Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Woman’s liberation in the 1960s has never been so powerfully portrayed as in this book, where a woman is up against the male world of scientific research. Elizabeth Zott wants to study abiogenesis for God’s sake, no less than the origins of life, but that goes pear shape because she’s a woman and the very worst obstacles are thrown in her way along with endless casual misogyny. So she makes her name on the telly, teaching cookery as you’ve never known it before – as a science.
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Beautiful world, where are you, by Sally Rooney
Funny how Sally Rooney’s books have such misleading titles. Normal People a case in point. Conversations with Friends. Welcome to Rooney’s beautiful world of normal friends. In this case it comes with a twist at the end — enough to redeem her? I’m not sure.
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The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
I was given this book for Christmas and was so excited. Right up my street. Historical—1600s—a sea journey, Norway, an island setting, a storm, a bunch of women surviving remote and desolate lives. What’s not to like?
I was well into this story before I read the blurb a bit more carefully and discovered what’s not to like. The witch trials. They’re based on fact.
What is it with these blokes in power who see strong women as such a threat that they have to burn them at the stake? A woman has poppets in her house. She wears trousers. Burn her!
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Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory
Apologies to those who were relieved when I recently announced I’d come to the end of my Philippa Gregory phase. Here we go again. I got a note from my wonderful local bookshop (Wardinis, since you ask) when online orders were allowed and thought this latest looked looked the perfect lockdown book. Delivered and gobbled. I have no desire to binge on Netflix in lockdown but I could re-read every Philippa Gregory on my bookshelves and be happily entertained for a few weeks, in a mindless-but-it’s-still-history sort of way.
Tidelands is a very readable book. Typical Gregory, meticulously researched setting, lots of truth in the detail and flights of ridiculous fancy to drive the story along. Continue reading “Tidelands – book review”
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
The book opens with a mass-shooting at a family gathering in Acapulco, Mexico. Luca, eight years old, is in the toilet. His mother, who has been waiting in the corridor, bundles him into the shower enclosure and “is clinched around him like a tortoise shell”.
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Pachinko does exactly what a good book should; it takes you somewhere else and shows you the world through different eyes. A story has to make normal to us what may seem strange, and to explain the world enough so the reader understands the observations without the narrator being too “telly”. This is hard to do across a cultural divide but in this epic story, Min Jin Lee gives us full immersion.
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Optimism for over the hill runners
You’re born, you run, you die.
Somewhere in the middle there’s a peak when it all comes together: age, training, body, everything adding up to the perfect run where you hit the hills and can run for hours. God, I miss it!
I will never run that well again. I am over the hill, as it were.
So what’s to do? I’ve never been one for analysis. I don’t record my times and speed, I do different trails all the time, always off-road. It’s difficult to compare times when the track’s washed away or the dog’s decided to avoid the zigzag and go cross-country for a change. But even so, it is hard not to consider that once I ran Te Mata Peak, fast and furious, without falling over. Obviously the sensible thing, as we age, is to continue to run, consistently, patiently, accepting the fact that as you slide from “peak you”, every run will be that little bit less. “Good for your age” people will say, but it will be a challenge just to stay on the path of steady decline. Look, I’ve drawn it for you:
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It’s just 150 years too late
I’m writing a book about a young student who goes from New Zealand to England to study medicine. Nothing unusual about that now, but this was 1883 and the student – shock horror – was a woman!
My heroine, an invented young woman called Lenne, meets up with Isabel Thorne, a real pioneering women’s activist and one of the Edinburgh Seven, a group of feisty women who had been blocked from graduating from the University of Edinburgh because of their sex. The seven women go on to form the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874 and Thorne, still unqualified, becomes Honorary Secretary. She devotes her life to helping other women achieve the goal denied to her.
Continue reading “Congratulations Isabel Thorne”