Book Review: Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie

Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie is a story about Jane Quinn and her rise to fame as a musician. After Jesse Reid can’t perform due to an accident, Jane and her band are asked to perform in his place at the Bayleen Island Folk Fest. The performance was an instant classic, and catapulted Jane into a music career. Jesse starts his recovery on the island, where he meets Jane and they begin an affair. Brodie weaves together music history with a fictional story so beautifully, I couldn’t keep this book down. I truly enjoyed every second of this novel, and I think it’s going to be a blockbuster of a summer read this year.

What I really enjoyed about this novel was how well it captured the music industry as a whole. Brodie puts the music at the forefront of the novel, almost in equal standing to Jane’s story. During each chapter you get a glimpse into the different stages a song, or album, goes through. Brodie fantastically describes the creating process, as well as the marketing, publicity, and business side to the music industry. I loved seeing this in a novel about music because most novels in this genre only highlight just the story of the people in it. However, in Songs of Ursa Major, I really felt part of the whole musical process, and could almost imagine what these songs would sound like. If you have ever taken music courses in your life, you will appreciate what Brodie does in this novel.

Brodie also brilliantly encapsulates the entire musical era of this time in the pages of Songs in Ursa Major. The novel predominantly takes place in the late 1960s to early 1970s. I have a soft spot for music from this time, and I think the novel does a great job at representing the highs and lows of this era. It never felt disingenuine. I could tell Brodie did her research, and did whatever she could to produce a historically accurate portrayal of music from this time while situating it within the confines of this fictional narrative.

Although I enjoyed this novel immensely—I literally devoured it within a couple of days―there were a few parts I wasn’t too keen on. There were definite cliches scattered in the novel, nothing cringe-worthy, but parts that felt lack-luster. Furthermore, I felt at times Jane’s character was overzealous in her pursuit of a music career. I enjoyed how Jane always stood up for herself, and didn’t want to be defined by her label, or the men around her. However, there were some points that made Jane look almost ridiculous. For example, there’s a point where she can rekindle her romance with Jesse, but doesn’t because she didn’t want to ruin her album’s first impression. She often throws away chances of love just in case it will interfere with her image. Additionally, there’s a part where Jane goes to Greece, and I felt these chapters really held no value other than to get to another plot point. I could have done without them.

Songs in Ursa Major was a delightful summer read, and one I read sitting by the lake. This novel transported me to that era in music, and I felt pulled in with every page I read. There was never a dull moment in the novel, and I just kept wanting to read more and more. It’s definitely a page turner. Also, there’s a twist about mid-way through the novel, and it completely took me by surprise. It’s hard for me not to predict a twist, and this one really got me. I think if you are someone who likes historical fiction, and music-related books, you will love Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie!

The book comes out on June 22, 2021.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada and NetGalley for my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.