Sunday, December 3, 2023

Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (2022) (396 pages)

Elizabeth Zott is not your average graduate student in chemistry for the 1950s. For one thing, she's female. She's been undermined, underpaid, and sexually assaulted, but she is very, very smart. She meets her match when she goes to Calvin Evans' lab to obtain some beakers, because her own lab is severely under-resourced. Fast forward six years, and she's making a living on a television cooking show, insisting on doing it her way, not dressed in sexy clothing like the network wants. And she teaches the in-studio and television viewers the chemistry of cooking, with the viewers—mostly women—whipping out notebooks.

I don't want to add any spoilers for those who aren't aware of the storyline and/or are in the midst of watching the Apple TV series. But I need to say that this book is one of the most circulated books since it was published in April 2022. It's only now starting to find its way onto the library's shelves, rather than to constantly fill holds. I finally got my hands on it and it was so worth the wait!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Postcards from the Edge

Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher (1987) 226 pages

Carrie Fisher herself narrates the semi-autobiographical novel on audiobook, and I borrowed it through Hoopla. It starts with the character Suzanne Vale in drug rehab, then continues with her trials and tribulations dating and working as an actress in Hollywood in the '80s. There are few jokes, but there are outrageous situations. Suzanne has a funny, neurotic way of looking at the world. She draws some weird and humorous similes. Next I'm curious to see the movie starring Meryl Streep based on this.

The Wager

 The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann, 352 pages.

In 1740 The Wager left England with a fleet of other British warships to hunt Spanish treasure vessels in the South Seas. Two years later a tattered boat packed with 30 dying men washed up on the coast of Brazil. The tales the shipwrecked sailors told of their troubles entranced people for miles around, and the men were hailed as heroes. But then, six months later, another ramshackle boat carrying only a few men washed up off the coast of Chile with a grave accusation, the first group of men were mutineers and should be hung for their crimes. 

Grann covers the whole story, from the building of the ship to the court martial that would decide every survivor's fate, with both astounding historical detail and driving narrative force. I felt on the edge of my seat for most of the story, which is astounding for a nonfiction account of an event that happened nearly 300 years ago. Even more astounding is that he managed to pull turning real events into a thrilling story with very little speculation, relying heavily on the many first-hand accounts the survivors wrote after they got back in an attempt to shift the narrative in their favor. I was really impressed by this book, and am definitely planning on picking up more by the author.

Sister Outsider

 Sister Outsider:Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, 192 pages.

This collection contains essays and speeches by poet Audre Lorde. Most of the collection is about intersectional feminism, especially relating to Lorde's identity as a black woman and a woman attracted to women. As with any social commentary 30-40 years out of date, some parts hold up better than others. Parts of what Lorde says are still dishearteningly relevant, and parts (like a travelogue/defense of the Soviet Union) are really more relevant to the 80s, when the collection was published. I found some of her arguments a little simplistic and gender essentialist, but others were very compelling and complex. Regardless, it is really interesting to read this snapshot of social issues.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Change of Plans

Change of Plans by Dylan Newton (2023) 352 pages

Bryce was chosen by her brother and his wife to be the guardian of their children if the unthinkable happened. And then the unthinkable did happen. Bryce, who was a chef in Florida, immediately uprooted and came to the small town in New York where the children and their mother's parents live. She's finding that parenting three girls, aged 5, 8, and 11 is not easy, but she's determined to raise the girls, even though it means opposing the children's grandparents, who have more financial resources and who also want custody.

Meanwhile, Ryker is finding it hard to adjust to life outside the military, along with his prosthetic leg, even though it's been some years. His PTSD flares at times and his leg is causing him pain. He's running an auto shop while trying to avoid his extended family, not wanting them to worry about him.

When Bryce and Ryker meet, the attraction is immediate. Ryker likes the fact that Bryce asks about his missing leg, rather than ignores it. Bryce likes the fact that Ryker came to her rescue when one of her nieces got caught under a grocery store shelf in a bizarre mishap. But as is often the case, this romance is a "Will they get together or not?" kind of plot, where we wish that Ryker could just communicate better, but we understand that his wartime experience has put him in a tough place.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops
by Jen Campbell  208 pp.

This book is exactly what the title says, a compendium of odd things said to booksellers in their stores. Jen Campbell started a blog of just those comments and was approached to turn it into a book. She also solicited things said to other booksellers in England and other countries, including the U.S. Not surprisingly many of the comments are the same as some we hear in the library. Some are amusing, perplexing, concerning, and/or just plain weird. A nice light read that can be finished quickly.

* * * * *

"Customer: Do you have a book that lists aphrodisiacs? I have a date on Friday."

* * * * *

"Customer: Do you sell used E-books?

Bookseller: (laughing) No.

Customer: (angrily) Why not?"

The Night Library of Sterendach

The Night Library of Sterendach by Jessica Levai, 134 pages

The Hellers have fought the local vampires for generations, although a precarious truce has kept both the vampires and the Hellers from offing each other for the past 50 years. When Kunigunde was 7, her grandmother (the main Heller vampire hunter these days) took her to meet the vampire lord (I guess to further seal the truce and let young Kunigunde meet her foe? The reasoning isn't entirely clear.) Anyway, Kunigunde immediately falls in love with the vampire's library (like anyone would), and when she meets him again later, falls for the vampire himself. Much drama ensues.

The subtitle of this book is "a vampire opera in verse," so it's a 134-page epic poem that definitely has all the melodrama that an opera requires. It's a classic vampire story though, so if you're in the market for that, it's quick and worth a read. 

First Person Singular

First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami, 245 pages

In this collection of short stories, Murakami offers up eight tales ranging from what could be an essay about the author's love of baseball to the story of a lonely monkey that works in a remote hotel. They all have a bit of a twist that make the reader wonder exactly how much truth is hidden within the story, and if so, what that truth might be. It's an excellent collection, full of Murakami's trademark writing style. Highly recommended.

The Fellowship of the Ring


The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954) 404 Pages

One of the greatest to ever do it, in my opinion.

Frodo, a Hobbit, is given a most important task: take a magical ring essentially to the ends of world, and throw it in a volcano. He is accompanied by 8 friends, some of whom are hobbits, elf, man, wizard, and dwarf. 19 rings of power were forged. 3 for elves, 7 for the dwarves, 9 for men. The One ring was forged by Sauron at Mount Doom. "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" is the ominous inscription on the One ring. This magical ring is more than just pure power. It poisons the minds of those who find it. It also searches out for it's one true master, Sauron. Sauron was once defeated but is rising in power again. His minions, Orcs and other dark beings of middle earth are all prowling looking for the ring. Rumors fly that it is held by a hobbit from the Shire, they know his name. Frodo must quickly leave with his companions in order to set upon the task. At the beginning of the journey, the hobbits encounter many close calls but are saved by a man named Tom Bombadil. They get to the town Bree and receive a letter from the wizard Gandalf instructing them that a ranger named Strider is to be their guide to the elves. They are discovered by the black riders, also known as the Ringwraiths or Nazgul, who are the 9 men who were corrupted by the rings of power. Frodo is stabbed with an enchanted blade and almost perishes, but is saved and wakes up in Rivendell, where some of the elves live. Elrond, an elf uses his healing magic to save Frodo. The company turns into a council in Rivendell and debate the future of the ring. They mostly all agree that it should be destroyed and Frodo is the only one to agree to carry this dark burden into to Mordor. A company of dwarf, hobbits, elf, man and wizard mentioned earlier are tasked with helping Frodo with his task. They are now called the Fellowship of the Ring. As they leave Rivendell, they attempt crossing the Caradhras, a mountain pass, but are blocked and nearly buried by an unnatural snowstorm, and must turn back. They finally choose to go the way of Moria, the old Dwarven city and mine beneath the mountains. While in Moria, the company are set upon by orcs and a monster known as the Balrog. In order to escape, Gandalf uses all his power to defeat the Balrog but is thrown into the depths of Khazad Dun with it. The company greatly grieves the loss of the wise Gandalf but must continue on in their journey. They then make it to the forest of Lothlorien, where the beautiful Galadriel, an elf rules. She shelters them, gives them precious gifts for their journey. Because the ring itself is trying to get back to its creator, people who are near it can be affected by it's power. Boromir is feeling those effects and attempts to get Frodo to give it to him. Frodo becomes scared and puts on the ring to escape Boromir, takes a boat and decides he must go on by himself. He is almost away when his most trusted friend, Sam Gamgee chases after him in the water. Frodo and Sam continue on while the rest of the company must help them in other ways.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872) 108 Pages

A vampiric novel predating Bram Stoker's Dracula.