Two things stood out for me in the past month - firstly, just because I think a book is great, someone else might disagree entirely (and that is alright - we are all different) and, secondly, just because I do not like a book, it does not necessarily mean that the book is not a masterpiece in topic and writing style.
I am calling my next half dozen “hot off the 2022 presses", brand new releases from early this year. This is a diverse group of books, and that is just how I like it.
In the order they were read:
Lessons in Chemistry – Recently, an acquaintance sent me an obituary of another acquaintance who died at age 77. The obituary was all about how brilliant she was (she acquired a PhD in Engineering Mechanics) and how hard she fought in the 1960’s to be accepted, simply because she was a woman. So, when I went to find my next half dozen books, Lessons in Chemistry jumped off the shelf. This is a fictional book about a female chemist in the 1960’s who challenges all female stereotypes of the times, from intelligence to how to look and how to ‘behave’. After losing her career job, she becomes the star of a cooking show which she twists to use chemistry to teach about cooking but, more importantly, to empower women to realize they don’t have to put up with the status quo. Yes, this book is full of satire and exaggeration, but if you are a woman ‘of age’ who was on the leading edge of women in the work world and especially in your chosen field, you will nod understandingly. Throw in some romance, humour, a brilliant daughter, and a thinking dog, and this is a very good, light-hearted read. Rating 4 out of 5
The School for Good Mothers – It is sometimes good to read books that leave us uncomfortable rather than just read things that we like – otherwise, how do we continue to develop critical thinking? So I read The School for Good Mothers to the end. The premise of the book was great - a 39 year old woman loses custody of her child after a “bad day” and has to prove herself to the authorities. I agree that this is a real occurrence, that women are pressured to be ‘perfect’ mothers, that mothers have to balance an excessive workload, that different standards exist for men and women and for different races and for different social standings, and that some workers in government agencies do have lots of authority. That has the makings of a great novel. But the book veers far too far into excessive government surveillance and control and into sci-fi techniques. It was simply eery and unrealistic. My rose-coloured glasses do not believe such a negative society (dystopia) exists. If I were to rate this book based on ingenuity, interest, emotion, and readability, I would probably give it 3.5 out of 5. But basing it on how much I liked it, 1 out of 5. Your choice. There’s apparently a TV series in the making. I won’t be watching.
The Diamond Eye - Author Kate Quinn writes another winning historical fiction! As she did with The Rose Code, she weaves real and fictional characters to pen a thrilling World War II novel. The main character (and a real person) is Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a lady sniper for the Red Army in 1942 who amassed 309 confirmed ‘kills’ to her credit, resulting in her nickname Lady Death. Ironically, given current events, Lyudmila was from Kiev (Kyiv) when Ukraine was part of Russia. The novel delves into her relationships (platonic and otherwise) with her troop, her bravery and intelligence, her tragedy and heart ache. Much of the latter part of the story takes place in the USA during a propaganda visit with President and Eleanor Roosevelt. In real life, yes, she befriended Eleanor Roosevelt. This is a can’t-stop-reading book that is not only intriguing but also a good history lesson about the Russian role in WW II. For instance, did you know that Russia allowed women to fight on the front lines? Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the end to discern fact versus fiction in this novel. Rating: 5/5
The Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale – This is a memoir by a 30-something year old Canadian woman (now living in Britain) who, due to being in financial straits and needing cash, is trying to put a cost figure on ‘love’. She ends up producing a theatre play and the current book. In my view, the book lagged in the mathematical moments (maybe that is because I am not interested in mathematical equations) and is quite sexually explicit. I almost quit, but due to my resolve to read each book to the end, continued. I did like how she worked each of her past relationships, in order, into the book and ascertained what she got, or did not get, out of each relationship. It turned out to have some pretty good insights into relationships and finances and life - this book would be a better read for a single, 30-something, financially strapped person than for my age group. But it is creative and unique. I do worry, though, does that age group really put that much angst and over-thinking into everything? That is just a recipe for anxiety (which the author admits to). My ‘advice’ – delay gratification and heed the writing on the wall as soon as it shows up! Rating 3/5.
Young Mungo – Well, well, well. I have to start this review with “WARNING – this book contains violence and explicit sexual acts”, so if you are faint of heart, you might want to pass it up. The main theme is two teenage boys exploring their gay sexuality and relationship amidst the ‘wrong side’ of Glasgow, Scotland. It really portrays the grittiness of poverty, alcoholism, class society, homophobia, gang culture, victimization, abandonment, loneliness, and religious differences. It shows the struggle of a soft-hearted youth trying to survive and break dysfunctional cycles. It is like a social textbook, in story form, of all of these issues. This book is written in an engaging style with lots of Scottish slang thrown in. So, you just know I loved all of the themes of this book, but it was way, way too repeatedly violent and sexually explicit for me. As well, there are a couple of ‘thriller’ moments thrown in, and you know how I hate thriller novels! As I have said may times about other books, this could have been a great novel if it was toned down and dialled back. I’m not sure how to rate it. It is getting some rave reviews and will probably be seen as a great novel about social standing. The story line/themes are interesting and educational/insightful, and it is deep and well written, but it was just too harsh for me. Rating 4/5 if you can stand the heat.
True Biz - I really liked this book. The story takes place in the deaf culture and has several themes, the main being the deaf individual’s right to be ‘deaf’ and using sign language rather than being forced to hear through having cochlear implants imposed on him/her, simply for assimilation purposes. Other underlying themes include prejudice towards anyone ‘different’, pressure within the deaf community itself, preferential treatment between cultures and social status, victimization, and the right to make personal choices. The phrase “True Biz” is used in the deaf culture as in “really” or “truth”. The story revolves around three teenagers coming of age in a boarding school for the deaf and learning about themselves and about romance and about their values and about how to stand up for themselves. More importantly, they just want to be seen as equal. This is a fast, interesting read and includes insight into society’s treatment of the deaf and the development of American Sign Language. It took me into a world of which I knew nothing. Rating 4.5/5
So those are my last half dozen, hot off the 2022 presses. My rankings: #1) was The Diamond Eye; the next three are pretty close together but for different reasons: #2) True Biz #3) Lessons in Chemistry #4) Young Mungo and then #5) The Ex-boyfriend’s Yard Sale and #6) The School for Good Mothers. That's how I see it. Feel free to send me your views!
On to my next half dozen.
(Photo from singing-bell.com)