Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Hope is a Norwegian American from Minnesota, daughter of a community college science teacher, who was expected to major in English at the University of Minnesota, but found her calling instead in science. She has been a scientist for over 20 years, and along with her lab manager Bill, has built and run laboratories in Georgia, Maryland, and Hawaii, as well as done fieldwork in Ireland, Norway, and many other places. Her field is geobiology, which seems to be a blend of geology, botany, and the environment. Her passion is for plants and trees, and her story is framed with descriptions of the life cycle of different kinds of plants. The themes of her story are cold, night, silence, sleeplessness, the joy of discovery, and the rewards of persistence and asking questions. Bill is a delightfully quirky, sarcastic character, and I’m glad to know they still work together. Hope struggles as a young woman in a sexist environment, and as one with a bipolar disorder. There is actually plenty of humor here, along with the evident joy she feels in a scientific life of research, discovery, and teaching. Her difficult journey to motherhood is also shared. I was fascinated by Hope’s well-publicized memoir, and found it a very quick and satisfying read.
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library has a huge collection of rare books. Irene, the daughter of two librarians, is a junior librarian assigned to retrieve a unique version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from an alternate version of London, along with her new apprentice, Kai. The London they’re visiting has magic, vampires, and steampunk elements. Unfortunately, the book has been stolen, and they need help from a handsome Londoner. Murder and mayhem ensue. The pacing is fast, there is humor and intrigue, an unexpected dragon, and possibly a romance in the sequel if Irene can get back to this London and keep the library’s big secrets. A fun fantasy adventure, with a sequel, The Masked City, being published in September. For readers of Diana Wynne Jones, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Patricia Wrede. This first novel is a June Library Reads selection.
The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton
Growing up on a family apple orchard in Wisconsin, Mary Frances Lombard wants everything to stay the same. Her beloved father Jim and his cousin Sherwood will have big arguments twice a year, and their families will never get together at holidays. The scary Aunt May Hill will continue to fix the equipment and the hay will always get stacked in the barn before a storm comes. And most importantly, Mary Frances and her brother William, who loves video games and computers as well as harvesting apples, will run the orchard when they grow up. If her librarian mother makes her go to drama camp, she won’t speak to her, but will participate in the drill cart team. Mary Frances (or Frankie, Francie, Marlene, or M.F.) is quite dramatic enough without going to camp, especially when she competes with cousin Amanda in a geography bee. Readers of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries will enjoy getting to know Mary Frances. I liked getting to know the eccentric members of the Lombard family, but I wanted to read about what happens next for Mary Frances and the orchard. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed the different voices Erin Cottrell used for each character.
Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown
A very good choice for vacation reading; I was charmed by this first novel about starting over in Australia. A surprise 50th birthday party ends in disaster for Manhattan novelist Lisa Trumperton. She heads home to Melbourne, Australia, where her sister Maxine and her son Ted live, keeping in touch with her elusive daughter Portia through texts. On a whim, Lisa purchases an old house in the country once owned by her great-grandfather. Landscaper Scott is a big help, and three retired handymen help her gradually fix up the house. But if Lisa can’t finish her books about the Brontë sisters, she’ll have to sell the house. A somewhat dysfunctional but caring family, a local book group that discusses Lisa’s book, and a cat that befriends a cockatoo add to the appeal of the book. I enjoyed watching Lisa deal with the challenges of her new life, such as flood, fire, and an unconventional wedding, with courage and humor.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Ove, a newly retired railway worker in Sweden, can fix many things, but not his heart. He is grumpy yet loveable, and doesn’t see the point in living without his wife Sonja or his job. Gradually Ove finds out that he is needed: first to back up a trailer, then to fix a radiator and a ceiling fan, to rescue a cat, drive neighbors to the hospital, and even to give driving lessons. His new neighbors, Parvaneh and Patrick, along with their two young daughters, help Ove break out of his shell. Gradually the reader sees that there’s more to Ove than complaining about rule-breakers and government bureaucrats, and learns about his childhood and his unlikely marriage to always late Sonja, as well as regular feuds with neighbor Rune, who prefers Volvos to Saabs. It took me quite a while to warm up to this book of mixed sadness, warmth, and humor, but I’m very glad I kept reading until I did. A movie, hugely popular in Sweden, may be coming to this country soon, and Ove is sure to gain more fans when it does. Readalikes include The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders
A clever, satisfying mystery, the second to feature London book editor Samantha Clair. When Aidan, an old flame, asks Sam to lunch, she is shocked to learn that the gallery owner’s partner Frank has been found dead. Sam, along with her new boyfriend, DI Jake Field, begins investigating. Sam’s knowledge of the publishing world turns out to be both helpful and dangerous. The plotting is smart, the dialogue witty, and Sam can be very funny, especially when she kicks a snob at a dinner party or reacts after a bike accident. Sam’s older neighbor, her assistant Miranda, and her mother Helena, a solicitor, are all good company and do their bit to help Sam and Jake solve the mystery. I’m always happy to find a good new mystery author to recommend. My review of the first book, A Murder of Magpies, is here. There is a third book, but it’s just out in Great Britain, and will probably appear in the U.S. next spring.
Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Julia Quinn is back in fine form, after the somewhat disappointing The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy. Billie Bridgerton is the aunt of the main characters in the Bridgerton series, and her story takes place in the Georgian period rather than the Regency. Billie always expects to marry one of the neighboring Rokesby brothers, although she’d really rather help her father’s steward run the family estate. When she needs help after falling out of a tree onto a roof while trying to rescue a cat, the brother who comes along is George, who is much too serious for her. Very entertaining, and the Georgian setting is enjoyable. If you’re new to the author, try one of her Regency-era romances, beginning with The Duke and I.