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On Our Bedside Table: Instant chemistry and other stories

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On Our Bedside Table: Instant chemistry and other stories

Book Recommendations May 2022

Our Book Recommendations May 2022 are here

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Reviewed by Zissy

Published by Picador an imprint of Pan Macmillan

Young MungoIn a nutshell

Young Mungo follows two young boys living in Glasgow’s housing estates, where young working-class men divide themselves along sectarian lines, and fight territorial battles for the sake of reputation. Mungo is a protestant, while James is a catholic – their paths should never cross but the two meet in the doocot that James built for his prize racing birds and become best friends. They begin to fall in love and dream of escaping together but are forced to hide their true selves from those around them, especially Mungo’s older brother – Hamish, a local gang leader. When Mungo’s mother sends him on a fishing trip with two strange men, he needs to summon all his strength to find his way back to safety and to a place where he and James may still have a future.

Book club Notes

This is Douglas Stuart’s second novel. Having read Shuggie Bain, his first novel, I found it hard not to compare the two. There are similar themes in both – they’re both set in working-class Glasgow, both revolve around young boys figuring out themselves, both speak to violence and alcoholism, and both are stunningly brilliant and devastating. But if Shuggie Bain was Stuart dipping his toes into the water, Young Mungo is him diving right in. The characters are rich and complex, the storyline developed and pushed further, and the writing is absorbing. It’s a book I had a hard time putting down and one that will be on my list of favorites this year. If this is the trajectory, he’s on with his storytelling, I cannot wait to see what he writes next.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Reviewed by Zissy

Published by Penguin Random House

Lessons in ChemistryIn a nutshell  

Elizabeth Zott is not your average 1960s woman. She’s a chemist who finds herself at Hastings Research Institute surrounded by male colleagues who have a very unscientific view on equality. Except Calvin Evans, a star of the science world who falls in love with Elizabeth’s mind. Life takes an unpredictable turn and a few years later, Elizabeth finds herself a single mother and star of America’s favorite cooking show – Supper at Six. A cooking show based on science and one that sees Elizabeth not just teaching woman to cook but daring them to change the satus quo. It’s the 1960s, what could go wrong?

Book club Notes

I absolutely adored this book! It is a masterclass in the art of storytelling, witty and a most satisfying read. I fluctuated between wanting to gobble it in one day and wanting to slowly savor it so that I could enjoy it for longer. Elizabeth is an iconic main character, and you will fall in love with her and her no-nonsense facts-based approach to life. In the book flap, there’s a comparison made between her and Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit. I’d add a third woman to this group of fictional characters who will sweep you away – Midge Maisel of the Marvelous Mrs Maisels. All three are unapologetically themselves, practical feminists and sharp witted. If you want a satisfying read with everything a good book should have, pick up Lessons in Chemistry – it will delight you!

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Reviewed by Feige

Published by Picador an imprint of Pan Macmillan

To ParadiseIn a nutshell

This whopping 704 paged novel tells the story of family, love, loss and affluence weaved through three centuries and three different versions of America.

Book club Notes

This is a challenging book to review because although I acknowledge that it has been well written, is powerfully emotive, and has all the markings of what should make a great book, I have serious misgivings about it. I enjoyed some aspects but overall, I found it too long, too verbose, a little boring at times and didn’t enjoy how each section weaved together.

The back jacket promises that the three sections are joined in an enthralling and ingenious symphony – I kept waiting for this and didn’t feel it. It was a struggle to get through book one, book two got better and admittedly I really enjoyed book three which led me on a trail of deep thinking. Was book three so good because of one and two? Did it need those contrasts and theme weaving to make it really hit home? Could it have been a brilliant book on its own? I tend to think that if Hanya Yanagihara wanted to, she has the talent to do it.

Ultimately, I don’t know the answers, but it comes down to whether I would recommend it, and sadly the answer is no.

Here’s The Thing by Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Reviewed by Zissy

Published by Pan Macmillan

Heres The ThingIn a nutshell

Here’s the thing is a collection of essays written by South African columnist, Haji Mohamed Dawjee. Through sharp witted storytelling, she tackles subjects like parenthood, cancel culture, long covid, being a woman and rubbish bins. Her observations are astute and the book is filled with relatable, relevant and observant anecdotes.

 

Book club Notes

If I had to retitle this book, I’d call it unpopular opinion, because we all know that when someone starts a sentence with unpopular opinion what comes next is not actually unpopular but rather something many feel. Naming aside this collection of essays is pure entertainment. I found myself literally laughing at her description of the current state of womenswear and body shapes. And, I felt seen by the two essays of the rubbish bin – the one-night stand of your home, as she so aptly named it. It’s funny at points, thoughtful in others and incredibly relatable and real. Like chatting with a hilariously frank friend.

 

Words That stuck with Me

Rejection is not a bad thing because after some time, however long that time may be you start to win. But when you win, you win more somehow. It sounds like a catch-22, but you know what? Catch it and 22-it. ‘No’ is the worst thing that can happen and really, a two letter word is not that bad.

Devotion by Hannah Kent

Reviewed by Zissy

Published by Picador an imprint of Pan Macmillan

 

DevotionIn a nutshell

Devotion is a historical novel set between Prussia and Australia in the early 1800s. Hanne is a fifteen-year-old girl who struggles to fit in with the other girls in her community – obsessed with rushing into a life of domesticity and marriage. She finds her first friend in Thea, a kindred spirit who accepts Hanne wholeheartedly. Their community is Old Lutherans, a community not able to worship openly and so when opportunity arises for them to immigrate to Australia, they take it. That promise of freedom and the brutal journey to get there has a devastating cost for Hanne and Thea whose bond is tested beyond nature.

Book club Notes

I rarely gravitate towards historical novels (I read them after Feige does upon her recommendation). While it took me a while to get into the book, I found myself quickly engrossed in the storyline. It’s a somewhat of a haunting read and I quite enjoyed that the storyline was unpredictable and took me to a place I didn’t see coming. There is nothing like a historical novel written from the perspective of a woman to make you grateful for living in a time where, while there’s still improvements to be made, women have more rights and control over their own life.

 

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