This post may include affiliate links. That means if you click and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Please see Disclosures for more information.
Book reviews of Lessons in Chemistry, Book Lovers, Yerba Buena, Flying Solo, The Damage Done, I Kissed Shara Wheeler, and The Woman in the Library.
It’s been an interesting reading month for me, with lots of time spent outside and, as a result, so many audiobooks!
Three of those are new books narrated by Julia Whelan, my absolute favorite narrator.
I also seem to have a theme this month of second or third novels that didn’t quite live up to previous novels I’ve loved by those authors.
Nonetheless, there are some great reads here, with intriguing premises and wonderful characters. I hope you find something you love!
Print and E-Books
Elizabeth Zott is a chemist–not an easy profession for a woman in the 1960s. As she battles daily discrimination, she finds some measure of contentment with Calvin Evans, a famous chemist whose quirks pair well with her own. When tragedy strikes, Elizabeth is left a single mother, kicked out of the lab, and desperate. Circumstances land her on camera, teaching the chemistry of cooking and captivating the country.
Overly progressive characters in historical fiction sometimes ring false, but Elizabeth Zott is singular and wonderfully drawn. Her precocious daughter and clever dog only add to the charm. The cover may make you think this is a rom-com, but the romance is only part of the story. I loved this.
Emily Henry’s rom-coms are must-reads for me, not least because they often feature…well, book lovers, but also because they always feel like a little more than a rom-com. Both Beach Read and The People We Meet on Vacation offered interesting backstories, and Book Lovers is no different.
Nora is a literary agent, proud of her independence and tough reputation. When her sister wants to take an extended vacation to the site of Nora’s client’s hit novel, they make a checklist of Hallmark highlights they need to complete. Nora doesn’t really believe she’ll have a charming small-town romance, especially not with Charlie Lastra, a cranky literary editor who happens to be from the town.
While I didn’t love this quite as much as Henry’s first two novels, it still includes the great banter and emotional connections that made them great–and it’s excellent on audio.
When Sarah Foster runs away from home at 16, she leaves behind her first girlfriend, found dead in a lake, and the understanding that people in her life may have been involved. Starting from nothing is hard, but she makes her way into bartending and soon becomes famous for her creative signature cocktails.
When she meets Emilie at a restaurant, their connection is instant. But both have complications from their pasts that make it difficult to fall into a relationship. As they ebb and flow toward and away from one another, they start to understand how they might fit together.
This was a lovely story, with complex, sensitive characters and relationships. This is LaCour’s debut adult novel (she usually writes YA) and I hope she continues to write for adults.
Laurie is back in her hometown following the death of her great-aunt Dot. She loved Dot, and she wants to ensure that her home is cleaned out with care. When she finds an intriguing carved wood duck, she is told it has no value–but then it disappears. She knows there’s a story behind the duck, and it may have been made by a famous duck carver who her aunt seems to have known. Laurie is determined to get it back.
This puts a spin on a love story–it’s a bit of rom-com, complete with funny capers–but unique in that Laurie actually loves being single and is reluctant to give up the independent life she enjoys. It’s interesting to see how that’s navigated, and it’s not what you might expect. This is set in the same world/town as the wonderful Evvie Drake Starts Over; I didn’t love this quite as much, but still thoroughly enjoyed it–Linda Holmes is a must-read for light reads.
(I also loved that the rather niche area of duck carving featured prominently here. My neighbor and best friend’s brother growing up was a world-champion bird carver–they kept ducks in their backyard. Not a duck, but here is one of the birds he carved. I was always astounded by his realistic work.)
This dystopia reminded me a bit of The Power for its magical “what if” premise. This time, instead of women being granted deadly powers, the ability to physically harm other people disappears entirely. Across the world, violence becomes impossible.
Through the narratives of seven people–a bullied child, a boy whose brother was the last victim of gun violence, an abused wife, a professor, a teen trying to cross the border into the U.S., a prisoner in North Korea, and a white supremacist plotting a massacre–we learn what it means for violence to disappear, and the lengths that people will go to cause harm.
Landweber has an interesting premise here that didn’t quite reach its potential. Too many characters and too-optimistic conclusions for them left this feeling like it didn’t hit the dark mark that it should have. Much as I hate to say a novel about human nature should be darker, I actually thought Landweber underestimated the creativity and determination of humans to exert control and cause mental and emotional harm. A sharper contrast between the depths of human depravity and the goodness in the world would have helped drive this home.
One month before Chloe is set to graduate and escape from her Christian high school in Alabama, her rival for valedictorian, Shara Wheeler, kisses her. Then she disappears. As Chloe tries to find Shara and figure out what happened, she discovers that Shara also kissed Rory (Shara’s bad-boy neighbor), and Smith (Shara’s boyfriend). For these three, she left behind a series of letters with clues to her whereabouts.
Chloe is determined to find her and beat her fair and square. But as the pursuit continues, she starts to realize there may be more to Shara than she thought.
McQuiston is the author of the bestsellers Red, White, & Royal Blue and One Last Stop, both of which I really enjoyed. This one is her YA debut and didn’t live up to the previous two, for me, but many avid readers of YA gave it high ratings. It offers humor, some charming characters, and frank discussions of identity and acceptance.
The Woman in the Library is three novels layered in one: the one you’re reading; the one the main character (Hannah, an Australian author who we never actually meet) is writing; and the one HER main character is writing. Confused yet? I was, too, for a good quarter of this novel (maybe it would have been clearer in print? I don’t know.).
Despite my initial confusion, this is actually pretty clever. The mystery we actually read is the one Hannah is writing, about four people who happen to be sitting together at the Boston Public Library when they hear a scream. Not long after, a woman’s body is found. The mystery bonds them and they form a fast friendship–but not all of them are fully truthful about their pasts or their ties to the woman.
As Hannah writes her book, she shares drafts with a fellow author and fan named Leo, who is based in Boston and offers insight. We see their correspondence only through Leo’s letters. This construct, initially confusing, eventually gels into its own creepy narrative. It’s clever, and actually a bit more intriguing than the main mystery we’re reading, which is–generally–fine, but wouldn’t otherwise be very notable without this layered approach. I didn’t love this, but I appreciated the creativity.
What have you been reading lately?