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Lynn Reads a Book

This blog reflects Lynn Rosen’s comments on books she’s read and on happenings in the world of book publishing. You can purchase Lynn’s book recommendations at Barnes & Noble (we especially recommend Lynn’s store in Philadelphia!) or at your nearest indie bookstore. Wherever you choose to shop, we ask that you please support a bricks & mortar bookstore. They need your support! Shop local!

Blush by Jamie Brenner

July 7, 2021

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,...

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Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie

July 6, 2021

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 Mitchell, and the whole book is based on a romance they had with each other. And when I got to the end and read the acknowledgements, the author thanks her father for introducing her to the album “Sweet Baby James.” (Mine! It’s mine and mine only!) A book that’s based on someone else’s story. Happens all the time. Books based on stories both real and also fictional – plenty of rewrites of classic novels. I’m working on one myself. So I guess that’s acceptable. But it just felt slightly uncomfortable to me, how much she relied on Taylor’s actual lyrics. I’m not sure if she did the same with Joni...

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Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

June 29, 2021

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...

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Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

June 23, 2021

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 heart of the story, and then you did this, and you lost me. That is what you are going to have this woman do? Find another man? I thought you were going to finally open the world back up for her, let her use her brain and her talents. (In fact there was one part during Spence’s decline that he couldn’t write a book he had contracted for and, for a brief moment, I thought: oh cool, she’s going to write the book for him! But she didn’t. She just returned the advance.) None of the characters in this book is drawn in great depth, but this is where I...

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Turbulence by David Szalay

May 20, 2021

David Szalay is a writer about whom I had heard good things, particularly about his novel All That Man Is, which was nominated for a Booker Prize. I happened to have an advance reader copy of his novel Turbulence, which I must have been holding onto for a while because it was published in July 2019. It’s very short, 145 pages, so I was able to read it in a night. The story opens with a woman standing at the window of a man’s apartment, looking down at the leafless trees of his street on Notting Hill in London. The man, it turns out, is her 50-something year old son, who has just come home from the hospital, where he was being treated for prostate cancer. His case is serious, and for the past month, his mother, who lives in Spain, has been staying at his apartment while he was in the hospital. Now that he is home, he seems eager to book a flight for her to go home. Airplane flights are what connect the chapters of this book, and the turbulence of the title is both literal, as in what the passengers experience sometimes on the plane, and literal, as in the shake-ups in their lives. Each chapter is titled with two abbreviations for the airports to and from which the featured character is traveling, hence chapter one is called LGW-MAD, as the mother is traveling from London Gatwick to Madrid. I had fun trying to guess which cities were featured as I came to each new chapter title. In the book, we cover much of the world, from MAD to DSS to GRU to YYZ and so on. The author fills you in, but it’s fun to try and guess at first. The book is a sort of game of dominoes, with one character setting off another’s story. As a character from each chapter travels to their next destination, they meet someone along the way, and that person carries the story into the subsquent chapter, leaving the first person behind. And so the woman whose son is ill meets a man on the plane ride home, and the next chapter is his, and the one after that features someone who intersected with that man’s life, and so on through this short book. In the end… well, I won’t say, but we are certainly led to see that the randomness of life may not be so random after all. The moments we witness in the lives of the characters we meet are short and dramatic; each chapter could exist on its own as a short story. There is no real linear thread in this book. Instead, it is episodic, pearls in a necklace. Apparently his Booker-nominated book, All That Man Is, is structured similarly. The author himself says that book, however, is not “a collection of smaller works that just happen to be packaged together in one volume.” He says it is a “unified thing,” as is this book. These characters, who are very loosely connected to each other, all happen to be experiencing some kind of turbulence in their lives, a turbulence from which we cannot know whether or not they will recover. It’s an interesting structure and concept, and well done. As we all know,...

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