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!

It’s a BookTok World

September 9, 2021

We have a table in the front of the bookstore with a display of books and a poster that says “#BookTok.” As some of you may already know, the book part of the popular social media app TikTok has become huge, and “book influencers” who recommend a book on BookTok can send a book’s sales soaring. I read in Publishers Weekly magazine this week about one of these books, It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover. The book was published in August, 2016, and did fairly well. In its first month, it sold 21,000 copies, but then faded out. Until November of 2020, when it began to be talked about on BookTok. The book then made a huge comeback, and sales are now in the range of about 17,000 copies per week. I can see this happening at our Barnes & Noble, where we’ll put out a big pile of the book and it will be gone in mere days. BookTok followers, who are mainly teen and young women, are reading these books in droves. And I’m in favor of anything that popularizes reading! Another author who is popular on BookTok is our own dear Philadelphia-area author Madeline Miller. I’ve been reading Madeline’s books since before they were published! I had an early copy of her first book, Song of Achilles, which came out in 2011. I loved it, and taught it in my Hot Off the Press class. Song of Achilles is now the #1 fiction seller at B&N, and it too flies off the BookTok table at astounding speed, along with her second book, Circe, which is also wonderful. Kudos to you, Madeline, for this well-deserved success! Recently I read another BookTok book, an LGBTQ+ Rom-Com called One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. McQuiston is also very popular on BookTok for this and an earlier book of theirs, Red, White & Royal Blue. I don’t usually read the Rom-Com genre, but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, as it were, plus why not pick a book that isn’t totally gut wrenching once in a while? 😊 (Just a note: another table we have up front in the bookstore, which contains the sort of Rom-Coms people typically call “beach reads,” also has books flying off of it, particularly books by Emily Henry.) One Last Stop has an interesting plot. August, the protagonist, moves to NYC, finds some interesting roommates in a run-down but funky apartment, and then meets a girl on the subway. August falls fast for Jane, but then discovers some odd things about her, like why is Jane always on August’s subway car, whenever she gets on at whatever time? Turns out Jane is displaced in time, and she’s really from the 70s. This allows for some interesting cultural comparisons about music, food, politics, cities and more. And August and her roomies then take on this time-space continuum challenge – can they get Jane back to her time? It’s fun to see what happens! If you’re on social media, check out BookTok for some fun book...

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Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie by Carly Simon

July 30, 2021

Switched to memoir this time… just finished reading Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie by Carly Simon, a memoir about her friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I’m a huge Carly Simon fan from way back, so I was interested to see what her writing was like, and also, it sounded like it would be interesting to hear this behind-the-scenes story she decided to tell. I shouldn’t be surprised that Carly can write. After all, she is a songwriter. I always thought that poets made for beautiful novelists because they pay such careful attention to every word choice, and I suppose the same can be said for songwriters about when they turn to longer form work. Carly’s sentences and descriptions of place are lovely. She begins the book by talking about how difficult it is to write about a person you knew, how challenging it is to capture and describe their essence. She says you can present details but to convey what they are really like is hard to do. She is correct. I feel like Jackie is only a fleeting presence in this book. Simon tells some stories about times they were together, parties, lunches, etc. But other than now knowing something about what her deathbed scene was like, I don’t feel like I have any more insights into what Jackie O was like than I did before reading the book. What the book is a lot about, however, is Carly and her famous friends and her life hobnobbing with famous writers and other celebs on Martha’s Vineyard. That life she had/has there sounds fun. I sure would love to hang out with all those folks! Carly is a different generation than I am, but I certainly know of the writers she knows and knew: Lillian Hellman, William Styron and more. Her ex James Taylor makes only a brief appearance in the book (she was married to her second husband Jim Hart during much of when this story takes place). But there is plenty o’ name dropping. When Carly goes to a Stones concert, for example, of course she goes backstage to say hey to Mick. And when she and her husband and Jackie go to the theatre, they need a fourth for Jackie so they invite along Ken Burns or Alec Baldwin. The person who is most written about in this book is the director/producer/actor Mike Nichols and his wife Diane Sawyer. It seems like both Carly and Jackie had a thing for Mike, who comes off in this book as a brilliant and compelling person. Carly was very close with him, and worked with him often, writing songs for many of his movies. She won an Oscar for “Let the River Run,” which was for the movie “Working Girl.”  In fact, there’s so much Mike Nichols in this book that I could imagine her editor saying: “You know what, Carly? You’re right, I’m not really getting the essence of Jackie in this book. Let’s call it a memoir about your friendship with Mike Nichols instead.” I had heard stories of Carly’s anxieties and her fear of performing. In this inside view she gives us of herself, she really comes off as someone with quite a lot of anxieties and insecurities, much of which she treated...

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Mrs. March by Virginia Feito

July 21, 2021

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 cover are mentioned in the opening scene as something that Mrs. March proudly wears and which were a gift from her husband. I’m sure that cover designer was very excited to find this vintage-looking photo with a woman wearing green gloves. However, the gloves in the book are specifically described as kidskin and the gloves on the book cover are cloth gloves. I think that if you’re going be pay attention to detail like that you should go all the way and be fully accurate. Also, if you look closely at the little bit of skin showing from this woman’s wrist, to me that does not look like a young...

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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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