part of her childhood living in a commune. By giving readers more than a 2-year glimpse into her college life, we would have had the chance to see her growth as a young woman more clearly.

Overall, it was an entertaining read that I would recommend, especially to those who enjoy stories about the joy, disappointment, desire, and heartbreak surrounding first loves.

My review would not be complete without mentioning the striking cover artwork which was created by Jaeckel. With is contrasting colors, graceful lines, and evocative expressions, this is one case where it is justified to judge the book by its cover.

Thank you to the author and Black Rose Writing for providing a free e-ARC of this book. Receiving a free review copy did not influence my opinion of this book.

Eighteen can be purchased through the publisher’s site.