A very late review: Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie

I haven’t blogged for three months, and I’m feeling terrible about that where my ARCs are concerned. I’ve been reading just as much as usual, but with a lot of life/work/health/family reasons going on, I sort of fell off the book and social media wagon. I’m making a concerted effort to catch up with everything now, though, because in addition to owing some galley reviews, I am certain I’ve been missing out on a lot of new or buzzy books.

So, without further ado/excuses… I finished Songs in Ursa Major way back in August, and I am not exaggerating when I say I loved every bit of it.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

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?

My thoughts

I saw lots of buzz about this book before starting it—mainly comparisons to Daisy Jones & the Six (which I understand, but these two books really aren’t very similar) and discussion about how it’s loosely based on an affair between James Taylor and Joni Mitchell (fascinating, but not necessary to enjoy the book). Fictionalized accounts of the 60s/70s music scene seem to be automatic must-reads for me, and I’ve not yet been disappointed.

Main character Jane Quinn is pretty much impossible to dislike: smart, funny, super talented, intense and outspoken. She loves her music, but is devoted to her family, friends, and island. Rock star Jesse Reid is perfectly swoon-worthy, complicated and imperfect. I loved the chemistry between the characters and their passion for music. The sexism and foulness of the music industry machine comes through loud and clear in this book, but I was rooting so hard for Jane and The Breakers.

Brodie’s writing is so descriptive and lovely, I was completely drawn in to the book from the beginning and torn between wanting to read it quickly and savor it. I loved the family drama going on just under the surface, and there’s a bit of a twist in the second half that caught me off guard.

A perfect summer read for me, with just enough sexy and sweet. You know a fictionalized book about musicians is good when you really, really want to listen to the nonexistent songs, and what I wouldn’t do to listen to Jane’s albums.

Songs in Ursa Major is a debut novel, and while it’s not perfect, I found it completely absorbing, charming, and evocative. I’m looking forward to more from this author.


Review: The Butterfly Effect by Rachel Mans McKenny

I have no excuse for letting this book sit around as long as it did… I wish I had read it sooner, but it was definitely the perfect book for me right now.

What it’s about

A feminist Man Called Ove meets Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project in this rollicking tale of a grumpy introvert, her astonishing lack of social conduct and empirical data-driven approach to people and relationships.

Is there such a thing as an anti-social butterfly? If there were, Greta Oto would know about it—and totally relate. Greta far prefers the company of bugs to humans, and that’s okay, because people don’t seem to like her all that much anyway, with the exception of her twin brother, Danny, though they’ve recently had a falling out. So when she lands a research gig in the rainforest, sh leaves it all behind.

But when Greta learns that Danny has suffered an aneurysm and is now hospitalized, she abandons her research and hurries home to the middle of nowhere America to be there for her brother. But there’s only so much she can do, and unfortunately just like insects, humans don’t stay cooped up in their hives either–they buzz about and… socialize. Coming home means confronting all that she left behind, including her lousy soon-to-be sister-in-law, her estranged mother, and her ex-boyfriend Brandon who has conveniently found a new non-lab-exclusive partner with shiny hair, perfect teeth, and can actually remember the names of the people she meets right away. Being that Brandon runs the only butterfly conservatory in town, and her dissertation is now in jeopardy, taking that job, being back home, it’s all creating chaos of Greta’s perfectly catalogued and compartmentalized world.

I may be the only person in the world who hasn’t read Ove and I haven’t read The Rosie Project either, but I certainly loved this book.

My thoughts

I’m not sure what I was expecting from The Butterfly Effect, but what I got was a charming, well-written book that I couldn’t put down. It’s intelligent, funny, and full of great characters.

Main character Greta is delightfully realistic: a nerdy introvert with questionable social skills who has her whole life upended and is forced to deal with things she’d rather ignore. Greta is frustratingly selfish at times, but I found her so relatable and absolutely loved her growth through the book. Danny, Meg, Max, and Brandon are well-drawn and interesting characters as well, and I enjoyed watching Greta try to navigate her relationships with all of them.

The science, bugs, Star Trek, and familiar Iowa locales added to my enjoyment of The Butterfly Effect, but the very best part of this book was Greta’s personal growth and the truly uplifting vibes it left me with. This is a fantastic debut novel, and I’m looking forward to more from Rachel Mans McKenny.

I read most of the book on my Kindle, but supplemented with the excellent audiobook since I had a road trip to make. Carly Robbins is a great narrator, and I loved the parts I listened to. I highly recommend this book (or audiobook) to anyone who likes messy, sometimes crabby characters and smart writing.