Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry
  Lessons in Chemistry
Author:  Bonnie Garmus
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2022. 400 pages.
ISBN:  038554734X / 978-0385547345

Book Source:  I read this book as a selection for a local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second though; back before anyone knew there'd even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over."

Favorite Quote:  "Courage is the root of change - and change is what we're chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others' opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonholed you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status, and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what you will change. And then get started."

Elizabeth Zott is a TV star. She hosts her own cooking show titled Supper at 6. She is a single mother to young Madeline. Elizabeth Zott was once a research chemist. She had no intentions of becoming a mother. Her dream was of scientific discovery.

How one chapter of Elizabeth's life leads to the other is the premise of this book. What happened after is the story of this book. In that context, this book touches on so many issues - feminism, motherhood, gender biases in professional environments, scars of childhood trauma, grief, friendship, and love.

Each of the characters - including the dog - represent a different perspective on these issues. Elizabeth is the scientist no one takes seriously because she is a woman. Her word and her work is not believed. That forever alters the path of her life. Calvin is the absent-minded scientist, who is brilliant but who also gets away with behavior because he is a man. No one questions his abilities or his behavior, at least not in public. Harriet is the woman who finally finds her voice and the courage to listen to that voice. Madeline is the five year old, who, despite her genius level precociousness, needs to know that her world is safe. Six-Thirty, the dog with the unusual name, embodies unconditional love and a fierce protectiveness for those he loves. He combines that with a huge dose of guilt. Despite being a dog, he is very much a "human" character in this book. Oh, the dog is also a genius for he recognizes language - actual words - and follows stories.

At time, this book is funny. At times, it is heartbreaking. Some of it seems farfetched and over the top. At times, it seems like everything that could go wrong for Elizabeth does. At a different point, it is the complete opposite and it all goes her way. There are points at which I wonder if a different path may have been found or followed. The ending and the connections drawn to achieve that ending are a little too conveniently placed.

All that aside, the book nevertheless resonates with me for one primary reason. It is set in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet, so many of the conversations - particularly about gender biases - continue today. So much has changed, and yet, at times, it is as if nothing has changed. 

To me, that often speaks to the success of a book. It takes me as the reader on a journey, and somewhere along the way, I see some part of my own journey reflected in it. Two interesting pieces of advice I walk away with:
  • "Don't work the system. Outsmart it."
  • "Take a moment for yourself... Every day. A moment. A moment where you are your own priority... Whatever you need, whatever your want, whatever you seek, reconnect with it in that moment... Then recommit."
Given that this is Bonnie Garmus's debut novel, I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Wish You Were Here

  Wish You Were Here
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1984818414 / 978-1984818416

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "When I was six years old, I  painted a corner of the sky."

Favorite Quote:  "The Japanese believe that it takes three generations to forget. Those who experience a trauma pass it along to their children and their grandchildren, and then the memory fades. To the survivors of a tragedy, that's unthinkable - what's the point of living through something terrible if you cannot convey the lessons you've learned? Since nothing will ever replace all you've lost, the only way to make meaning is to make sure no one else goes through what you did. Memories are the safeguards we use to keep from making the same mistakes."

I finish many of Jodi Picoult's books and think I did not see that coming. They leave me thinking and reflecting long after I finish. This book is no exception. This book does what most Jodi Picoult books do. They take on big issues. Small Great Things took on race, prejudice and the justice system. Leaving Time centered on grief. The Storyteller left me thinking about forgiveness.

This is also the first book I have read that is fiction around the COVID pandemic. I love historical fiction, but this is so immediate that it is challenging to think of it as history! I leaves me wondering. We read history. We study history. We are and will be history. Do people living through a period of time think about the fact that the period will be a significant history. Naive as it may sound, it seems odd to think of our reality as history. Yet, it is, and here we are.

That being said, this book does not end up where I think it's going to. The premise is seemingly simply. Diana and her boyfriend Finn have a trip planned to the Galapagos Islands. Perhaps, a proposal is to come to take their relationship to the next step. Finn is a medical professional. It is the very start of the virus. He cannot leave. Diana goes anyways as the trip is not refundable. Once there, the world shuts down, and she is stranded. She is forced to disconnect from the world she knows and establishes new connections.

Diana's perspective is that of those isolated and how they coped with that isolation. The book highlights that in that isolation lay self-discovery for many. We realigned priorities. Relationship altered. The sense of loss permeated.

Finn brings in the plight of the first responders and the front line healthcare workers at the forefront of this pandemic. Perhaps no one from outside of the medical profession can understand that stress or the devastation.

Part of the plight is the political response and the divided way in which this pandemic was approached. To mask or not to mask and to vaccinate or not to vaccinate became political rather than scientific conversations. The book has a clear viewpoint on this.

Where the book goes brings in all we still don't know and all the uncertainty about what can be. At times, it seems farfetched. Yet, so many real stories of COVID depicts things that seems hard to believe. Is this possible? I don't know, but then again, science is still working on discovering what may be possible.

At times, this book was hard because the events are so recent and part of my own personal history. Yet, at the same time, it is amazing to see the experience articulated. As I turn the last page, I want more to see how it turns out.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, January 9, 2023

A Man of Honor

A Man of Honor
  A Man of Honor
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2021. 464 pages.
ISBN:  1250187451 / 978-1250187451

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was very windy on the top of the cliffs."

Favorite Quote:  "He understood he could erase the past, create a new future for himself. Who could stop him? He had the time."

Years ago, I read A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Perhaps, it was the story. Perhaps, it was the strong female lead character.  Perhaps, it the was idea of taking what happens to you and creating it into your future. Perhaps, it was the strength of the relationships. Perhaps, it was who I was as a reader at the time. No matter what the reason, that book left a lasting impression on me. The story still remains vivid in my mind.

Although that book and subsequent series was very much Emma's story, Emma's story would not be complete without Blackie - Shane Patrick Desmond O'Neill - her best friend, her life long friend.

This book - book eight in the series - is somewhat a prequel to the original. This is the first book to tell Blackie's story, beginning when he is only thirteen years old. The other books all hint at and share glimpses into the challenges Blackie faced in his life. This is the fist that proposes to go behind the jovial, intense, friend and brings to life in great detail what makes Blackie Blackie.

A Woman of Substance was Barbara Taylor Bradford's debut novel. This one is her thirty first novel. Perhaps, all other Barbara Taylor Bradford's books suffer for the impact the original left on me. This one does. 

First of all, a prequel in and of itself is a challenge because you know how it turns out. The sections of the book that are also Emma's story seems to correlate very closely to the original. Blackie's viewpoint could have been and should have been different.

Second, this book never builds to the same emotional intensity that the original did. Although about Blackie, this book seems to have many characters and story threads that don't pull together into his story. In fact, at times, they seem only tangentially related to the main character.

I do wonder if my reaction would have been different had I not read several of the books of the Harte series. A story about a young, orphaned boy who survives and thrives against the odds holds appeal. In fact, it sounds very much like a Woman of Substance ... perhaps A Man of Substance. Unfortunately, the book is part of the series and cannot be held apart and separate, at least not by me. I think I will let this one go and revert back to the Blackie and Emma of the original.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.