Friday, 2 June 2023

Lessons in Chemistry

Finished May 28
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I started this book months ago but kept setting it aside as it is so good I didn't want it to end. The ending is satisfying though, so I feel good about finishing it now. The novel takes place in the early 1960s in small town southern California, but the story reaches back further. While it starts with an incident in 1961 that has Elizabeth meeting Walter Pine and thus setting off a new career in television for her, we quickly jump back ten years earlier when Elizabeth Zott, a chemist at Hastings Research Institute met Calvin Evans, one of the head research chemists there. 
Seeing how the two met gives an insight into how chemistry both in the scientific sense and in the sense of human attraction is at play here. Elizabeth is a feminist because she's had to be to get as far as she has, dealing with multiple barriers along the way. 
We see her dysfunctional childhood, the loneliness of her life, and her drive for science. As we get to know Calvin, we find he has also had a difficult childhood and has had to make his own way through similar efforts to those of Elizabeth. However, because he is a man, one he proved his intelligence, it all became much easier. 
As they grow closer, we see how in some ways he makes things easier for Elizabeth, supporting her research, ensuring she has the supplies she needs, and in others making things harder because now she has been labelled as a woman who is sleeping her way to job success. 
When things go wrong and Elizabeth is left to fend for herself as a single mother and she struggles to support herself, her daughter Amelia, and their dog Six-Thirty. Six-Thirty had found Elizabeth and claimed her and they bonded quickly. 
There is so much in this book: love and loss; the fight for sexual equality, the subtle acts that work away at a person just trying to live their life. I loved this book so much. 


Finished May 28
Unscripted by Davis Bunn

This fast-moving novel is set around the California movie industry. There are two main characters that we get to see the thoughts of. One of them is Danny Byrd, a line producer who has a good reputation for getting things done on schedule. The other is Los Angeles lawyer Megan Pierce who has been working with a entertainment law firm, working long hours and putting up with a lot of abuse as she's developed a lot of experience. 
As the book opens, Danny is in jail. John Rexford, aka Johnny Rocket, Danny's partner in business and friend since childhood has seeming left town with the investment money for their latest production. Due to Danny's trust, he also had access to Danny's personal accounts and cleaned them out as well. Without access to funds, Danny has relied on a court-appointed lawyer to this point and his outlook isn't hopeful. But as he gets called to meet with someone unexpectedly, he finds he has a new lawyer, paid for by someone who has chosen to remain anonymous, and she is working with another law firm that seems to have a different atmosphere from the L.A. based ones. 
As Danny finds his feet and jumps at a new chance to make a film to get a fresh start, he finds both old friends in the industry who are still willing to support him, and new ones in Solvang, the small town he finds himself based out of. 
This is a story of fresh starts for not only the two main characters, but also others, like the Emma Sturgis who is still mourning the loss of her father. 
This novel had me caring about the characters and wanting to know what happened with all of them. I also enjoyed the setting of Solvang and the community that came together there. A great read. 

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

The Whole Night Through

Finished May 25
The Whole Night Through by Christiane Frenette, translated by Sheila Fischman

This novel is set over one long night in a woman's life, but as she looks back on her adult years, we see how she came to this point and get to know the people in her life. Jeanne is the woman at the center of the story. 
As the book opens a moose emerges from the forest near Jeanne's home, and collapses onto the ground. The moose has been shot, and is dying. Jeanne cannot do anything to help, but she sits on her porch, keeping vigil over the moose through the night. Jeanne guesses that it is a stray bullet that has come to the moose, and over the course of the night, she goes over the events, the stray bullets, in her own life that have shaped it. 
When Jeanne was in college she had a close friend, Marianne, that she developed a crush on, but the intense friendship was short-lived. Following that, she tried to make a career in translation, but was struggling. When a chance meeting reintroduces another college friend, Gabrielle back into her life, she develops a deeper friendship with Gabrielle, Gabrielle's brother Paul, and Victor, the baker in their small village. 
This friendship has altered Jeanne's life in a large way, but she still feels alone much of the time.
This is a moving novel of a woman's life as she reflects on these things that influenced her choices in life. 
Over the course of the night, we see each event in Jeanne's life that she identifies as a stray bullet, something that found her unexpectedly, but had a big impact. 

Monday, 29 May 2023

Patricia Wants to Cuddle

Finished May 24
Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

This totally captivating novel is set on one of the San Juan islands in Washington state. A reality television show called The Catch, similar to The Bachelor, is planning to film their penultimate episode on the island. Otter Island is a smaller island, with a mountain at its heart. With a lot of forest, hiking trails, and sheep farmers, we also learn that the island has had some tragedies in the past where people disappeared. The island also has a reputation for being a refuge for lesbians.
The last four women in the running on The Catch are a mixed group: a black human resources professional, a car show model, a Christian influencer, and a fashion vlogger. 
The story moves between these four, the show's producer, Casey, a chat group dedicated to the show and blog posts from the past. The cover gives us a hint to part of the plot that doesn't get brought out into the open until much later in the novel. 
The women's voices show their inner thoughts, and we see how they differ, or not, from their outer personas. As they travel to the island, we get a glimpse into their motivations, what brought them to this point in their lives and what they hope for. We also see how they interact with each other and the man at the center of this season's story, Jeremy, a sleazy tech entrepreneur. 
On the island, we see little of the natives except the woman who owns the B&B where the four women contestants are staying.  
There is a sly humour underlying the whole story, from the reality television premise, to the island and its secrets. 
This was a fast read, that kept me totally engaged with the story. 

Heart of Ice

Finished May 23
Heart of Ice by Alys Clare

This is the ninth book in the series set around Hawkenlye Abbey, but the first one that I've read. An interesting inclusion at the beginning of the novel is a map of Mediterranean trade routes which also includes arrows to the far east along the Silk Road, to to Congo basin, and up the coast to England.
The time is February 1194, and the book begins with people journeying from further away. Along with the people travels a disease and the book details its transmission from person to person. Thus we see the significance of the map right away. From here the story stays in England, and we see how the disease has taken hold of a small number of people near the Abbey, which is known for its healing spring and the nuns and monks who look after the ill that are drawn there. 
Besides those at the abbey itself, we see some of the local people. From the abbess Helewise and the local knight, Sir Josse d'Acquin to the local sheriff, Gervase de Gifford, down to the servant and laboring class, many people have a role to play here.
There is also an interesting element of the paranormal through both a piece of jewelry, and a local woman who has been recognized as having certain skills, many of them associated with healing, and we see her take a journey of learning amongst her people, the ancient Celts, and return to her home with greater knowledge and power, just in time to find her skills useful in the current health crisis.
I really enjoyed this book, both the intellectual investigations of the various characters as they look for the source of the disease to try to mitigate its spread, and the clues they follow regarding the young man killed for a reason they aren't aware of. We see how the story links to larger regional issues, with struggles for leadership in England and France. A very interesting and engrossing read. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

No Plan B

Finished May 22
No Plan B by Lee Child and Andrew Child

This is the 27th book in the Jack Reacher series and he still has all the elements that make these books winners. Here, Jack is in a town in Colorado when he witnesses a crime and chases after the man who committed it. He is able to inflict some damage, and get a look at some of what evidence the man took with him, but he ends up getting left behind. 
As he follows the clues that he has, and they lead him to another death, he finds that he might be looking at something much bigger and more evil than he thought. 
His trail leads him to Texas and a private prison there, where a program to rehabilitate prisoners might be covering up something no one suspected. He is accompanied on his journey by a woman who has her own history with some of the people killed near the beginning, and who is intent on finding the truth to avenge them. 
There is also a side story of a teenage boy in foster care in California, who discovers something that sets him on the road to Texas as well, where his path will eventually intersect with Reacher's. 
As expected this is a page turner of a novel, with an intricate and compelling plot that I could barely put down. 
Excellent, as usual. 

Charles Bovary, Country Doctor

Finished May 22
Charles Bovary, Country Doctor: Portrait of a Simple Man by Jean Améry, translated by Adrian Nathan West

This book is a combination of novel and literary criticism, unlike any other book I've read. The book starts in the voice of Charles Bovary after the death of Emma, as he grieves and reflects. In this first section he interacts with other characters like Berthe, Homais and Lheureux, and for some of these he shows both sides of the conversation. He also addresses his late wife, and revisits past conversations. 
In the second section he revisits the past, scenes from the novel, where he relates his inner response to these and we see how it differs from the novel. He shows how Charles is made to be stupid and ridiculous, not a real person. 
The third section switches to essay format and is literary criticism of a sort, but focused on the author and how his experience relates to what he wrote, both in terms of inspiring and in terms of limiting. 
This essay form continues in the fourth section where the author focuses on Flaubert's view of the bourgeois and how that led him to make his characters fit that mold.
The fifth section takes us back to Charles Bovary and how a man of his time and experience would have acted and felt, as opposed to the way he is portrayed in Madame Bovary. 
The last section takes us back to the novelistic format, speaking as Charles as he accuses Flaubert of betraying his reality and as he experiences the loss of his wife, both over time as she pulled away from him and in the end with her final choice. 
This book was ahead of its time in how it looked at a classic novel and responded to it. While written in 1978, it has only recently been translated into English and allows the reader of the classic a new way of looking at Madame Bovary. It definitely addresses some of the issues that I had when I read it, and shows me good arguments for my reactions to the classic. 
A great addition to the field of literature. It also had me with a dictionary by my side to look up some of the less common terminology used.