Life Science

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is about chemistry, cooking, overcoming obstacles and various relationship dynamics – all taking place in the 1960s. Elizabeth Zott has a lot going for her, but ironically these are the exact things creating some of her biggest issues.

Zott is a brilliant chemist, but unfortunately it’s a thankless profession as a woman during this time period. She falls in love with a coworker who happens to be a renowned chemist named Calvin Evans. Everyone believes she is with him for her own personal gain, but there is no denying their mutual attraction.

Spoilers ahead

Everything changes when Calvin meets an untimely death, leaving Elizabeth with their super smart rescue dog named Six Thirty (LOVE him) and an unborn daughter, Madeline. Elizabeth loses her job and begins working out of her own self-made lab in her kitchen. She eventually lands a role as a television dinner host for a show that becomes hugely popular. Her tv personality infuses a mixture of chemistry and life lessons while making delicious meals. Elizabeth eventually realizes that she needs to follow her own advice.

Calvin’s background begins weaving into Elizabeth and Madeline’s lives creating some surprises along the way.

This book is full of smart writing and quirky, interesting characters.

Time Loop

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister is an excellent read!

Jen witnesses her son murder a man outside their home. Her reaction exerts an extreme enough energy to propel her into a time loop. She wakes up each day in various moments from her past. Each date provides an important piece of information to help her understand how this crime came to be, and more importantly, how she can change it. The dates span back to before first meeting her husband.

Jen realizes that her life had many secrets that she was always too busy to notice. Now she has a chance to observe and to make adjustments. She relives these days while awaiting the pivotal date that will hopefully return her to a fixed present time.

I love this book. It has the perfect mixture of mystery, sci fi and romance. It makes me ponder all the seemingly tiny moments and various people that define us, second chances and destiny.

What Could Have Been

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien is a story about the little choices we make and their potential consequences. It takes place in a Vietnamese community in Australia.

Ki lives away from her family and works as a journalist. She receives the devastating news that her brother Denny was attacked and killed while out for dinner with his friends. This news prompts her return home, and an attempt to uncover why this happened to her very smart, well-behaved brother.

Ki manages to get a list of possible witnesses, all who originally told the police that they saw nothing. She works her way through the list, moving from those who had no connection to her family to close friends.

Before Ki speaks with each witness, the author shifts perspectives so that we see events from their points of view. This creates an intricate and rich plot as stories may overlap.

While answers can’t bring her brother back, they do bring her to a state of acceptance and understanding. There is so much to unpack in this novel- the role of family, culture and feelings of guilt/regret. I highly recommend this one!

Royal Divorce

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O”Farrell is a historical fiction novel based in part on the sudden death of sixteen-year-old Lucrezia just one year after marrying the Duke of Ferrara.

The story travels between “present” time in 1961 as Lucrezia fears her husband’s murderous intentions after moving her to a remote location, their year of marriage leading up to this moment, and key events of Lucrezia’s childhood.

Lucrezia was always an independent, unique child. Her strong mind and artistic ability make her a bit unpredictable. When her sister dies unexpectedly, she is forced into an early arranged union to her deceased sister’s betrothed. Soon after their marriage, Lucrezia realizes that there are two sides to the Duke. He can be quite charming or extremely harsh. The Duke is desperate to have a male heir, and their problems compound when Lucrezia isn’t able to get pregnant. Lucrezia’s personality ultimately saves her from this terrible fate.

I really enjoy these time pieces, and found this to be an interesting approach with a great twist to an actual event.

Victory and Defeat

The Winners by Fredrik Backman is the final book in the Beartown trilogy.

The story takes place four years after book two. We see the progression of Beartown and Hed hockey along with plenty of new drama. After a storm destroys the Hed rink, Beartown may become the only club, uniting both programs. Meanwhile, a father daughter reporter duo are looking to reveal shady financial practices in Beartown.

There are familiar characters along with some new. Some have met success while others have hit roadblocks. Births, two major deaths and coming home are all important parts of the story.

Standing Tall

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman is the second book in the Beartown trilogy.

The ripple effect following Maya’s rape is far reaching. The book explores the effects on Maya, her family and the town. Beartown hockey has a second chance with new investors, but it’s fueled by politics. The team is trying to rebuild with a new female coach and new players. But they will never quite be the same.

There are constant spoilers due to the omniscient narration. This book explores rivalries, persistence and overcoming tragedy.

Small Town Feeling

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is the first of a trilogy that I hope to continue reading. I finished this first book a couple weeks ago, so names are fuzzy.

Beartown is very good at one thing: hockey. Events build toward a huge championship game. We meet several important characters, including various townspeople, team coaches, the club manager and his family along with many of the players. Each has their own important part to play.

When the club manager’s daughter accuses the star player of rape, the entire town seems to turn against her and her family. Events unfold leading to the court’s decision. The town may not ever be completely the same.

I couldn’t help but connect certain parts of Beartown to my own small town, and I am compelled to find out what awaits each character.

A Different Realm

Layla by Colleen Hoover is a love story with a spiritual twist.

Leeds and Layla meet and fall in love at her sister’s wedding. Their relationship progresses quickly until coming to a turning point after Layla almost dies in a terrible accident. Leeds decides they should revisit the bed and breakfast where they first met in order to get their spark back. It’s here that Leeds meets another woman, Willow. The problem is that Willow is a spirit that seems attached to the house. She has no memory of who she was before or why she ended up there.

Leeds makes contact with someone on a supernatural chat board to help him figure out who Willow really is. The answer is surprising and seemingly impossible to overcome.

Family Curse

The Cherry Robbers by Sarai Walker is a story of a deadly family curse.

Sylvia is a famous artist with a hidden past. She was formerly Iris Chapel, one of six daughters to the famous firearms dynasty.

The story traces how Iris’s sisters each faced an untimely death as soon as they either married or found a first love. Nobody cared to heed their mother’s warnings, and eventually she was committed to an asylum for her forebodings. Iris was the only one to believe her mother, and almost followed her mother’s path to be treated as mentally ill.

Readers are left to ponder whether the family is truly cursed in love or cursed because of the family business (or maybe something else entirely). Most importantly, how does Iris escape this fate?

Bonding with the Babysitter

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan is a relaxing read, like sitting with girlfriends for a long chat.

The story pivots back and forth between college senior Sam and new mother Elisabeth’s points of view. Sam is hired to help care for Elisabeth’s son Gil while she tries to get back into writing after her family’s move from Brooklyn to suburbia.

They develop a close friendship which blurs lines with each other’s personal lives. There are many topics, such as adapting to a new residence, financial struggle, pregnancy, friend/significant other relationships and familial conflict. This all builds toward a surprising fallout.

Characters are well written and mostly likable. The story reminds us about the fragility of relationships during our lives.