So, I had a really hard time picking today’s choice, because I loved Lessons in Chemistry *and* The Unsinkable Greta James and I could only pick one. But as Lessons in Chemistry is all over the place – including in paperback at the airport – I thought I’d write about Great today because you might not already have heard of it.
Greta James is an indie music star. She’s had magazine covers and sold out gigs and a few hit songs. So why is she on a cruise around Alaska with her dad weeks before she’s due to be launching the always tricky second album? Her parents were meant to be taking the trip together for their fortieth wedding anniversary, but her mum died suddenly three months before the cruise. And at her first gig after her mother’s death, Greta had an onstage meltdown that went viral. So she’s on the trip with her dad, attempting to ignore what’s going on with her career and trying to improve her relationship with her dad. Because her mum was the supportive one – who encouraged her to follow her dreams and her dad was… not. Will this trip bring them closer together or drive them further apart than ever? Also on board the ship is author Ben Wilder – who is there to deliver a lecture about his book about Jack London’s Call of the Wild, but is struggling with writing his follow up…
I really enjoyed this. I do like a book about a musician (see Daisy Jones and the Six) and I love stories about family relationships (see Guinevere St Clair and Young Pretenders most recently) and it’s only a couple of weeks since I wrote a post about mysteries set on ships, so we know that I like them too. And this does everything that I was hoping it would do. Greta is passionate about her music and determined to succeed and her fractious relationship with her dad, her blossoming relationship with Ben and her grief and anxiety about the death of her mum add up to a fascinating leading character. And it’s a minor thing, but I really liked how explicit the book was about the work and the practice that had gone into Greta’s success – she plays her guitar, you hear about the hours she puts in to playing and composing. I feel like you don’t always get to hear about that in books about people in the arts – it’s portrayed like a magical thing that comes easily to people. And maybe to some people it does, but I think to a lot of musicians and other artists of various kinds it actually comes after thousands of hours of work and the first song you write (or painting you make, or book you write) isn’t the one that’s the big success – it’s the 5th or sixth or tenth or thirtieth.
I hate the term women’s fiction, but that’s the best I have got for this. It has a romantic plot strand but it’s not primarily a romance. And it’s much easier to read than literary fiction (another label I hate) tends to be. I read it across two evenings once the actual physical copy arrived chez moi after I bought this as part of my sample reading spree the other week. I’m not sure where I saw it recommended. I thought it was from Goodreads, maybe in their Anticipated Summer reads article, but no. So it could have been twitter or the algorithm because I can’t find it in any of my book-ish emails. Anyway this is the first Jennifer E Smith book that I’ve read and I shall keep my eyes out for more because it was a really delight.
I bought mine in hardback because after reading the sample I thought it might be one I would want to lend (and I think the prices for the physical copy vs the ebook were not that far apart on the day I bought it) and I have already sent it out on loan! I can’t see that it’s in stock in any of the Foyles stores so it may be one that you do have to order rather than pickup in a store, but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo. The paperback is out early next year….
Happy reading everyone