Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

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Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing.
But it’s the 1960s, and despite the fact that she is a scientist, her male peers are very unscientific when it comes to equality. The only good thing to happen on her road to professional fulfilment is a run-in with famous colleague Calvin Evans, legend and Nobel nominee. He’s also awkward, kind and tenacious. Theirs is true chemistry.
But life is never predictable and three years later Elizabeth Zott is an unwed, single mother and star of America’s best loved cooking show Supper at Six. Her singular approach to cooking – ‘take one pint of H2O and add a pinch of sodium chloride’ – and empowering message prove revolutionary. Because Elizabeth isn’t just teaching housewives how to cook, but how to change their lives.
Meet the unconventional, uncompromising Elizabeth Zott.

 Lessons in Chemistry was such a unique book. I don’t tend to pick up historical (although the 1960s hardly seems historical!) fiction, but Elizabeth’s Zott story has appealed to me for a while. I’ve heard such good things about this book, and all of the positive thoughts and feelings I’d heard were well deserved.

Elizabeth Zott was such an interesting character, who was headstrong and brave. Her story was full of honesty about growing up as a woman in science. I loved hearing about her relationship with Calvin, and with her daughter, Mad.

Courage is the root of change—

There were multiple characters introduced throughout this book, and by the end of the story it felt like a lovely found family. I really enjoyed the stories of the side characters too, and I was rooting for them by the end. I rooted for Elizabeth, but I rooted for all of the characters around her as well.

One of my favourite side characters was the dog, Six Thirty. He was the most unique animal companion I’ve seen in a book. The focus on family and friendship was so beautiful and it made me very emotional in places!

and change is what we’re chemically designed to do.

Overall, this book had so many important messages and I really enjoyed the story. I also listened to the audiobook which had an interview with the author at the end and I really liked the narration!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

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Dr. Cliff Miyashiro arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue his recently deceased daughter’s research, only to discover a virus, newly unearthed from melting permafrost. The plague unleashed reshapes life on earth for generations. Yet even while struggling to
Among those adjusting to this new normal are an aspiring comedian, employed by a theme park designed for terminally ill children, who falls in love with a mother trying desperately to keep her son alive; a scientist who, having failed to save his own son from the plague, gets a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects-a pig-develops human speech; a man who, after recovering from his own coma, plans a block party for his neighbours who have also woken up to find that they alone have survived their families; and a widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter who must set off on cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.
From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead, How High We Go in the Dark follows a cast of intricately linked characters spanning hundreds of years as humanity endeavours to restore the delicate balance of the world. This is a story of unshakable hope that crosses literary lines to give us a world rebuilding itself through an endless capacity for love, resilience and reinvention
.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading this book, and I’m still not quite sure how to write a review for it. I read this book while I had Covid, which I honestly wouldn’t advise as this book focuses heavily on a global illness, but it hit me even harder because of it.

This book is a collection of short stories that interconnect throughout the book and provide different perspectives on a worldwide epidemic. Short stories that discuss death, and friendship, and illness, and love – all types of love. Love between a parent and child, love between married partners, love that happened in the wrong place at the wrong time but in one way or another, succeeded, even just fleetingly.

How High We Go in the Dark made me cry, multiple times. It made me cry just 60 pages in, and again, and again, throughout the book. It managed to both capture and break my heart so many times over the course of just under 300 pages.

The writing was super slow and the sadness emanating from the pages of this book sometimes prevented me from picking it up, but it was so beautiful too. This book is in no way fast, it is a sprawling collection of stories that are interwoven in the same fragile way everything in our universe somehow is.

I loved this book in many ways I didn’t quite expect to. It was so dark and so sad, but I felt so connected to some of the perspectives and after some of the stories I was just blown away by the beautiful intricacies of it all.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Under One Roof by Ali Hazelwood

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Mara, Sadie, and Hannah are friends first, scientists always. Though their fields of study might take them to different corners of the world, they can all agree on this universal truth: when it comes to love and science, opposites attract and rivals make you burn….
As an environmental engineer, Mara knows all about the delicate nature of ecosystems. They require balance. And leaving the thermostat alone. And not stealing someone else’s food. And other rules Liam, her detestable big-oil lawyer of a roommate, knows nothing about. Okay, sure, technically she’s the interloper. Liam was already entrenched in his aunt’s house like some glowering grumpy giant when Mara moved in, with his big muscles and kissable mouth just sitting there on the couch tempting respectable scientists to the dark side…but Helena was her mentor and Mara’s not about to move out and give up her inheritance without a fight.
The problem is, living with someone means getting to know them. And the more Mara finds out about Liam, the harder it is to loathe him…and the easier it is to love him.

I never expected to adore The Love Hypothesis as much as I did….but it turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year so far. Almost immediately after reading it, I wanted to dive into anything else by Ali Hazelwood, and I finally got around to picking up one of her novellas. After talking to my friend Charlotte about each of the premises, I decided to go for Under One Roof, which follows Mara as she moves into a house left to her in a will, but she has to share with Liam.

There’s only so much an author can do within 112 pages, but I was gripped from the outset. We jump into this story when the action is picking up, and then go back through the months they’ve spent living together. I really enjoyed reading about Liam softening and Mara and Liam getting to know each other, even though it was pretty predictable in plot.

My main complaint for this book is that the non-linear format did throw me a bit, and I couldn’t quite remember how we got to the first bit of the book by the time we looped back around. But there is only so much that can be jammed into such a short book, and it seemed like quite a small factor overall.

This was such a fun novella and I couldn’t put it down! I’ll definitely be picking the others up and I’m looking forward to the collection being released in paperback in 2023.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Love, Creekwood (#3.5) by Becky Albertalli

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It’s been more than a year since Simon and Blue turned their anonymous online flirtation into an IRL relationship, and just a few months since Abby and Leah’s unforgettable night at senior prom.
Now the Creekwood High crew are first years at different colleges, navigating friendship and romance the way their story began—on email. 

It’s been a long time since I originally joined the Love Simon universe and read Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I’ve since read all of the books in the Simonverse, watched the film adaptation and I’m currently watching the most recent season of Love, Victor with my boyfriend. As soon as I saw this little novella was being released, I knew I wanted to dive back into this world.

This book is a short collection of emails between Simon, Bram and the gang from Creekwood. It includes their personal emails to one another and their group emails. I found this such a fun and heartwarming way to follow the gang after all of the books are set – especially as the emails pack a lot in with discussions of how the friends are struggling with and adapting to their next steps.

When we say we want to freeze time, what we mean is that we want to control our memories. We want to choose which moments we’ll keep forever. We want to guarantee the best ones won’t slip away from us somehow. 

I really love these characters and I’d definitely recommending reading all of the books in the Simonverse before this one. Most of the emails in this collection are like love letters, and honestly made me want to write a love letter to my boyfriend, they were so sweet. I also loved seeing the emails between Leah and Abby from Leah on the Offbeat and also seeing them all talk as a friendship group.

I think the biggest disappointment about this novella is just that the emails can be a little repetitive after a while. Simon and Bram talk so much about missing each other that sometimes it feels as though the emails are copy and pasted. I understood how they felt, but I wanted something else, I guess.

 So when something beautiful happens, there’s this impulse to press pause and save the game. We want to make sure we can find our way back to that moment.

Overall, this was a really sweet addition to the Simonverse and I’m glad I picked it up. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s definitely worth reading if you like and miss these characters (also check out Love, Victor!)!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Dangerous Remedy (#1) by Kat Dunn

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Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?
In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.
 

I’ve been looking forward to finally picking up this series for a while now. I saw Booksnest discuss it on her channel and it sounded like something I’d really enjoy, so I decided to pick it up. It sounded kind of similar to Six of Crows with a historical French setting.

We dive straight into the action with this first book, with the gang flying above the Paris skyline in a hot air balloon. The group of Battalion des Mortes spend their lives performing rescue missions and saving people from the Guillotine.

Hindsight always makes us into fools. 

I really enjoyed a lot of elements about this book. The action was great and filled the pages, meaning it was super quick to read. The chapters were also very short so flicked by quickly, and once I picked it up I was finding it very quick and easy to read.

I’m usually not a big fan of historical fiction, but this one is different as it’s a historical fantasy, which I really enjoyed. I also liked the Paris setting and I loved the characters too. There are a few different dynamics in this book, and there’s a relationship I really loved reading about and could picture really clearly.

The only path open to us is to do the best we can with the knowledge we have.

The only thing I have to say is that I never completely felt absorbed in the story, and I never truly related to the characters in the way I wanted to. Although I liked all of the elements a lot, I couldn’t help but feel as though the story kind of passed over my head most of the time. I did still enjoy this one though, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes in the next book.

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

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In the summer of 1995, ten-year-old Joan, her mother, and her younger sister flee her father’s violence, seeking refuge at her mother’s ancestral home in Memphis. Half a century ago, Joan’s grandfather built this majestic house in the historic Black neighborhood of Douglass–only to be lynched days after becoming the first Black detective in Memphis. This wasn’t the first time violence altered the course of Joan’s family’s trajectory, and she knows it won’t be the last. Longing to become an artist, Joan pours her rage and grief into sketching portraits of the women of North Memphis–including their enigmatic neighbor Miss Dawn, who seems to know something about curses.
Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of voices, Memphis weaves back and forth in time to show how the past and future are forever intertwined. It is only when Joan comes to see herself as a continuation of a long matrilineal tradition–and the women in her family as her guides to healing–that she understands that her life does not have to be defined by vengeance. That the sole weapon she needs is her paintbrush.

This book isn’t one I’d generally pick up, but I honestly really enjoyed it. I ended up listening to the audiobook which I really enjoyed, and the narration captured my attention pretty much instantly too. I like how this book had a non-linear timeline changing between the women of multiple generations, and even though I didn’t exactly know which generation I was following at all times, I still enjoyed it.

This book honestly enthralled me from the start and I found the narration and writing really easy to follow. We begin in 1995 and travel back through time, flicking between each narrative. Although this could be a little confusing, I almost felt like the intertwining of the characters and reflection of their stories on one another could have been purposeful.

walls shook with the laughter. Laughter that was, in and of itself, Black. Laughter that could break glass.

The writing in this book was beautiful, and the way the experiences of these women was portrayed almost brought me to tears in places. This book explores many difficult topics including rape (off the page), lynching (off the page), domestic abuse and racism. In my opinion, these topics were handled well and reflected throughout the story.

The relationships between the family members/women were beautiful to read about and are very central to the story. This book feels as though it aims to encapsulate a Southern Black female experience, and I liked how it focused on this one central city.

Laughter that could uplift a family. A cacophony of Black female joy in a language private to them. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, although it was very bleak and difficult to read in places. I also appreciated the fact the acknowledgements were included in the audiobook, because listening to them honestly brought tears to my eyes and added another layer to the story for me.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A World Without Princes (#2) by Soman Chainani

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After saving themselves and their fellow students from a life pitched against one another, Sophie and Agatha are back home again, living happily ever after. But life isn’t exactly a fairytale. When Agatha secretly wishes she’d chosen a different happy ending with Prince Tedros, the gates to the School for Good and Evil open once again. But Good and Evil are no longer enemies and Princes and Princesses may not be what they seem, as new bonds form and old ones shatter.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished this book, and I am unsure how to feel. I’ll be honest, these books have blurred into one a bit and I can’t quite differentiate them from one another. After a pretty strong first book following Agatha and Sophie, discussing female friendships, this one did let me down a bit. And I definitely wasn’t the only one.

We go into this book with a new challenge – the school has been split down the middle with girls on one side and boys on the other. Instead of the school for Good and Evil, it is pretty much the school for Girls and Boys. I’m sure we can see the problems emerging here.

It’s the problem with fairy tales. From far away, they seem so perfect.

I did still enjoy this book while I was reading it, but I had to overlook a lot of the gender issues to appreciate it. But this series does continue to be a solid middle grade fantasy in a lot of ways, and I did enjoy the magic elements and school setting. The audiobook was also brilliant in the narration.

I’ve seen a few reviews claiming that this book kind of feels like the author wanted to go in certain directions (with gender, sexuality etc), but didn’t feel like they could carry it out in a middle grade book. Which I agree with – especially as I was surprised by the mentions of kissing throughout the first two books when these characters do seem to be quite young.

But up close, they’re just as complicated as real life.

I have such mixed feelings about this book, as you can probably tell. I’m intrigued to see where the next one goes, but I can see why people have so many problems with this one after the first book.

★★★
3 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Sad Ghost Club Vol. 2 by Lize Meddings

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Ever felt anxious or alone? Like you don’t belong anywhere? Like you’re almost… invisible? Find your kindred spirits at The Sad Ghost Club. (You are not alone. Shhh. Pass it on.)
When two strangers meet at a party and realise they both feel different from everyone else there, they start the The Sad Ghost Club – a secret society for the anxious and alone, a club for people who think they don’t belong.
But when a third ghost wants to join the club, things get a bit more complicated. Can the two ghosts overcome their insecurities and uncertainties in their new friendship, and find a way to welcome new members to the club?

I honestly wasn’t planning on picking this one up, but it just felt like what I needed, and I wasn’t wrong. I’ve been in a bit of a YALC (and post-YALC) reading slump, and I found myself drifting to this graphic novel for that reason. I read the first volume of this graphic novel last year which I loved, and I also follow the Twitter account which delivers assurances and relatability on a daily basis.

Following on from the first book, SG and Socks are trying to make new friends and find people similar to them. It’s the morning after they met in the first volume, and SG (Sam) is ready to make new friends, whereas Socks is struggling with the idea. I loved the mixture of dialogue (which was shown in speech bubbles) and inner thoughts (shown below), and I related to Socks so much.

These books are also gorgeous, and the illustrations are so beautiful. Some of the pages and double page spreads are simple scenes of nature or landscapes, which I really enjoy. The only part of this book I felt a little disappointed by is that it feels like not much happens (which is fine, they are slow and chill), but at some points I felt like I would gain more heartfelt and relatable moments by scrolling through mini-comics on the Twitter account.

But even saying that, these books are such a comfort for anybody who suffers with depression or anxiety. They are so relatable and cozy, and exactly what I needed.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (#1) by Brigid Kemmerer

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PRINCE RHEN, the heir to Emberfall, is cursed. Forced to repeat the autumn of his eightenth year over and over, he can only be freed if a girl truly falls for him, and fter so many failures his kingdom and its people are barely holding on.
HARPER’s life has never been easy, but she’s learned to be tough enough to survive the streets of Washington, D.C. When she is sucked into Rhen’s world, nothing is as it seems. Piwerful forces are standing against Emberfall … and it will take more than a broken curse to save it from utter ruin.

I read this book a while ago, and I finally got around to re-reading it before continuing with the series. I’m glad I re-read this one, because I didn’t remember everything about the book, and purely because I enjoyed my time re-reading it.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a Beauty and the Beast retelling that does stick to the original fairytale with some unique twists. One of our main characters, Harper, actually comes from Washington DC in the real world, and is dragged into a fantasy world that exists alongside our own. Because of this, and because Brigid Kemmerer also writes contemporary, I do find her fantasy books read very easily and quickly.

We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win – but we must all play the cards the fate deals.

I found A Curse So Dark and Lonely like being wrapped in a warm blanket. I just found it really comforting – partly because it does play into some tropes and YA fantasy cliches, but I honestly didn’t mind it this time. It did mean this book didn’t turn out to be quite a 5 star because it wasn’t surprising or unpredictable enough for me, but I did really enjoy it.

I once again liked our main character of Harper and found it really interesting to read about her disability throughout this book. I also loved Grey, who is so sweet and protective. I didn’t love Rhen, but I did feel a lot of sympathy for him by the end of the book, which is something Brigid Kemmerer does well.

The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless.

I’m so glad I picked this one back up and I’m really looking forward to carrying on with the story. Although it can be a little cliche, it was so much fun to read and I really enjoyed it.

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The School for Good and Evil (#1) by Soman Chainani

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With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.
The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.
But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

I’ve wanted to read this book for such a long time, since my good friend Pete told me how much he loved it after reading it in 2017. 5 years later, and I’m looking forward to meeting Soman Chainani at YALC in a few weeks time, and finally decided to pick up the start of this series. I actually read this first book on audio, and I really enjoyed the narration of it and actually found it easier to read than the physical copy.

I loved how this book existed in a world where fairytales are real and the two main characters find themselves in what was, essentially, a fairytale of their own. It made for quite a unique dynamic to the story but it still felt reminiscent of middle grade fantasy.

 “You’re not evil, Sophie,” Agatha whispered, touching her decayed cheek. “You’re human.”

The only big problem I had with this book was the fact it was told in third person, and I was quite glad to be listening to the audiobook because of that. The book often changes perspective, and I found it difficult to follow at times.

The best part of this book for me was definitely the female friendship between Sophie and Agatha, and I loved how they stuck together through everything. I was a little surprised by the amount of romance, but it was reminiscent of fairytales rather than YA/adult books.

Sophie smiled weakly. “Only if I have you.”

I don’t feel like I quite loved this book as much as many people seem to, but I did still enjoy a lot of aspects of it and will definitely be recommending it to children who are looking for a new fantasy read, and have already started listening to the second book in the series!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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