Lessons in Chemistry

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Elizabeth Zott, a chemist in the 1950s and early 1960s, struggles against rampant sexism with men who think women can’t be intelligent. At the Hastings Institute in southern California, Elizabeth meets another brilliant chemist, Calvin Evans, who also enjoys rowing. When a female coworker spreads gossip that costs Elizabeth her job, Elizabeth turns her kitchen into a chemistry lab while raising her young daughter with the help of neighbor Harriet and a loyal, intelligent dog until she unexpectedly lands a job in daytime television. Walter Pine, a fellow single parent, hires Elizabeth to host Supper at Six, where she combines cooking and chemistry while also affirming women, and becomes a surprise hit. This engaging debut, the top Library Reads pick for April, will appeal to readers who enjoy strong female characters who overcome major obstacles. Readalikes include Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen, The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.


Malibu Rising

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Malibu, California in 1983 is home to the four Riva siblings: Nina, a surfer/model, Jay, a professional surfer, Hudson, who photographs Jay, and teenager Kit, who also loves to surf but is thinking more about kissing a boy at their upcoming party at Nina’s cliffside house. They also help run a diner started by their grandparents. Nina’s separated from her husband, a tennis pro, and of course he shows up, along with Mick Riva, their long-absent father and former singing sensation. In between chapters about the siblings and their wild party is the tragic love story of Mick and June Riva, who met in 1956. As it’s not a happy marriage, Nina is more parent then typical teen growing up. This fast-paced, compelling read has a strong sense of place and complex, flawed characters, making for a great vacation read. Readalikes include L.A. Weather by Maria Amparo Escandor, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, and The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller.


The Violin Conspiracy

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Ray McMillan has a dream to play the violin and possibly earn a living from his music. Only his grandmother encourages him, and has Ray search her attic for her grandfather’s violin. But as a Black teen in rural North Carolina, the odds are not in his favor. When the family violin turns out to be valuable, his mother and her siblings just want to sell it and split the money. And Ray’s family aren’t the only ones with a suspicious interest in his violin. When Ray finds a supportive violin teacher in Janice, he sets his sights higher, with hopes to be a classical and jazz violinist, and maybe even a soloist and a contestant in a prestigious music competition in Moscow.

The author is a Black violinist and music teacher who put some of his stories from his own journey to becoming a musician into this moving, suspenseful thriller; and all of his love for music. A second novel, The Composer’s Last Score, though not a sequel, is in the works. Engaging and dramatic, this memorable debut is a Library Reads pick and a Good Morning America Book Club selection.


From Scratch

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

This memoir is about love, family estrangement and reconciliation, cancer, a little girl, Sicily, and food.

Tembi Locke was studying in Florence, Italy, when she met Saro, a Sicilian chef. They later married and lived in New York City, before moving to Los Angeles for her career as an actor. Tembi’s Black Texan family embraced Saro, but Saro’s parents and sister wouldn’t attend their wedding in Florence. Years later, the family reconciled and welcomed Tembi and Saro’s daughter, Zoela. Saro’s long illness further reconnected the families. After Saro’s death from cancer, Tembi and young Zoela spent parts of three summers with Nonna, Saro’s mother, in tiny Aliminusa, Sicily. Nonna was a wonderful cook, and the memoir finishes with a number of Sicilian recipes. This summary doesn’t begin to convey the love, the struggles of caregiving, or the pain and joys of family connections.

The summers in Sicily are the most vibrant and memorable parts of this memoir, with a wonderful sense of place, history, and, of course, the wonderful food. The author has a helpful website for those who are caregiving, grieving, and their friends: thekitchenwidow.com. The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager is a readalike.


A Psalm for the Wild-Built

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Long ago, the factory robots of Panga became self-aware and left for the wilderness, and the humans of Panga returned to a more agrarian lifestyle, in small villages and The City. The setting feels Japanese-inspired, perhaps because of the importance of tea. Sibling Dex, a monk, leaves the City monastery they enjoyed visiting as a teen, to become a self-taught traveling tea monk, seeking to get closer to nature. The order provides Sibling Dex (they/them) with a bike-powered wagon, complete with a comfortable bed and an outdoor kitchen and shower. Dex has some challenges in the beginning, then learns their craft and has a circuit of small villages they visit regularly. Dex harvests and serves tea, provides a place to relax, offers advice when requested, and is welcomed into the social life of the villages. After a few years, the wilderness calls, and Dex leaves their usual routes and encounters Mosscap, a robot. Mosscap is seeking to learn what humans need. They journey together for a while, while Dex struggles to find contentment and their true purpose in life.

I listened to the audiobook of this novella, narrated in two and a half hours by Emmett Grosland, and was charmed by this engaging and reflective story. Leisurely paced with an excellent sense of place, the dedication says it all: “To anybody who could use a break.” A sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, is expected this July. Readalikes include Chambers’ The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, and the middle grade novel The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.



Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

In the early 1900s, Edwin is exiled by his wealthy British family, and is walking in the woods in western Canada when he hears the music of a violin and what turns out to the the noise of an airship terminal. Set partly on the Moon, this intriguing, challenging, and rewarding novel moves through time and space, exploring the importance of art and connection, and playing around with the nature of reality. Best known for Station Eleven (a current television miniseries and an earlier book group selection) and The Glass Hotel, this book includes character from a couple of her novels. We also meet Olive, a novelist from the Moon who is on a book tour on Earth when a pandemic begins in 2203, and Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in 2401 who is sent back in time for an investigation that includes an airship terminal. Mandel beautifully weaves together the different scenes and themes, without quite resolving all the plotlines. Hard to put down and difficult to describe, likely to be very popular when published in early April.