Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus Review

Fictionally famous Elizabeth Zott is the host of Supper at Six, a tv cookery show with a twist. See, Elizabeth isn’t a trained chef, she’s a scientist and approaches cooking from a scientific mindset. We learn why she’s gone from working in a lab to being one of the most recognisable women in America and the obstacles in the way for her and other women in the early 1960s

If you’ve been on Bookstagram at all since the beginning of 2022, you are bound to have seen Lessons in Chemistry from *at least* one bookstagrammer 😅 there was a lot of hype for this book and it’s easy to see why. The story flows nicely, the focus on feminism is cut through with humour. Every now and again we see glimpses of the story through the eyes of Six-Thirty, Elizabeth’s amazing dog

I had a lot of fun reading this! Did I think it was flawless? No, I think there was just a bit too much hype for this and it didn’t live up to it being an absolute fave but it was a solid read. If you like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine then you may enjoy this book too. It has a similar sense of dry humour. Or if you like books about fictionally famous people like The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, this is fun to immerse yourself into the world of someone ‘famous’

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Ruth & Pen by Emilie Pine Review

Ruth is a 40 something year old on the brink of her marriage collapsing. Pen is 16, on the verge of leaping into the dating world, she wants to ask her friend Alice to go on a date. Set during the duration of one day in Dublin in October, the paths of these strangers cross as they struggle with the decisions facing them throughout the day

I loved Emilie Pine’s memoir Notes to Self, a collection of personal essays. So I was really looking forward to this debut novel and it did not disappoint. She captures the characters perfectly. For Pen, the awkwardness of being a teenager, navigating your first big crush, pushing boundaries, being grown up. As well as her life before and after being diagnosed with autism. For Ruth, the sheer exhaustion of being in a relationship that looks destined to fall apart, after repeated failed attempts to IVF. Most of the POVs are from Ruth or Pen, but we also get them from other characters such as Ruth’s husband Aidan and Alice, Pen’s crush, which I really enjoyed. It rounded out the story, so it wasn’t all one sided

Notes to Self tackles infertility & pregnancy loss and this is reflected in Ruth’s story. Pine’s own experience adds authenticity, Ruth’s experiences are so raw, her husband’s desperation so painful, it really punches you in the gut. I loved Pen’s relationship with her mother, how her mother really tries to understand Pen, support her while clearly not wanting her to get hurt

One of my favourite reads of the year so far, I can’t wait to see what Emilie Pine does next!

CW: pregnancy loss, IVF

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan Review

The baby girl, born 2 weeks early, hasn't even been named when her father tragically dies 3 days after her birth. The novel is about the lives and relationships of the Aylward women left behind from this death: his mother Mary, his widow Eileen and his daughter Saoirse. These 3 generations of women live a slightly unconventional life filled with laughter, arguments, disappointments, tragedy, joy, loyalties and betrayals

I was hesitant to pick this up, purely because the other Donal Ryan books have left me in a blubbering mess on completion and I wasn't sure I wanted that emotional ruin right now! The end of the first chapter left me open mouthed in shock, but while the rest of the book had me tearing up, it's definitely on the lighter side.

The story isn't plot driven nor is it overly character driven. At least, not from the point of view of seeing the characters deepest hidden thoughts and feelings. Instead, it's driven by the characters and their relationships. It's like looking in the window at this family and being enthralled by what you see. Donal nails the characterisation of these rural folk: turns of phrase, the typical family fall outs, their hopes and disappointments for each other, the types of characters that are friends and neighbours. This, along with Donal's lyrical prose, made me love the story and these women. It feels almost timeless, I wasn't sure when this was set until 15% through the book and even when you do find out, it remains this way bar the mention of certain items or events. 

The chapters are short and it spans about 40 odd years, things never go super in depth. Because it's so wide spanning, it could feel like it's rambling but everything pulls together near the end. This style won't be for everyone but I enjoyed these vignettes. It was enough for me to fall in love with the Aylward women and those lucky enough to orbit their odd coven

Monday, August 29, 2022

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto, aka The Battle-Axe, was the best female tennis player of all time when she retired in the late 80s. But 6 years later, during the 1994 US Open, she watches Nicki Chan equal her 20 Grand Slam titles record. Carrie refuses to give up her legacy without a fight and decides to come out of retirement at 37 to reclaim her record. There's many hurdles to overcome: old injuries, being coached again by her father Javier (who she ditched at the height of career) and training with Bowe Huntley, who previously ghosted her romantically. Can Carrie beat the odds and succeed?

This is book 4 from Taylor Jenkins Reid set in the same universe of fictionally famous people. Book one was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, then Daisy Jones and The Six and finally last year's Malibu Rising. It's in this book we're briefly introduced to Carrie Soto. Carrie is a formidable character, cold and ruthless as an athlete  and the reason why she earned her title 'The Battle-Axe'. Her only friends are her father and her agent Gwen. But even though she's not very likeable, I did feel for Carrie and root for her. She shows moments of vulnerability and a portion of this book deals with that it's like to be a female athlete. The boxes you get put into, the sexism and condescension you deal with. Carrie has put a wall around herself to protect these vulnerabilities, which in turn makes her look like an icy bitch. It's the price she pays for her success. 

There's a lot of tennis in this book. Don't worry if you know nothing, it is explained at the beginning through Carrie's coaching as a child. As someone who likes tennis, I enjoyed this part of the book as I can sense the atmosphere and excitement of the court. But the book is mainly about Carrie's relationships: with her father, with Bowe Huntley, with her rivals. One thing TJR does so well in these books is making you believe these people are famous and wanting to look them up and Carrie Soto is Back was no exception!

Taylor Jenkins Reid has served another smashing read, perfect to round out the summer. If you've loved other TJR books then you'll enjoy this one too

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce Book Review

Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce is a follow up novel to Dear Mrs Bird and picks up back in World War II London with Emmy Lake, who works for Woman's Friend magazine. The Ministry of Information has tasked the women's magazines of Britain to promote women workers for the war effort, something Emmy is thrilled to take part of and promote. However when Emmy and her friend Bunty are on a train one day, they start chatting to a young single mother and they discover that the reality of women working is a lot harder than Emmy expected. This leaves her torn as she feels it is her duty to encourage women to work but she feels guilty that she can't be one hundred percent honest about the realities. Can Emmy find the balance between being patriotic and also being a supportive friend?

I enjoyed this book just like I did the first book. They are a tonic, full of pep and jolliness, even when there are some harder storylines being tackled. This was an easy going read, though at times it did feel a bit slow and dragged more than the first book. We don't see any of Emmy's work at the fire station in this book, it mainly concentrates on her role in Woman's Friend, as well as her friendships and her relationship with her boyfriend Charles. I liked the setting and seeing a more female focused view of World War II and the realities that these women faced at home and in the workplace. A charming, if not almost overly sweet at times, story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Welcome to Your Life by Bethany Rutter Book Review

Cover of Welcome to Your Life by Bethany Rutter, which features a cartoon brunette woman sitting on a wall with her back to viewer, her arms in the air. The title is in orange above her and below her the author's name is in white with a blue background. There are confetti pieces falling from the sky
Serena Mills is on the way to her wedding when she suddenly realises she can't go through with it and asks the taxi driver to drop her at the Harvester. It's there, eating a large ice cream sundae and drinking a glass of wine, that she meets her fiance and tells him it's over. Serena has not been single since meeting her ex in university, so as she moves to London to live with her friend Lola, she must navigate this big city and the dating scene. She sets herself a challenge, one date a week for a year. Can she find love or has she just made the biggest mistake of her life?

As much as the romance does play a big part of this book, it is also a coming of age story, Serena is almost 30 yet hasn't found her groove in life. Part of this is to do with her weight, which is a big part of the story, fatphobia and how it can impact your life. As someone who is plus sized, it is refreshing to have a character who I can relate to but I did feel at times it was relied on a bit too much. It could also be triggering for some people but I do think the fact it is written from an own voices experience does help add authenticity to that element of the story and we do see Serena work through some of her own internal biases and make progress. We also see Serena grow in her friendships as well, especially with her workmate Nicole (even if she does say 'my dude' too many times!)

Romance wise, there is an overall romance plot which was a bit frustrating at times but I feel like the story had to play out that way to allow Serena herself to grow and find confidence and independence. The romance wasn't why I wanted to read the book, it was more to see Serena grow and change. 

There are a few elements which could be removed and I think the story wouldn't suffer. Overall it was a fun read. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the narrator, I felt like she got the tone spot on for the story. I would be interested in a sequel to this, as I enjoyed the characters in the book, maybe focusing on one of the friends as the main character instead could be fun

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi Book Review

Gifty is a talented and smart scientist, who studies addiction in mice in California to help fuel her understanding of the opoid addiction that has hit America (and her family) hard. One day she gets a call from the church pastor back in Alabama to say her mother is sick again with her mental health, which happened once before after Gifty's brother died from his addiction. Gifty brings her mother to live with her and as she struggles to help her mother get better, we learn through flashbacks what brought Gifty's parents from Ghana to Alabama and how their family of 4 turned into a family of 2.

The book touches upon many different topics, such as immigrants in America, race, addiction and religion. The observations were really well done but sometimes it wasn't really explored deeply. I thought most of the characters were well done, I could imagine them all and could clearly see Gifty's childhood. And I did feel for her family and their circumstances. However I felt like in the present, we don't get to see a lot of Gifty herself, despite being the narrator. She felt closed off, quite possibly by design given the story and her upbringing. But it felt hard to warm to her or even know her. The book felt quite clinical at times, which again, given the way Gifty is and also her work, does make sense. The plot jumps around a bit, the present timeline is only a week or two, whereas the past goes from before Gifty's birth to when she first goes away to college. And the flashbacks are not chronological, which I wasn't a fan of. The books talks heavily about religion and science, especially the intersection of these and I did not relate to either topic. Overall I don't think this was the book for me, I didn't look forward to picking it up and reading, which is usually a bad sign for me. A lot of care went into this novel though and it is well crafted. So I can see why people have really liked this book. I think it might resonate more with someone who has ties to spirituality and faith

Friday, May 27, 2022

Book Lovers by Emily Henry Book Review

Book Lovers by Emily Henry UK Book cover
Nora is a literary agent, who prides herself on being top of her game and getting the best for her clients, including her favourite Dusty. Previously she met editor Charlie and the two of them did not get on, with Charlie slating one of Dusty's books. It didn't help that Nora had just been dumped and arrived late at the meeting. Now a few years later, Nora's sister Libby has persuaded her to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for month as it is one of her favourite literary settings. Nora's not sure she can last a month outside her beloved New York City but she would do anything for Libby. She then keeps bumping into Charlie. Can she survive the month in this small town with her enemy or will she be running back to the city the first chance she gets?

I really enjoyed this book! I love that from the get go, Nora talks about romance tropes and how they always play out, it was smart and meta and worked for the profession she's in. Nora talks about how in a typical romance, she's the hard working, cold blooded lover that ends up alone by the end of the book or film, as the male lead goes to a small town to shut down the local failing Christmas tree farm/bakery/pumpkin patch but falls in love with the daughter who's the complete opposite to Nora: friendly, warm and kind. Libby has a list of these small town cliches for herself and Nora to complete while in Sunshine Falls (Wear flannel! Ride a horse! Skinny dip! Go on dates with locals!) which adds to the fun of the book.

Romance wise, it's an enemies to lovers story, complete with some small town cliches. I enjoyed the chemistry between Nora and Charlie and seeing their relationship unfold. I found this book much more satisfying than Emily Henry's previous book People We Meet on Vacation. That I found slow moving whereas the pace in this one moves along nicely, completely with some obstacles thrown in to thwart the path of true love!

Tropes wise, this hits on many of them, good and bad. There is some miscommunication, which is my least favourite trope but it wasn't the worst I've encountered and happens more between Nora and Libby. These sisters are close but have drifted apart recently, which is part of the reason why Nora agrees to the trip. The book touches on issues such as grief, self-sacrifice and the impact this can have on your life and relationships with others

I loved reading this, it was so comforting and I couldn't wait to go back and finish it, despite not wanting it to finish either. A perfect read holiday romance for summer 2022!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren Book Review

Jess is a single mother, who does her job as a statistician at local coffee shop Twiggs, alongside her author friend Fizzy. Every day at the same time, a handsome but rude man comes into the coffee shop, who the friends have nicknamed Americano due to his order. When they hear that he is setting up a dating site based on compatibility of DNA, the pair stop him one day to quiz him about it, which results in him inviting them along to his workplace. Fizzy, being a romance author, is excited about this but Jess is more skeptical. After having a particularly bad day and feeling lonely, Jess decides to do the at home testing kit and send it off. She's shocked when she gets a result (after setting her compatibility really high) and is called into the company to discuss this result. Turns out she's matched with one  of the founders of the company, Mr Americano (real name River) himself! The company is thrilled, wanting the pair to get to know each other, but Jess is unsure. How is this man, who she finds rude and stand offish, her genetic soulmate? Regardless, she and River decide to give it a shot and tentatively get to know each other. 

The book is a fascinating concept, the idea what your genes are part of the reason why you get on so well with people. This books has elements of enemies to lovers as well as fake dating trope. I loved all of Jess's friends and family: her 7 year old daughter Juno, her friend Fizzy, her grandparents who helped raise her due to her absent mother. I didn't know Jess was a single mother when I started the book, so I was a bit apprehensive about whether I would enjoy that part of the storyline but I did like it, it added another dimension to the story.As with most romance stories, towards the end there is an element that threatens the stability of the relationship and I was so pleased that it wasn't too forced or drawn out.  find too often that romance books depend on miscommunication as part of the tension and it can be really frustrating. Whereas in this book it wasn't too laboured.  I thought the book was charming and cute, I liked Jess and River together and once I got into the book I flew through it in less than 24 hours!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel Book Review

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel UK Book Cover
My mind is blown after reading this!

Sea of Tranquility spans centuries, starting in Canada in 1912 with British exile Edwin, 2020 with Mirella wanting to connect with her old friend Vincent, 2203 where author Olive is doing a book tour on Earth on the brink of a deadly pandemic and 2401 on the moon colonies. These timelines have certain strange things in common: violins, a forest, an airship station. As the book develops, we discover how these events are possibly linked, unravelling and reconnecting the strands

If this is the first Emily St. John Mandel book you are considering picking up, I would hold off! Read Station Eleven first and then The Glass Hotel. You could in theory read Sea of Tranquility on it's own, but I really think the links between the first two books and Sea of Tranquility really add to the reading experience of Sea of Tranquility. Mandel often has characters and events crop up in her other books, sometimes as massive parts of the book, sometimes in reference. And part of the reason I enjoyed this one so much was because of that. But it's not the only reason!

The prose is exquisite, the way ESJM writes is stunning. In the opening chapters, Edwin has travelled from England to Canada and winds up in Victoria, where there is a big ex-pat community 'The trouble with Victoria, in Edwin's eyes, is that it's too much like England without actually being England. It's a far-distant simulation of England, a watercolour superimposed unconvincingly on the landscape'.

Olive's chapters were particularly resonating, with ESJM stating that it was auto-fiction: a dystopian sci-fi author, who wrote a best selling book about a pandemic finds themselves on the brink of a pandemic in real life. Reading those chapters struck a fear in me, a return to March 2020 which at times seems so much longer than 2 years ago. I have no doubt that some of those paragraphs will haunt me the way certain parts of Station Eleven (which I read in 2015) still haunts me to this day.

It's not just the prose I loved, but also the plot. The book is definitely sci-fi (if the colonies on the Moon didn't give that away!), but it's pretty accessible if you shy away from hard sci-fi. Some parts will melt your brain a bit, even writing this review I'm thinking of points and being blown away by it all again! By the end of the book, I was literally gasping out loud as things tied together. A thought provoking, beautifully written novel, I cannot wait to see what Emily St. John Mandel will do next!

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