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Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Jun30

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Several years ago I was in Salt Lake City for a publishing conference, and was lucky enough to visit the wonderful indie bookstore The King’s English. At the top of what seemed like a very steep hill (I walked there), it’s in a house, and you wend your way through a warren of rooms, each with different categories of books. What a great bookstore! My visit was enjoyable in many ways – the friendly staff, the colorful and appealing children’s department, the great dinner recommendation I got – but mostly I want to mention one of the books I bought there. I was seeking a book to discuss at a workshop I would be leading at Kripalu Yoga Center, and the knowledable booksellers steered me toward The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. In this book I learned to be interested in and care about a creature about whom I previously knew very little. It started with discovering that in multiple they are octopuses, not octopi, and went on to teach me about their habits and abilities, including how intelligent they are and how they can fit their bodies through tiny spaces. This all came back to me recently when I read the new novel Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. Really, it’s a story about a bunch of people who are lost in their lives for one reason or another, and we follow them through their struggles until they all wind up… well, I’m not a plot spoiler. But what makes the book different is not that it is narrated from different points of view, but that one of those viewpoints happens to belong to Marcellus, who is an octopus, a giant Pacific octopus, to be specific. Marcellus resides in a tank in an aquarium in Puget Sound, and he, like his species, is very intelligent. And like the octopus whom Sy Montgomery befriended in the Boston Aquarium in her book, this octopus also knows how to make friends, to convey thoughts and feelings, and to figure things out. He’s the most charming octopus I’ve ever met, and he makes this book into a more compelling story. Kudos to Van Pelt for creating this charming and loveable character, along with the rest of the cast in Remarkably Bright Creatures. Put this on your summer reading...

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Lots of Books! (my recent reading)
Apr28

Lots of Books! (my recent reading)

It’s time for a  bit of a blogfest, because I have a lot of books to catch up with you on. Birds of California by Katie Cotugno The author has written seven young adult novels – which means she knows how to write a book, how to shape a plot – but this is her first adult novel. She also co-authored a book called Rules for Being a Girl with Candace Bushnell (of Sex and the City fame, which is to say that Katie knows how to write good sex). This is one of those allegedly predictable romances that actually didn’t go where I thought it would, and one of those alleged “light reads” that dealt with some heavy stuff and whose characters I missed much more than I thought I would after I finished the book. Meet Fiona St. James, hugely successful child actor who crashed and burned very publicly and has since dropped out of sight. Meet Sam Fox, studly TV star who once played Fiona’s big bro on their TV show (Birds of California), now struggling in his own career. A reboot of the old show is proposed. Roll that plot! Birds of California will be published in June; this is your beach read for sure. Hell of a Book by Jason Mott Oh my, oh my. Dare I say? It’s a hell of a book. Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction, Mott’s novel has a clever conceit: it’s about an author’s dissolute book tour, touring the country for a book with bestseller potential, a book about… well, he doesn’t remember. Nor does he recall, apparently, that he’s a black man. But meanwhile, he’s having odd encounters along with way, including with a young black boy whom he calls The Kid who may or may not exist. And this is all interspersed with the story of another young black boy nicknamed Soot in a small southern town, who encounters the perils of small town racism. This also happens to be the town that the author is from. What’s the book really about? It’s about being a black man in America. This painful and necessary story is told in a powerfully original literary style. So, so good. Brilliant, even. The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier The recent winner of the prestigious French Prix Goncourt begins in gruesome fashion with a chapter about a day in the life of a contract killer. Don’t let that put you off. (Or perhaps you like that?) Then it proceeds, each subsequent chapter about another different character. Where are we going? I wondered. Why are we hearing all these...

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The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz
Apr07

The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz

Author Lee Kravetz has created what I call a literary thriller that draws heavily on real events in the life of Sylvia Plath: her hospitalization at McLean Hospital after a suicide attempt, her involvement in Robert Lowell’s poetry workshop at Boston University and the confessional poets movement, her marriage to Ted Hughes, and her writing of the now famous novel The Bell Jar. I’ve chosen this old cover design of the book because this is the version I read as a girl. The story alternates between three points of view. There is Dr. Ruth Barnhouse, who really was Plath’s psychiatrist at McLean and with whom she maintained a relationship after leaving the hospital. There is Boston Rhodes, a fictionalized version of the poet Anne Sexton, and there’s Estee, a contemporary character who is an archivist at a Boston auction house. The story kicks off there when two property developers bring Estee something they’ve found in an old attic: a lock box that contains three notebooks that appear to be a handwritten version of The Bell Jar, i.e., an early draft that no one knew existed (and which, to all knowledge, does not, IRL, exist). The story is well-told, with some surprising and engaging revelations (although, boy did Boston Rhodes make my skin crawl!), and what I think is an extremely controversial ending. Email me after you’ve read it and we’ll discuss that! Next step should be to go back to the source and reread The Bell Jar. See my video review of this book HERE. Follow me on Instagram at @lynnreadsabook for more...

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Hot Off the Press Spring 2022
Jan07

Hot Off the Press Spring 2022

Join the new session, launching February 22, 2022! If you love a book conversation that’s lively and engaging, where we talk about the book thoroughly and thoughtfully, then this class is for you. Led by long-time teacher and publishing professional Lynn Rosen, this class tackles brand new literary fiction. Class conversations include analysis of the book as well as background information provided by Lynn about the author and the book’s path to publication. We talk serious book talk, but have a lot of laughs too! The Spring 2022 session of HOTP includes five class meetings in which we will be reading new books by favorite authors, debut authors, and prize winning fiction. CLASS DATES/TIME: Class meets virtually via Zoom on Tuesday evenings from 7pm EST to 8:30pm EST on:February 22March 22April 19May 17June 14 CLASS COST & LOGISTICS: LOCATION: via Zoom; link to be provided to participants. COST: $200Books are not included in the cost. Email lynn@lynnrosen.com to register. Payment can be made by check or Venmo. Special Offer: If you’re new to the program and want to try out a class, contact lynn@lynnrosen.com and we’ll arrange that for you. CLASS READING SCHEDULE:  February 22The Promise by Damon Galgut Winner of the 2021 Booker Prize A modern family saga from South Africa. Haunted by an unmet promise, the Swart family loses touch after the death of their matriarch. Adrift, the lives of the three siblings move separately through the uncharted waters of South Africa; Anton, the golden boy who bitterly resents his life’s unfulfilled potential; Astrid, whose beauty is her power; and the youngest, Amor, whose life is shaped by a nebulous feeling of guilt. Reunited by four funerals over three decades, the dwindling family reflects the atmosphere of its country—an atmosphere of resentment, renewal, and, ultimately, hope. The Promise is an epic drama that unfurls against the unrelenting march of national history.  March 22Hell of a Book by Jason Mott Winner of the 2021 National Book Award for FictionIn Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black  author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and urgent: since Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour. As these characters’ stories build and build and converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art and money, it’s also about the nation’s...

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Dec01

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The novel The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett explores the phenomenon of “passing,” which is when a light-skinned black person “passes” for white. The novel begins by introducing us to a small town in Louisiana called Mallard whose inhabitants are all light-skinned blacks who pride themselves on being fair-skinned. They intermarry so as to keep their skin light. Nonetheless, the world still considers them to be black and, in mid-twentieth century America, they are subject to racism, restrictions, and much worse. The novel focuses on a pair of twins, Desiree and Stella, descendants of the town’s founder. The book opens in 1968 when Desiree is spotted returning to Mallard after a long absence and we learn that 14 years prior, when they were 16, the twins disappeared from Mallard. We learn that they ran away to New Orleans and that, sometime into their stay there, Stella left, and Desiree has not seen or heard from her since. Upon her return to Mallard in 1968, the townspeople note that Desiree has a child with her, a very dark-skinned child, and this is almost more notable than her return in a town where being light skinned is so valued. This child’s dark skin is the topic of much gossip, and will be a factor in how the town treats her. I had a conversation with a friend recently about how, in today’s world, people are able to choose their gender (I’m not saying this is easy or without struggle) and he commented: what if people could also choose their race? In this book, that is the central issue. Can a light-skinned black person choose to “pass over” and live their life as white? And, if they do, what are the consequences? And what are the consequences of the racism endemic to our society that would cause a person to want to live their life in a lie? This book looks deeply at those issues, and examines them from different sides, because we see how the light-skinned blacks are treated when they venture out of Mallard, and how the dark-skinned girl is treated in Mallard by the rest of the community. Bias runs deep. We also look at the impact of these choices on family bonds. Years ago I taught Bennett’s first book, The Mothers, in my Hot Off the Press class, and it’s an excellent book. If you read and like The Vanishing Half, I recommend you read her first book, too. And if you discover The Vanishing Half the way so many readers are finding it these days, because it’s popular and highly recommended on BookTok/TikTok, then good for you...

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