Archive for May, 2014

This review was first posted at West of Mars. It’s being reposted here, at its new permanent home.

In my quest to become the world’s most knowledgeable woman about this genre I call Rock and Roll fiction, I must say that while I’ve encountered similar plots before, the situation in Sarra Manning’s Guitar Girl is a welcome, fresh one.

It’s told in flashback style, when it’s all over but the infighting. This is always a difficult structure to pull off well, but Ms.Manning does. We are set up for angst and betrayal and a lawsuit — but we get so much, much more.

Guitar Girl is the story of Molly, a girl who is inspired by rock queen Ruby X. Molly’s intrigued by the idea of girl power and what it means for a rock band, so she grabs her two best friends and starts a band. They are totally clueless, and that instantly endears us to them. They’re muddling through — until Dean and T enter the scene. Those two have a clue. In the end, we realize they have much, much more than that. Angst and betrayal, indeed.

This fivesome remains pretty clueless throughout the book, which is a total strength of the book. If Molly knew how she was being played, we’d have an entirely different — and significantly less charming — book. But part of the strength of Guitar Girl lies in the fact that we readers pick up the clues Molly keeps missing. Instead of calling her a blockhead and wanting to chuck the book aside, we can’t. Molly’s hanging on through this ride, and that’s about all she can manage to do. We don’t expect her to see the signs. Frankly, she’s not capable.

Yes, our heroine is in over her head almost from the get-go. The cynical part of me wants to scoff and say this could never happen. Sadly, I think it happens more often than not. This is music industry exploitation at its best, gang. How Molly manages to emerge from it as relatively unscathed as she does is pretty darn amazing. She’s so darn innocent as the book opens, a true naif, as my satire professor would have said.

Yet her innocence doesn’t keep her from seeing herself when she has a chance encounter in an elevator with another rocker type. Molly’s savvy enough to realize where she’s headed — and, no matter how hard it is, she knows what she’s got to do.

Guitar Girl is totally Molly’s story, and to that end, sometimes the supporting characters aren’t as strong as they could have been. Molly’s parents are well-drawn but sometimes veer into the realm of cliche. And the band? They aren’t nearly as distinctive as they should be. There are four other people in The Hormones with Molly, but Jane gets lost, both on the page and in her own life as alcohol and drugs take over. Tara’s pretty typical, T falls short of the goal of being deliciously eccentric, and Dean’s a jerk. He’s hard to like, even when he’s being nice to Molly. Why she is involved with him at all makes no sense, except that nothing else around her is in control. Why should her heart be?

It’s really the ending that makes this book touching. A moment in an elevator has ramifications and repercussions that are totally unexpected — but precious nonetheless.

This one’s a definite West of Mars recommended read.

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As I’m surfing the web (yes, when I should be working. I’d feel bad about it, but admit it: you do it, too), I often come across new-to-me Rock Fiction. And since every time I do, it means the genre swells, that means I totally have to drool over it.

The alternative — getting overwhelmed by how much is out there and how I’ll probably never read it all, as much as I want to — just isn’t acceptable. Not in my book. Pun intended.

So… that brings us to another one I hope I get to read. It’s called A Beautiful Melody, and even though it’s the third in a series (called Beautiful), the review I came across said it can be read as a standalone. Hope that’s true!

It’s a familiar trope by now, especially in New Adult: the heartbroken girl turns around, only to realize Mr. Right is right there behind his guitar. It’s not quite that simple in this book: Naomi finally owns up to the fact that she’s more into her dude than he is into her. So she takes refuge in music, gets asked to join a band that’s “doing pretty well” (to quote a review or two) and falls for her bandmate.

One thing gives me pause, and that’s a glaring typo in the book’s description. I didn’t see mention of poor editing in any of the reviews online, but sometimes, I read the reviews online and wonder if literacy sinks in when we sit and read…

Anyhoo… I gotta admit I’m curious, especially because it sounds as though Naomi’s music isn’t exactly what I’d first pictured when I heard she took refuge in it.

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

Some friends told me a few years ago that rock stars were going to be the next big thing. So the time frame is about right for there to be not one but two books in the Silhouette Desire line featuring musicians.

I immediately ran to Paperback Swap and ordered both.

Seduced: The Unexpected Virgin, written by Emily McKay, was the first to arrive in my mailbox, so that’s the one I read first.

I’ve heard good things about the Desire line, but I have to tell you, this title is a turn-off. It seems beneath the book, especially since it’s about so very much more than a woman who’s a virgin. In fact, when the loving happens and Ana is a virgin no more, it’s a bigger deal to her new partner, Ward Miller, than it is to her.

Ana Rodriguez walked away from a career in Hollywood as a costume designer. She’s back home in Vista del Mar now, involved in the launch of a new non-profit designed to help lift the community to new heights.

I like Ana, but I’m not entirely certain I buy her as a costume designer. She’s not tough enough, not jaded and cynical enough. Her exchange with her right-hand helper, Emma, at the beginning of the book is great; that it becomes a running motif speaks to the skill of author McKay.

Our hero, too, is hard to buy as a rock star. Even a country music star. He’s … bland. Even his name: Ward Miller. Yawn. He ought to be oozing the charisma that endears his fans to him. If not, at least let’s see the grief that ought to be oozing out of him. After all, he’s a man who won’t live in the home he’d shared with his first wife, who hasn’t removed her things from that house.

Either Ward is severely repressed, or there just isn’t that much to him. Oh, we get to see his worry that he’s just a man, not a rock star. That he lets people down because he’s a man underneath the persona. What we don’t get to see is the persona.

This is the big let-down of this book. I love the plot. Love that we’ve got a woman who left behind the glamour to do something good in the world. Love that Ward set up this foundation/organization that incubates and launches and supports non-profits. What I am missing is that special spark in these two, not in a romantic sense. That’s there. But in who they are and how their lives outside of this story have shaped them.

Of course, we all know I wouldn’t have this complaint if Ward had been … oh, I don’t know. An accountant. A computer dude. Something that he’d have to have gone to college for. He’s got that vibe: college grad, straight-laced.

But a rocker, he’s not.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was all excited about Nancy Loyan’s Special Angel. And then I went and got all excited again when Ms. Loyan was kind enough to send me an ARC copy to review.

I sat down with the highest expectations … and was crushed when they weren’t met.

Here’s the thing: the plot’s really cool. We have a woman who is discovered as a young child. She’s a Jackie Evancho, except she’s an orphan, found in the woods in the French countryside and raised by nuns who think she is an angel, a gift from God. With a voice like hers, perhaps she is. During a public appearance, she is spied by a couple of scheisters who decide to adopt Angelique and exploit the holy hell out of her.

Right here, I began to have issues with the plot. Why didn’t the nuns vet this couple at all, let alone more carefully? Was Angelique up for adoption even before the Davidsons asked for her? How were they circulating the word about their angel, if so? Are these public concerts less of a sharing of Angelique’s precious gift than a way of marketing her to the best adoptive parents?

But none of this happens. In a scene famous throughout fiction, Angelique is called into the office and told she’s going to be the child of these total strangers no one has met before. And, of course, the family turns out to be abusive.

This was the part of the book I was most looking forward to. From the book’s description, these were going to be the best villains this side of famous Broadway shows. And… we were told more than we were shown. Told about isolation, about tranquilizers (and why didn’t Angelique ever go through withdrawal or become addicted?), about abuse. But Angelique never shows any behavior consistent with an abused child. She doesn’t fight back, she doesn’t go submissive… nothing. Not even Stockholm Syndrome. Yet we’re told she’s aware she’s being abused. Why does she take it so meekly? It’s never explained to satisfaction. And so, it doesn’t ring true.

After she turns 18, the point at which she’d be a legal adult and free of the servitude the Davidsons hold her in, she’s not. We’re told repeatedly that she’s still their ward. Again, makes no sense that I can see, and I began to be a bit angry. Details were dragging down a good concept.

Except it was more than details. Go back a few paragraphs, where I say we are told more than shown. This is an ongoing problem through the book, and what a shame. Loyan has great characters in Angelique and Brian. I genuinely wanted to know them, wanted to see them, wanted to understand. I wanted them to live and breathe.

But even Brian’s complicity in Angelique’s escape has holes in it. As does the eventual fallout – how am I supposed to buy that she lives for three months in a lighthouse with no food, water, or toilet facilities? And, again, there’s no after effects, no negative repercussions.

It’s a shame. Good plot. Intriguing characters. The potential was there.

And I am one sad reader.

One last note: I know this was an ARC copy, which means Advance – which means the book will go through one final proofread before it is published. But holy smoke, the typos. Problems with she and he. Peek and Peak. These are basic mistakes, and when I take a step back and look at the project as a whole, I think that Ms. Loyan was let down by her publisher. A good editor would have pulled more of the story out of the book. And caught the typos. A better editor would have helped this realize its potential. And a great editor would have turned this into the home run it deserved to be.

I feel like a heel for not liking a book provided by the author. But I’d feel like a bigger heel if I sold out, raved about it, and damaged an awful lot of credibility for everyone involved.

In an ideal world, Ms. Loyan would get the rights to her book returned to her and she’d find a better support team. I’m telling you, the bones of this one are there. They really are.

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

Once again, there I was in the library, promising myself I wouldn’t check anything out, no matter how tempting.

…and there I was, walking out of the library with a copy of Denise Vega’s Rock On. On the cover, a picture of a girl and a guy, each with a guitar. And a cute little tag line: A story of guitars, gigs, girls, and a brother (not necessarily in that order).

The cover’s language is quite right. Rock On is the story of Orion Taylor, who is forming a band that he intends to win the Battle of the Bands with. He’s navigating a new lease on life as a high schooler now that older brother Del has headed off to college. Del’s one of those perfect magic guys, but he had Orion’s back – and then some. He was a doting older brother, but something’s going on and he’s a new Del now—one that’s not particularly likeable.

As the band comes together, Del falls apart. The entire book is this way: something good happens, and something bad happens to balance it out. The band has success. They get vandalized. Orion finds a girl. Del seems to steal her. And never once is the world at stake for Orion.

Thus, the book feels like Wonder Bread: it’s light and fluffy and dependable. But it’s not hearty, and it’s not particularly satisfying, and it does leave you wanting more.

Yes, absolutely, it’s Rock Fiction. The entire book revolves around Orion’s personal growth and his path to the Battle. The things he learns, the truths and deceptions. The peace he finds and the trials it takes to get there. It’s all framed by and involving the upcoming battle. Many of the storylines are typical: a boy and his guitar. Kid with dreams. Kid and sibling at odds. First love.

It was a good read, but I’ve read better in the YA genre. I’m also starting to grow tired of the gimmicky use of graphics and different fonts to indicate a flashback. Readers really aren’t this stupid, and instead of setting the book apart, because it’s the new trendy thing to do, the book blends in with many others my kids have been bringing home. The whole wheat bread, the crusty sourdough… that’s the sort of book that I’m looking for. The one that stands out.

But, then, I’ve never been a fan of Wonder Bread.

I have some very good friends out there, friends who love to alert me to any Rock Fiction they come across.

Or, in the case of this one, Rock non-Fiction.

Now, I could write posts coveting Rock non-Fiction until my fingers fall off. There’s a ton of it out there, and more being released every day. So why am I taking the time to tell you about this one, when there’s more Rock Fiction to covet?

Well, because it’s different. It’s a memoir, for one. Written by a rock critic, one of my favorite types of people. It’s about a man trying to put his life back together after it’s been shattered, and it’s about

finding the courage to move on, clearing your throat, and letting it rip. It’s a story about navigating your way through adult romance. And it’s a story about how songs get tangled up in our deepest emotions, evoking memories of the past while inspiring hope for the future.

That last sentence. Right there. It says it all.

I totally gotta read this one.

Originally posted at West of Mars, this review is being moved to a new home here at The Rock of Pages

It figures that Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The judge found it to be emotionally satisfying.

Before the prize was handed out, I sat down with a copy, freshly downloaded from my local library. And… I hated it. I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t make myself do it. (That’s why it figures that it won the Pulitzer! I’ve seen this happen waaaay too many times.)

To be honest, I found the book boring. I found it emotionally flat, the same way I react to way too many short stories I’ve read in my time. The stories may have been about rock and roll — and they were, since they featured an aging record exec and his young employee — but they failed to strike that chord with me. You know the chord I’m talking about: the one that resonates and makes the book breathe. The one that transcends words and makes everything come alive.

Goon Squad felt too much like I was back in graduate school, bored and yearning for something different. (Of course, I feel the need to point out that my fellow students felt similar loathings toward me — only they wished I’d conform and write something they could relate to. Needless to say, workshops could be difficult. You grow a thick skin FAST in those environments.)

I’m not surprised this book won the Pulitzer. The only award-winning books I seem to like are the Printz award winners, and I’ve only read a couple of them. (They’re for Young Adult, in case you aren’t familiar with it, and one of my all-time-favorite books, Fat Kid Rules the World, was the first Printz winner I encountered. Yep, another work of Rock Fiction.)

If you decide to see what you think, go for it. Let me know if I didn’t read far enough into it and if I ought to suck it up, check it out of the library again, and find the spark that wasn’t present in the first three or four stories. Or better yet, if you’ve read and reviewed this, holler. I’ll save myself the return to agony and give you some props.

Crossing the boundaries of skin color is something we still don’t see much of in fiction, let alone Rock Fiction. This  might be the first book that does that, at least in terms of the romance.

The book is A Heart Not Easily Broken, the first in a series called The Butterfly Memoirs. But it’s fiction.

Here’s the book description:

Ebony is a smart, sexy, career-oriented black woman who wants nothing more than a summer fling with a man who challenges her mind and body. What she doesn’t expect is a blond haired, blue-eyed bass player—who won’t take “no” for an answer—to accept the challenge.

When Ebony’s attempt at a brief fling turns into more, despite negative reactions from friends and family, she finds juggling love, family, and career are nothing compared to the ultimate betrayal she endures. Now her dreams spiral into lies and secrets that threaten her future and her best friend’s trust.

 

Sounds good, but apparently the sticking point for many reviewers is that Ebony is raped, and the rocker boyfriend doesn’t believe her (really?).  And what is this lately with characters who won’t take no for an answer?

Reviews are mixed, and other than mention that the boyfriend’s a rock star, the reviews I read don’t indicate anything musical at all.

Which leads me to wonder if it is Rock Fiction at all, or if it isn’t. I’ll have to get a copy and see.

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

The premise sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Rosetta Mulligan, seventies rock-chick, fashion icon and friend to the stars has never fully embraced her role as mother to her four sons…. Rosetta now feels the time is right to parcel up her past and move on — but not until she has written her revelations of life on the road.

That’s the back cover copy on Victoria Routledge’s Swan Song.

I didn’t warm up to this one and quit after 54 pages. Or maybe it was during page 54; I’m not sure which.

There are some who’ll say you should give a book 25 pages before you decide to chuck it. Some say 50. Others say 10% — which in this case is 51 pages.

Either way, I failed to be sucked in by Rosetta, who is nasty and calculating, and her boys, who are bland and hard to tell apart.

That’s another problem with the first 54 pages. Telling. Ugh. Even the scenes — the action, the people who are moving and doing, not merely thinking — are told, not shown. This book lacked life — or did in the first 54 pages.

I’m disappointed — and I’d love to hear from someone who had a totally different take on this. What am I missing?

**
Stupid FTC garbage: I got this book through BookCrossing ’cause it sounded good. Nothing was expected of me in return, although I did write a journal entry. This here review, such as it is, is entirely self-motivated. And disappointing; I really want to like every book I read.

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

There it was in my post office box, unsolicited. I didn’t even have a head’s up that it was coming. Some dude named Rob Reid had written a book that looked all Science Fiction-y. Made me wonder what the heck the publisher was thinking, sending it my way.

And then I realized – by opening the front cover – that those weren’t funky ears on that alien. They were headphones.

I’d been gifted a work of Rock Fiction.

No wonder it came my way. I’m an expert in the genre, no?

So I set about reading. In a nutshell, aliens have come to Earth because they owe humanity all the wealth in the universe in royalties. We Earthlings are awfully rich folk – even though our newfound cash completely destroys the rest of the cosmos. Which, of course, is a problem. Not for us, but for them.

Oh, the cleverness doesn’t end there. A new heavy metal, metallicam, has been discovered. Yep. Metallicam (although our guide wanted it to be named ironmaidium). A robot-thing is named Ozzy, and our narrator’s guides are Carly and Frampton – after Carly Simon and Peter Framption, of course. In outer space, a celebrity looks like an eighties rock star and lip synchs their music, inserting horrific dance moves of their own. They’ve never seen how we do things, after all. They’ve only heard the music – and been blown away by it. Smart aliens. Sort of.

And for an Earth-bound lawyer named Nick Carter (not the Nick Carter you may be thinking of), all hell breaks loose. Of course, it can’t happen at any old time in his life. Oh, no. It comes at a time when this middling attorney is in jeopardy of being ejected quite dramatically from his firm. Can he save the day and make partner – not to mention, get the girl? Even more pressing: can he manipulate his boss, the evil Judy, into believing him and getting on board so she can do all the work and thinking while believing it’s really him doing it all?

This book oozes music. It oozes music as it skewers the music industry, and as I laughed out loud and woke my kids. It’s about music, and it lives and breathes the stuff – and all the while, it is making an awful lot of points, not all of which are music-related. Wait for the end and the reveal of the bad guy. Yeah, you may see it coming, but think about what Reid is saying, here. He’s got a point. A number of them, in fact.

This is one that I’d love to see my old satire professor teach. Sadly, he retired many years ago. But I can’t help but wonder what he’d see that I’m missing.

Go pick up a copy for yourself and let me know what you discover. And have some fun while you do.

Me, I’ll be busy playing with a stereopticon. Man, I want one of those things!