Quick Review: SONGS IN URSA MAJOR by Emma Brodie (Knopf)

BrodieE-SongsInUrsaMajorUSA young singer finds herself experiencing the highs and lows of the music industry

The year is 1969, and the Bayleen Island Folk Fest is abuzz with one name: Jesse Reid. Tall and soft-spoken, with eyes blue as stone-washed denim, Jesse Reid’s intricate guitar riffs and supple baritone are poised to tip from fame to legend with this one headlining performance. That is, until his motorcycle crashes on the way to the show.

Jane Quinn is a Bayleen Island local whose music flows as naturally as her long blond hair. When she and her bandmates are asked to play in Jesse Reid’s place at the festival, it almost doesn’t seem real. But Jane plants her bare feet on the Main Stage and delivers the performance of a lifetime, stopping Jesse’s disappointed fans in their tracks: A star is born.

Jesse stays on the island to recover from his near-fatal accident and he strikes up a friendship with Jane, coaching her through the production of her first record. As Jane contends with the music industry’s sexism, Jesse becomes her advocate, and what starts as a shared calling soon becomes a passionate love affair. On tour with Jesse, Jane is so captivated by the giant stadiums, the late nights, the wild parties, and the media attention, that she is blind-sided when she stumbles on the dark secret beneath Jesse’s music. With nowhere to turn, Jane must reckon with the shadows of her own past; what follows is the birth of one of most iconic albums of all time.

Shot through with the lyrics, the icons, the lore, the adrenaline of the early 70s music scene, Songs in Ursa Major pulses with romantic longing and asks the question so many female artists must face: What are we willing to sacrifice for our dreams?

There’s been a bit of an uptick in the number of nostalgic, music-related novels published recently — in part, no doubt, to the considerable success of Daisy Jones & the Six. This is no bad thing, given that I’m a fan of the sub-genre. Emma Brodie’s Songs in Ursa Major is the latest, buzzed-about novel in this oeuvre, and it’s not hard to see why. It ticks all the boxes, and is an enjoyable (if slightly flawed) read. Continue reading

Quick Review: POSSESSION by Katie Lowe (St. Martin’s Press)

LoweK-PossessionUSA true-crime podcast inches perilously close to the truth for Hannah…

The past haunts her. The present hunts her.

Ten years ago, Hannah’s husband was brutally murdered in their home, and she (conveniently) doesn’t remember a thing about that night. But the police charged someone else—a stranger—and put him away for life. And Hannah packed up her six-year-old daughter and left London behind.

But now her hard-won countryside peace is threatened. Conviction, a viral true crime podcast known for getting cases reopened and old verdicts overturned, has turned its attention to Hannah’s husband’s murder for its new season. They say police framed the man who was found guilty, and that Hannah has more suspicious secrets than just her memory loss: a history of volatility; citations at the clinic where she worked as a psychiatrist; dependencies on alcohol and pills; and a familicidal grandmother, locked away in a Gothic insane asylum until her death. As Hannah loses the trust of everyone she loves, the only person she feels she can confide in is a former colleague, Darcy, who’s come back into her life—but who may have motives of her own. But Hannah can’t tell even Darcy her deepest secret: that she’s still tormented by the memory of her husband and the crater he carved through her life.

Possession is the new novel by the author of the much-buzzed-about The Furies. I thought it looked interesting, and I’ve been seeing a fair number of suspense/crime novels that feature a true-crime podcast at its centre. While I haven’t listened to many, my partner loves My Favorite Murder and a couple of others, so I thought it might be interesting to see how Lowe incorporates that cultural phenomenon into the novel. Turns out, the author does it very well. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS by Stacey Abrams (Doubleday/Harper Collins UK)

AbramsS-WhileJusticeSleepsUSBest known as one of the most charismatic, capable, and compelling American politicians of the day, Stacey Abrams is also an author of fiction, and has been for quite some time. I haven’t had a chance to read any of her novels, yet, but While Justice Sleeps — due out later this year — looks very interesting. I’m really looking forward to reading this one:

Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together — excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn — the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases — has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court — a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.

AbramsS-WhileJusticeSleepsUKAs political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth. While Justice Sleeps is a cunningly crafted, sophisticated novel, layered with myriad twists and a vibrant cast of characters. Drawing on her astute inside knowledge of the court and political landscape, Stacey Abrams shows herself to be not only a force for good in politics and voter fairness but also a major new talent in suspense fiction.

Stacey Abrams’s While Justice Sleeps is due to be published by Doubleday in the US and Canada (May 11th), and Harper Collins in the UK (May 27th).

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