Providing expertise for
publishers, authors and readers
Mrs. March by Virginia Feito
Jul21

Mrs. March by Virginia Feito

One of our Barnes & Noble buyers sent us an advance copy of Mrs. March by Virginia Feito because he’s very excited about this new work of psychological suspense, due to be published in August and apparently already optioned for film with Elizabeth Moss in the title role (good casting!). I enjoy a good psychological suspense novel, one with a story that will keep you up late and which is engaging but not emotionally wrenching like some of the literary fiction I usually choose! A recent example of a book like this that I greatly enjoyed is The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave.  Anyway, the book sounded fun, plus it’s a debut novel, something I also enjoy reading, and I really liked the cover, but more on that later. The book is told entirely from the point of view of Mrs. March and the character is referred to throughout as Mrs. March. Her husband is a well-known novelist who has just published a new book which is doing quite well and which others have told her (she hasn’t read it) has a protagonist who is based on her – and who also happens to be an overweight, unattractive whore. Mrs. March is struggling with issues related to self esteem and identity and her place in the world and, as the book progresses, with her hold on reality. She also has an emotionally-removed relationship with her 8-year-old son and I suppose with her husband as well. They live in a big apartment in New York City and have a lot of money and a maid and have fancy formal dinners together every night with the proper table settings (which of course I appreciated the references to table settings!). I had a little trouble figuring out when this book was supposed to take place. At the outset, it felt more contemporary but I think I also recall a scene where Lawrence Welk was on TV so maybe it was supposed to be the fifties. In any case, it was a fun and quick read and the ending will greatly please Hitchcock fans! Now about the cover… (you may notice I write about covers frequently. I’m sure you know that it’s absolutely untrue that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Covers contain tropes that designers use to let potential readers know it’s their kind of book. Looking for historical fiction? Pick a book with a period picture of women seen from behind. Self-help? Look for big bold san-serif letters. Etc.) I do very much like the cover’s stark and arresting image. The green gloves pictured on the...

Read More
Blush by Jamie Brenner
Jul07

Blush by Jamie Brenner

Jamie Brenner said that when she was growing up she really admired writers like Jayne Ann Krentz and Jackie Collins, and that this book was her tribute to them. I’m sure those authors would be proud, because she does a great job writing the same sort of book: romance, beautiful setting, strong passions, etc. So if you are a fan of those writers, you definitely want to check out Blush. It’s a story that takes place at a winery out on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s a story about women becoming empowered and it’s a story that revolves around a book club. Love, wine, and books – all the important elements! And hey, Jamie Brenner, I see that you live part-time in Philadelphia, so I hope we get to meet some time! I’m extending an open invitation to do an event at our bookstore: Barnes & Noble in Wilmington,...

Read More
Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie
Jul06

Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie

I read the first half of this book and wrote a blog about it. I was fairly critical. I didn’t think I would keep reading. And yet I was interested enough in the characters that decided to keep going. And I’m glad I did, I’m glad I read this book. Why was I critical of the book at first, you ask? Two main reasons. The first is that I thought the writing was overdone with the kind of self-conscious over-adjectivization that new writers sometimes do. It felt clunky and didn’t make for smooth reading. You want examples?  Ok, here’s the opening paragraph of the book: “As a stagehand cleared the dismantled pieces of Flower Moon’s drum set, the last shred of daylight formed a golden curve around the cymbal. It winked at the crowd, then the red sun slipped into the sea. In the gathering dusk, the platform shimmered like an enamel shell, reverberating with the audience’s anticipation.” (p. 3) Sorry, but I found that tough to wade through. And here’s another sentence a few paragraphs later: “His exhale became a brushstroke inside an Impressionist painting; swirls of smoke rose in the salty air, tanned limbs and youthful faces interweaving like daisy chains across the meadow.” You may not agree, but to me it felt forced. And then there was the James Taylor thing. Now you should know, JT is my musical god. I grew up adoring him and his music and to this day, if you’re gonna throw me on a desert island, just give me the “Sweet Baby James” album and I’ll be fine. Taylor’s first album is referred to as the Apple album, because it was produced at Apple Studios in England, which is where the Beatles recorded. He was the first non-Beatle musician that Apple took on.  So when the author started using slightly altered lines from a song from that album (just knockin’ around the Zoo…there’s bars on all the windows) I knew from whence she was getting this material and it felt almost plagiaristic to me. And then a character refers to one of the musicians in the book’s first album as having all these instrumentals between the songs, including using harpsichord… well, that’s the Apple album verbatim! (Can music be verbatim?) If you read the People magazine review of this book before you read the book, or, I suppose, other reviews that are out there, you will already know what I figured out myself. The main male character of the book, musician Jesse Reid, is in fact based on James Taylor. And the main female, Jane Quinn, is apparently based on Joni...

Read More
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Jun29

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

You’re not gonna believe it but I’m actually recommending a book that has a happy ending. I promise I’m not giving anything away by saying that, but this is far from the doom and gloom kind of book I often read. When you’re looking for a perfect summer read – which you likely are right now! — this is what I’m going to direct you to. I actually had a student come into the store the other day and ask me to recommend coming-of-age stories. The teacher had told the kids that’s what they had to read this summer but didn’t give them any more direction than that. I wound up selling him TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which I think is a great choice, and I wouldn’t recommend MARY JANE to a middle schooler. But for you, it’s perfect! It’s set in 1975, features interesting characters, such as the buttoned-up straightlaced mom vs. the cool, hippie neighbors, has celebrities, lots of music, good food, and much fun! A 14 year old girl gets a new babysitting job which leads her in all kinds of unexpected directions. Happy...

Read More
Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin
Jun23

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Morningside Heights had several things that made me choose to read it. First of all, it’s about an English professor, and I love books that are set in academia, particularly about English professors (a profession I was partway to pursuing until I decided to stay in book publishing). Secondly, it takes place at Columbia University, which is where I did my graduate studies. I immediately liked the book’s tone and pace. It begins by introducing us to one of the main characters, Pru Steiner, and, since we will be most interested in Pru once she herself gets to Columbia, it does a rushed recap of the early years of her life, telling us only what we need to know, and I liked the way the author did this. The book opens: “Growing up in Bexley, in the suburbs of Columbus, Pru had been drawn…” so we’re already on the move in the opening sentence. Later I would come to dislike this approach, however. When we are introduced to the character of Arlo, we are given his backstory in one big rushed chapter, which felt more telling than showing to me. In fact, since Arlo is important (he is the English professor’s son by his first marriage), he has recurring chapters of his own, and they are all presented in this telling rather than showing way. The crux of the story, which you learn early on, is this: Pru meets and falls for Spence, a rising young star in Columbia’s English department. They marry and have a daughter and are very happy, until Spence is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in his late 50s. Pru has aspirations of her own, first to be an actor, then to be an academic, but she drops all this when she marries Spence and gets what was then commonly called her MRS degree. Is she happy about this choice? Maybe. Does she wish she had fulfilling work of her own? Yes. So when Spence quickly gets sick and Pru hires a caregiver, the story turns back toward her again, and we (at least I) are led to believe that it’s Pru’s turn now, that she is going to figure out who she is outside of her marriage. And what does the author immediately have her do? Meet another man and start dating on the sly (no judging here about whether or not she is entitled to date since her husband is mentally gone from her, just recounting the plot and the judgements of the characters). Ok, Joshua Henkin, I waded through the Arlo chapters hoping I would get back to what I felt was the...

Read More