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Name : Sue K.

My Reviews

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Beautiful, Informative
Captures your imagination

Brings the reader into the world of India just following their independence from Great Britain and follows the life of a woman making it on her own among the elite of the caste system a very rare subject for those times. The author captures the smells, sights and feeling of India with great writing, intriguing storylines and very appealing characters.

 
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Inspiring, Interesting
A joy to read, a character that you will remember forever

Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.

Bonnie Garmus's debut novel features Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant, formidable character, whose only wish was to become a scientist, specifically a chemist. And she is on her way at UCLA until a head professor, a known "lech" in a department whose female employees leave after only 6 months working in the department, makes his moves on her and when she threatens to rat him out, she realizes she has no voice in this man's world and knows her PhD is lost, possibly forever.
This is the late 1950s and women who might have been working for the war effort only a decade before, have been returned to the kitchen, bedroom and nursery. The only thing they are defined by are how they look, cook and rook and any woman wanting more than that is considered warped. When Elizabeth finally is able to land a lab job, it is at Hastings Research Institute and she is relegated to a project quite beneath her intellectual abilities but she has no choice. Hastings is known because the very famous Nobel candidate Calvin Evans is working there. He gets all the attention, money and prestige and supplies. Their department head is Dr. Donatti, who seems to publish papers regularly, but no one ever sees him work. When Elizabeth's lab comes up short on beakers, she raids Calvin's. This is the first time she meets him and it won't be the last. Chemistry after all, can't be denied! They need each other for so many reasons besides science and beakers. They become friends and soulmates, sharing their dysfunctional family lives and as the love bug worms itself into their relationship, they move in together. They can't keep their relationship a secret at work and this gets the gossip and tongues wagging, chiefly that she is only out for his money and celebrity because who could love a man who looked like him? Tall, gangly. His only redeeming quality is his smile. Calvin should have known better than to propose expanding their family because Elizabeth has said over and over that marriage and family isn't what she wants and she of course shoots him down. Calvin isn't suggesting children, he wants to get a dog! And soon, their new dog finds them, a scrawny runaway who was being trained as a bomb sniffing dog who they name Six-Thirty. This dog is an adorable character as we see some of the action through his eyes as he narrates some of the story in a great twist. He is loyal, protective and intuitive and spends the day Calvin's lab watching the comings and goings. He is also improving his vocabulary! Watch as is word count improves with each chapter!
Calvin is a rowing enthusiast and encourages Elizabeth to join him, eventually, she gets good enough to join a men's team, coached by Dr. Mason, who happens to be an OBGYN. Calvin even builds an "erg," a rowing machine for them to use in their house so she can get stronger and better. Elizabeth is only interested in the science behind the erg. Of course.
To say that the pair of them are better together is an understatement. They fill places in their social ineptness, can talk science together and understand it, and are the family they lack. All is well until a tragic accident takes Calvin's life. Elizabeth is devastated and returns to work with Six-Thirty only to be told by Miss Frask from Personnel that while they made an exception for Calvin to have the dog at work, she can't. Unsure if it is shock or something she ate, Elizabeth vomits. It doesn't take a mental giant, because Miss Frask isn't one, to figure out that Elizabeth is pregnant which she passes onto Donatti who uses it as a way to rid Hastings of an unwed mother-to-be. And just when they find this out, a huge windfall of money to fund Elizabeth's research appears out of nowhere. She worked with 3 men who, when pressed, couldn't answer any deep questions about the research so if she left, how would they continue and be able to be successful??
Elizabeth is now a mother-to-be with no Calvin, no family and no job. She only knows chemistry so she renovates her kitchen into a kind of lab and continues to work on her research. Eventually, she realizes she needs a doctor and finds her way into Dr. Mason's practice. Soon, she delivers a little girl named Mad (why is funny) but she calls her Madeline.
*Insert picture here of maternal chaos.*
Until one day, Harriet Sloane, the next door neighbor knocks on the door. Harriet will become the family that Elizabeth never had. Harriet is happy to help out at any hour, any day because she is in a loveless marriage but can't divorce because she is Catholic so spending hours at a time to be away from home is fine with her and helping to raise Mad fills her heart. Madeline is quite a bright little girl and easily grasps everything her mother teaches her even if at aged 4 she is reading things like Moby Dick so Elizabeth enrolls her into kindergarten to help her learn to engage socially. But just as it is for her mother, that is hard for her as she tends to look at things in a very mature and logical way, unlike the other students. This is problematic for her teacher Mrs. Mudford who struggles with how to deal with her precocious student. Elizabeth needs income now and returns to Hastings hoping to be able to return to her work there. Donatti does need her back on the payroll but only because the investor is back and wanting to know what has been happening to the Zott research, that nothing has been published in sometime. Donatti rehires her, gives her a new lab coat with the initials "E.Z" on it and then hands her a stack of papers. "Start by typing these. Also, we're low on coffee. And talk to each other fellas-- see what kind of support they need." "Support? Elizabeth says. "But I'm a chemist, not a lab tech." (pg 174)

Amanda Pike, the daughter of Walter Pike, producer of daytime tv at a local station, keeps eating Madeline's lunch and Mrs. Mudford calls both parents in to discuss this behavior. Walter is a single dad after Amanda's mother left them and he has no talent for making a kids lunch. Elizabeth explains that the lunches she provides Mad are highly nutritious and should be made for a developing mind. Walter is in a bind at work and he needs an afternoon show to fill in a time slot. He gets the crazy idea that Elizabeth can do a cooking show. Elizabeth calls it a chemistry show with cooking and accepts the job. It is rough going at first because the station manager has a preconceived notion as to how she should talk, dress and behave. Elizabeth will have none of that. She will be who she is, take it or leave it. At first, her off the cuff, honest discussions as to what women can and should do for their families is not widely accepted but over time, her voice and opinions begin to fill viewer minds with confidence and boldness that they can be more than just a housewife. It is now the early 1960s and I would like to believe is one of the first voices of the Women's Lib movement, getting women to find their voices and shrug off the bondage that men have relegated them to; that they can be more than just a housewife. She becomes so popular, she is highlighted in an article in Life Magazine. This article becomes a curse for her reputation but also allows some good things to happen for her as well. Elizabeth is faced one more time with a man who holds his power over her by trying to rape her but, just as before, she is armed and ready.
When Madeline and Amanda have an assignment to build their family tree, Madeline finds it a difficult task given she has none. But getting some help from the school librarian, she is able to track down where her father may have been raised as a child. It will come out who his people are by the end of a story in a unique well developed twist.

There are several strong themes in this novel starting with misogyny, chauvinism and sexualization of women. Elizabeth as well as another character have been sexually abused by men in power who felt that just because they were in charge, they could get away with it (who would believe the women?). Elizabeth also expresses her atheism during a time when the Church dictated so much of what was acceptable in society (living as a couple without marriage, single motherhood). When Elizabeth is terminated because she is pregnant, she says to Donatti,
"....When a woman gets pregnant outside of marriage, does the man who made her pregnant get fired, too?" "What? What are you talking about?"
"Would you have fired Calvin, for instance?"
"Of course not."
"If not, then technically, you have no grounds to fire me."
"Donatti looked confused. What? "Of course I do,....You're the woman! You're the one who got knocked up!"
"That's generally how it works. But you do realize that a pregnancy requires a man's sperm"
"Miss Zott, I'm warning you. Watch your language"
"You're saying that if an unmarried man makes an unmarried woman pregnant, there is no consequence for him. His life goes on. Business as usual." (pg 113-114)
And Harriet is stuck in a marriage that is abuse and unfulfilling and can't divorce because of her religious beliefs. She is told by her church that she needs to "improve HERSELF" but why is it up to her? Why isn't the man trying to make changes within HIMSELF??

It was not encouraged that a woman was able to be a successful scientist and at one point, Donatti tells Elizabeth that he was able to get her money to fund her education. She thinks the company is going to help her get her PhD but instead, Donatti says it was for secretarial school! He knows how smart she is but he is very threatened by her abilities. However, to prove "them" wrong, Elizabeth uses chemistry to explain why food cooks the way it does and empowers the women in her audience to feel they too are smart and capable understand complex concepts in science.

This is a fantastic read. I loved it! The characters are well developed and fun to read. There are some laugh out loud moments too as Elizabeth navigates her way. I liken Elizabeth to Eleanor Oliphant a bit in that she is so smart she really misses social cues. Calvin is a bit on the spectrum too but obviously was born with some great DNA. I loved Harriet who speaks her mind but is always nurturing. I loved how things turned out for her character in the end. Miss Frask realizes that while she has bullied and made things difficult for Elizabeth, she has more in common with her than she thought she had and has a complete turnaround. And you can't forget about Six-Thirty, the insightful dog who just keeps it real! My one little ding is the way Madeline was written. I know her character is very bright, but I just struggled with as a 6 yr old how she navigated things when it came to finding out about her father. She just seemed too wise beyond her years. It was a reach. For that, I can't give it 5 stars.

Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Interesting, Insightful
Educational with characters you will come to admire and love

Brooks' newest novel Horse is something a reader doesn't just read, but absorbs. It is so thought-provoking in its timely narrative, uncomfortable themes and historical topics. Her dedication to the research for this book is obvious as she takes the reader to antebellum South and the horse culture of the time and the enslaved black men who cared for, groomed, and loved the horses in their care and then in present day Washington DC, where Theo, the son of Nigerian-American diplomats, is pursuing his PhD at Georgetown in art history. Theo's parents have been moving all over the world in their roles, so Theo has spent much of his youth in boarding school in England, where he was usually only one of a few black students. He is a kind man who tries to lend a hand if someone is in trouble as we see when Theo watches as an elderly white woman tries to manage a walker and groceries up her stairs. When he goes to help her, her discomfort in his touching her is palpable as the author describes her facial reactions to his being there. One day, in a pile of tossed out belongings from her house at the curb, his artist's eye notices a painting of a horse which he takes. The painting is old and dirty so he finds his way to a contact he has in the art restoration department of the Smithsonian. It is there, he meets Jess, an osteologist, who is researching the skeleton of a horse from the 1850s named Lexington. She is formally from Australia and has made a name for herself in this institution setting bones and displays of all kinds. It is through this shared interest that Theo and Jess becomes friends which later turns into more. Their relationship is cautious at first but eventually finds its footing. There is a brief moment after their first meeting that Jess mistakenly thinks that Theo is stealing her bike only to realize he has one just like hers and she knows that her reaction might have been due to his skin color for which she is horrified that she would jump to that conclusion.
The reveal of Lexington's bones is an easy segue to the 1850s when Harry Lewis and Jarret are introduced. This father and son are enslaved on the Warfield Plantation but Harry is a trusted groom for the estate's notable horses and he is teaching his son Jarret all his skills. Because owning strong fast horses was an obsession during that time, racing them was as well and it was a national preoccupation. Having knowledgeable and talented caregivers was a requisite and this job fell on black horsemen. This role often allowed for an elevated status of the enslaved and in Harry's case, allowed him to buy his freedom and that of the woman he loved. Unfortunately, that did not include his son so Jarret was bought by a variety of horse owners. Jarret was there for the birth of Darley whose sire was a successful racing horse. Darley is nurtured and trained by Jarret and after making a name for himself in a race, is sold to Ten Broeck and renamed Lexington along with Jarret who knows the animal better than anyone. The bond that forms between trainer and horse is a remarkable one and lasts throughout the horse's life. And it is one where kindness and care is all that matters, not color. This will not be the last time that Jarret and Lexington will be sold on the whim of their white owners.
It is the art work of this famous horse that perseveres over time. When the famous artist of the day Edward Troye is unavailable to paint Lexington, Thomas Scott is commissioned to do the rendering. Scott had studied medicine but gave it all up to paint. Later, during the Civil War, he would enlist as a company doctor. In a famous work, the horse is joined by two black groomsmen, who the author imagined were Harry and Jarret. Scott and Jarret intersect in various places in the book.
A limited appearance of Martha Jackson, who in 1954, opened a modern art gallery in NYC. That in itself would make a great book because a woman owned business in that time period was unheard of. But since she came from a famous and wealthy family, she was able to put enough money together on her own to do so. She had an eye for talent and one of those was Jackson Pollack, to whom she would later sell her convertible to buy two of his now famous works to hang in her gallery. She would also buy the painting of a horse which would hang in her home to remind her of her equestrian mother. This painting would later be discovered as Lexington, the most famous horse of the antebellum south and most successful sire in history whose offspring would become famous in their own rights on prestigious racetracks throughout the country.

The story is based on real and imagined people and many of the events happened. Brooks writes seamlessly, moving from voice to voice, year by year as she relates the life of Lexington and the growth of Jarret, in skills and mind. She titles the chapters based on the voice telling the story like Jess, Theo, Thomas Scott, and Martha. But it the voice of Jarret which is the most disturbing as she titles his chapters as "Ten Broeck's Jarret", "Warfield's Jarret" and "Alexander's Jarret" because he had no say in his own life. It is only the last of his chapters, after the war, that he is Jarret Lewis.
Jarret's life as a black man, what he had to endure as an enslaved person, is still reflected today in Theo's world. As a student, he was called derogatory names like Caca and Sooty, despite his intelligence or prowess on the school's polo fields and he can't even help out an old woman with her groceries without bigotry. Despite this, what he tells Jess he will do with the painting shows his true heart and goodness. So it is the horrifying scene when Theo is running with his dog Clancy one night, that hate and racism becomes as clear as glass.
This is such an intelligent, layered read, full of historic information yes, but also one that will challenge your emotions.

Mad Honey: A Novel by Finney Jennifer Boylan Jodi; Picoult
 
Book Club Recommended
Informative, Insightful, Dramatic
Deeply moving with characters and a story that will stay with you

When you pick up this book and see the title, you think, okay weird title but you dive in anyway. You think this will be a sweet story, I mean honey is honey, sweet and sticky and you think about the bees that made it, buzzing around their hives, maybe a beekeeper decked out in their long white suits, spraying smoke at the hives to keep the bees calm. But mad honey is real. It's a honey that, while sweet, is actually poisonous and should be avoided. You're deliberately attracted to it. By the time it messes with your head, with your heart, it's too late. (pg 343)
This is a story about secrets, lies told while trying to find truths. It is a story about acceptance not only of each other but of oneself. But mostly it is about love on so many levels especially a mother's love and the lengths she will go to protect her child.
Each character has such complexity. They are so scarred from what has come before and this explains their secrets and feelings of self-preservation but still all the while, wanting what is defined as normal.
All of this is wrapped around the death of 17 yr old Lily who is found in a pool of blood in the arms of her boyfriend Asher. And after some angry texts are discovered and a history of bruises found on Lily's body over the time of their dating, he is charged with her death. This is as far as I will go on that aspect but as the trial is going on, his mother Olivia recounts her story as does Lily's voice in alternating chapters of before the death and after the death.
Olivia, is divorced from Asher's father and a survivor of domestic abuse. She has returned to her family's farm in NH and resumes their beekeeping business as she raises Asher alone. Lily, is a incredibly smart and talented young woman whose had her own history of abuse and she and her mother Ava have left their life in California to start over in NH too. She and Asher meet in high school and their attraction is instant. She is living her best life, finally! Until the fateful day when so many lives are upturned.
One thing that was super interesting was to learn the history of bee culture and the incredible powers of honey. The author(s) also use these facts as metaphors for the action taking place in the story.
There is so much to unpack with this book and the author's notes at the end will be enlightening in the genesis of the book as well. The book also includes the recipes that Olivia has scribbled into her notepad during the trial which features her honey!

 
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Brilliant, Insightful
A Twist on relationships

This is one of those rare books that on the surface is about a bunch of super tech savvy college aged kids who love gaming and use their talents to create one that puts them on the gaming map and earn them tons of money and gives them a worldwide audience of other gamers. But, for me, the gaming itself was just a backdrop to the story of 2 emotionally dysfunctional kids who meet by random circumstances in a hospital where one was the patient and one was the sister of another patient. They bond over a computer game and their lives will become entwined. They will have huge ups and downs as they grow, mature, share life experiences then add a 3rd person to the mix who will add to the strange but important dynamic of the little trio. They will share joy, success in their shared gaming business, feel deep loss, estrangement as they struggle with finding an identity without the others and finally a peace that comes from a bond that they can never really separate themselves from.
This book is deep, dark, heavy and provocative. It is so layered with growing pains and the way that each character, Sam, Sadie and Marx have to grow with and without each other and how you want to shake them to wake them up to appreciate each other because they all have parts that make up a whole. Sadie has such a fragile ego that she can't handle when Sam is seen as the core of their first successful project even though Sam keeps her front and center in interviews as he promotes their big hit, Ichigo; she is so desperate for attention but also very introverted . Sam is so desperate for love and a bond with Sadie that when Marx comes into their sphere, he can't share their friendship. Marx, who keeps them all connected and organized as their business begins to take off, is afraid of complete commitment until it is staring him in the face. Each of these characters has been scarred by tragic events and each one has to carry on, somehow, someway but also finally grow.
The story is told as recollections as well as in a chronological timeline sharing the thoughts of each character. It was a bit confusing towards the end of the book when the game Pioneer is being played though the reader will see references to Sam, Sadie and Marx lives as the play goes along; it becomes somewhat biographical and the surprise that is revealed was quite clever.
I can see why this book is a GR Choice for winner in the fiction category. And I also quite enjoyed the author's linguistic intelligence, using words I had never heard before ( I have now learned the word "sere") in her writing. Note: very heavy themes within these pages as well. I will be thinking about this book for a long time!

Hello Beautiful: A Novel by Ann Napolitano
 
Book Club Recommended
Beautiful, Romantic, Epic
Dysfunction, engrossing and complicated relationships

This was a truly engrossing and deeply complicated book about a family of sisters with such individual personalities and yet so tangled together, it's as if they are one breathing organism. The girls' father Charlie Padavano is a dreamer, non-achiever, lover of poetry and the drink and who always greets his girls with a "Hello Beautiful" and their mother Rose believes she has been short changed from the man she thought she married adds to the negative family dynamic. When the oldest sister Julia meets William at college and brings him into the Padavano family, marries him and has a baby soon after, she doesn't realize the dysfunction that she is going to bring into the family. Because William doesn't share much about his own troubled past, a wide emotional gap grows between the newlyweds which Julia can't get her arms around since it doesn't follow the "plan" she has put together for their life and she doesn't know how to deal with that in a supportive way. This leads to some very deep consequences which drive the storyline from 1982 as the sisters go from girls to women as they find their voices and places in the world.
The author doesn't apologize for her mimicking the Little Women as the girls grow up each one adopting the personalities of Louisa May Alcott's classic March girls and when one states she is "Beth" it means she is struggling with something. Anyone who has read this famous book will understand the closeness of the Padavano sisters and how they all feel stronger when they are all together and when one isn't with them, they feel incomplete.
This book is beautifully written as Ann Napolitano does in all her stories. The characters are so well developed and defined and the reader truly understands them on a deeper level, even some of the minor characters. Many difficult and complicated themes are in this story and have a huge impact for the storylines. There are some very emotional moments in the story so have the tissue box available. A perfect book club choice because there is so much to discuss with this story! Read it!

West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge
 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Inspiring, Interesting
Based on a true event, a heart pounding coming of age story

This actual event bringing two giraffes, who had already survived the 1938 hurricane on the east coast of the US, across the country to the San Diego zoo, was a true adventure for the reader. It captured my imagination on so many levels as 18 year old Woodrow "Woody" Wilson Nickle, lands a job driving the animals with the Old Man, an employee of the zoo caring for the giraffes. Woody recalls this heart-poundingly journey as a present day 100 yr old man in a long term care facility. It is clear that he is hallucinating as he talks to Girl, the female giraffe, who he imagines is poking her nose into his 5th story window as he writes. But despite his growing health issues, he is determined to put the story down on paper so that the story doesn't get lost, though it seems he is writing it down for someone in particular.

On the heels of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the rumblings of Hitler in Europe, the public is craving something sweet and positive, and that is what happens as these giraffes pass through town after town across the country. For a moment, these animals put a smile on sad and desperate faces. But the adventure is not without complications and this is the crux of the book. As the men travel, they run into everything from flash floods, treacherous mountain passes, bears but also despicable men who will try to steal their precious cargo. Young Woody learns more about himself on the drive from east coast to the west coast as he undertakes being responsible for these animals and comes to understand them but also their connection with him. It is so charming that he appreciates their displays of affection as they interact with him. The reader learns about his life growing up in the panhandle of Texas and how the dust and upheaval of his family's farm during that desperate time, plagued him. Riley Jones, aka, the Old Man, is a cantankerous, gruff character, though he does have a soft spot, especially when it comes to his "darlings" as he calls his cargo. He has a job to do and will stop at nothing to make sure they get safely into the zoo. The relationship between Woody and Jones grows into a mentorship though not the father/son type relationship I expected would happen by the end of their trip. In fact, the end was totally unexpected and a bit unsatisfying in a way.
There is also one other traveler on the cross-country trip-- Augusta, a 20 year old photojournalist, who drives a green Packard and "works" for Life magazine. She and her camera capture the journey moment by moment. Woody's young inexperienced heart is smitten with her as she smoothly insinuates herself into getting access to the giraffes and she easily becomes Woody's first crush. As he watches out the back window to keep an eye on the "darlings," he is also keeping an eye out for Red and her Packard. After all, women, you know, shouldn't be traveling alone! It's not safe and it's not seemly! But Augusta has some secrets that are slowly revealed as the story rolls along.

I liked how this story, told in two time lines, evolves and piques with their often dangerous trek to "Californy." Woody's story as a centenarian isn't as interesting as his younger version however, it made me think about how we forget that the people who are living in nursing homes, who seem frail and maybe suffering with memory issues, have had a past, with amazing stories that might never be told and could be lost forever. If present day Woody never told his story, this 12 day journey in 1938, might have been lost for all time.

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