“Lessons in Chemistry,” “Doomsday Book” and more reviews from readers

Editor’s note: The opinions of the smart, well-read women in my Denver book club mean a lot, and often determine what the rest of us choose to pile onto our bedside tables. Sure, you could read advertising blurbs on Amazon, but wouldn’t you be more likely to believe a neighbor with no skin in the game over a corporation being fed words by publishers? So in this new series, we are sharing these mini-reviews with you. Have any to offer? Email [email protected].

“Inheritance,” by Dani Shapiro (Knopf)

Even though this is a story of one woman’s search for her birth father, it reads like a well-crafted mystery. While it did take a huge suspension of disbelief to accept how quickly the narrator found her birth father’s family, “Inheritance” does raise some interesting questions about not only what makes a family (i.e., DNA or love) but also about privacy vs. intrusiveness issues related to DNA testing and what personal data is maintained by commercial, i.e, for-profit, companies. (Yes, for just this tiny bit more money, you, too, can get more information from us!)  What is the balance between science and profit?  Between science and ethics, for that matter? I certainly don’t have the answers, but I fear few do. — 2 stars (out of 4); Kathleen Lance, Denver

“Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday)

Yes, it’s a bestseller and has been highly recommended on major book lists for more than a year, but if you haven’t yet read (or listened to the audiobook), you still have time before the Apple TV series based on the novel premieres in October. “Lessons In Chemistry” is the entertaining story of a brave, smart and independent female protagonist who has no quit in her. Elizabeth Zott had me recalling my own workplace injustices and cheering her on as she pursued an unlikely career in science in early 1960s America. This dark but funny novel confronts the societal expectation on women to limit their ambitions to being wives, homemakers, mothers and people-pleasers or to suffer the consequences.

It’s satisfying fun to follow this no-nonsense heroine as she deals with everything from disrespect and dismissal to outright assault from men trying to keep her in her place. While some might consider the story chick lit, it is thought-provoking and relevant to today’s society where gender roles and work-life balance still present challenges and sometimes criminal behavior (looking at you, Harvey Weinstein). “Lessons In Chemistry” had me reviewing my own choices and attitudes, and I will never look at a No. 2 pencil the same way.  — 4 stars (out of 4); Kristen Kidd, Littleton

“Doomsday Book,” by Connie Willis (Del Rey)

A pandemic book written before COVID by Colorado’s own Connie Willis, this sci-fi masterpiece takes the reader on a voyage to the Middle Ages plague as well as forward to the near future to experience the extremes of both. Highly relatable characters in a crisis are forced to rescue themselves and each other in realistic situations despite a gap of nearly a millennium. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. – 4 stars (out of 4); Bonnie McCune, Denver (bonniemccune.com)

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