Archive for July, 2014

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Years and years ago, my sister handed me a book. And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to you, by Bay Area writer Kathi Kamen Goldmark.

For me, it was the first time I thought of Rock Fiction as a real genre. Maybe for my sister, it was foreshadowing, since she wound up in the Bay Area. You’d have to ask her.

Even beyond that, though, my copy holds a place of honor on my shelves. I truly loved that book, and every now and then, I debate re-reading it, to see if it will hold up since I’ve lived so much since I first read it. But then I think that as much as I loved it the first time, if I don’t love it this time, I’ll be shattered.

I doubt that’ll happen, to be honest. People continue to rave about this book. I’ve even had a chat with Goldmark’s literary agent about … the purpose of this post.

Goldmark passed on a few years ago, leaving behind an awful lot of unhappy friends, family, and fans. She also left behind one darn smart husband, who decided to take her mostly finished second novel and see it be published.

That book seems to have been released in June, and I totally need it. Just on principle. Just because the first book touched a chord so deeply within me — and within so many others, too.

Here’s the description. Maybe not as Rock Fiction as you may be expecting. But I bet this book rocks anyway:

Kathi Kamen Goldmark’s first novel, And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You, earned praise from an assortment of well-known authors including Amy Tan, Maya Angelou, Scott Turow, Judy Collins, Rita Mae Brown, Carl Hiaasen, and Roddy Doyle; and received positive reviews in O, the Oprah Magazine, the Miami Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications.

Completed shortly before her untimely death from breast cancer, Goldmark’s Her Wild Oats is a honky-tonk road story about two unlikely pals: A smart young woman, Arizona Rosenblatt, leaves home and her role as assistant to a high-powered Hollywood executive when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a woman from Jews for Jesus; and thirteen-year-old Otis Ray “Wild Oats” Pixlie, boy genius harmonica player. In the end, Otis Ray learns what it means to be an adult, Arizona discovers the life she wants, and they both figure out the true meaning of love and family.

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

It began at the library, as many of my forays into young adult literature do (sadly). The Girl Band picked up a copy of a book called Dancing Queen. Yeah, like in ABBA. We looked at each other. “What the heck?” we asked each other. “It’s a free read,” I told her. “If you don’t like it…”

“Return it!” she told me with a laugh.

She’s heard this refrain from me before.

A day later, she brought it to me. “Mom,” she said, “this is more your thing.”

She was right. Dancing Queen, written by Erin Downing, is the story of Olivia – Liv – who comes from Minnesota to spend the summer in London, interning for Music Mix, an operation that seems awfully like Fuse TV or the golden days of MTV. They do a countdown, they do concerts, they are supposedly all things music.

One of the first things Liv does is catch the eye of pop star Josh Cameron, who says he likes Liv because she’s not the usual starlet, but who certainly leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the way he treats our heroine. He’s never referred to by only his first name, only by both names, which is both mystifying and annoying. He also never comes alive as a character.

The story follows Liv as she tries to figure out if she wants to be with Josh Cameron while she decides – or not – to figure out what’s going on with her fellow intern, Colin. There’s the tough boss who reminds one of Miranda Priestly; the Southern belle of a roommate who, of course, has a hidden, softer side; and the other roommate, the one whose parents don’t understand her desire to work for Music Mix after the summer ends. One conversation and poof! It’s all better.

Yes, I know. This is young adult lit. What am I expecting? I don’t know. Maybe something as wonderful as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. As Sarra Manning’s Guitar Girl. Or even on par with my all-time YA Rock Fiction favorite: Fat Kid Rules the World.

In the end, I wouldn’t say this is Rock Fiction nearly as much as it is a fun beach read that, like Last Night at Chateau Marmont, is more about the condition of being a star than it is about being specifically a music star. Dancing Queen is a feel-good book about finding your way and, ultimately, about it being okay to be the boring, normal girl who loves what she does but who is perfectly happy to be outside the inner circles of fame.

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

“Susan,” People said to me, “you’ve got to read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It’s so you.”

I trusted them; I’d been hearing this same thing from way too many people to not hear the nugget of truth in what they were saying. Yet, I still procrastinated. After all, my TBR mountain range is over 500 books. I’m trying to shrink that puppy and make some work space in my office.

So I threw it up to fate. When the movie came out, I reminded myself I needed to read the book first — and soon.

That was in 2008. It wasn’t until summer of 2010 that I was standing in my local public library with my son, trying to find something that would interest him, that I turned to a rack of books and … there it was.

I told myself I shouldn’t. I have enough at home. Heck, I shouldn’t be taking out the new release I had in my hands.

It was a moment of weakness.

It was a moment I’ll never regret.

That’s because Nick and Norah is a fabulous book. It gets the rock and roll vibe and it tells a story I maybe could have lived at a younger point in my life. I recognized myself in here, recognized friends, recognized the carefree feel of wanting to keep the night going, to see where things were leading, to play this out now and not over awhile, when thinking had time to intrude, and expectations to overpower. Nope, there’s that urgency, that need to live life, to experience things, to be part of this adventure that’s changing you even as you go through it…

Yeah. I’ve been there, all right. Leaving it behind is possibly the worst thing about growing up.

Now, I’ll confess I’d been worried about the two author thing. How would it work, would the voices meld? Would dialogue and actions be consistent across characters? Yes, you’d expect a boy’s voice to be different from a girl’s — it was the small details I was worried about.

Ha. It was quite seamless and carefully done. It lent the book an authenticity in each character, although some of that could have been my own expectations coming into play. It’s entirely possible I was so charmed by the story, that I related to it so much better than I had anticipated, that I’m overlooking some flaws. I must be. No book is this perfect.

Yet like Fat Kid Rules the World, this is one of my new favorites. An instant classic.

Jett-300x300Woot! A book description that says it all!

 

With a former supermodel mother and a rock-and-roll legend father, Emma Preston has the best of everything. Nothing is as perfect as it seems though. After her parents divorce, she’s forced to live with her mother in a private Santa Monica community. Ignoring their parental roles, her mother becomes more focused on climbing the social ladder while her father is off on tour.

Growing up in a trailer park with his mother, Jesse is used to people looking down on him. When his mother begs him to submit an application for a scholarship to one of Santa Monica’s top private schools, he never expects to actually get it. When he does, he is forced to attend school with a bunch of rich kids. He ignores their stares as they judge him for having tattoos and a less than impressive car. As long as he has his surfboard and the guys at the tattoo shop, he knows he can make it through.

When Jesse shows up on the first day of school, Emma can’t help but be intrigued. Her mother would never approve of Emma talking to someone so poor, but she doesn’t care because something about Jesse draws her to him.

Jesse tries to hate Emma, but he discovers that he can’t resist her. Forced to hide their relationship from Emma’s mother and everyone else around them, things start to fall apart. When Jesse’s friend, Ally, decides to interfere, things go from bad to worse.

Can they survive their first love? Or will they be left with nothing more than shattered ties?

 

More young/new adult. Which is it? Frankly, I don’t care, so long as it’s good. I’ll leave the classifications to Susan. That’s her department.

The question, though, is if it’s Rock Fiction, and there’s only one way to find out.

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

I am not sure I knew Last Night at Chateau Marmont fell squarely into the category of Rock and Roll Fiction until a copy arrived from BookMooch and I read the cover flap. It’s the story of Brooke Alter and what happens to her when her husband lands a recording deal and becomes music’s new darling.

Okay, so it’s about Julian as he becomes a mega-star. That qualifies for rock and roll fiction, right? Even if Julian isn’t a rocker as much as a pop musician in the best sense of the word — after all, the guy lands the opening slot on Maroon 5′s tour.

This book doesn’t feel very rock-ish. If anything, it’s a story about celebrity. The paparazzi abound (although I don’t quite get how they conveniently disappear when the dog needs to be walked. Walter Alter didn’t come across as particularly interested in eating paparazzi.) and the jet-set lifestyle has definite negatives when you are the one at home, trying to continue to live your life as if nothing has changed. Gossip magazines rule your lifestyle.

In some senses, Julian could have been an actor thrust into the spotlight. Or a reality show star. His being in the music business didn’t matter.

And that is why this isn’t a rock and roll novel.

It’s a good read, though. Perfect for the beach. It’s not too deep, even when it flirts with serious topics like the serious bumps that can end a marriage or eating disorders. Even the ending is easy and breezy. It’s almost too easy, but that fits the sort of book this is. And it’s neat to see music from the angle of celebrity. That part, I can’t find fault with. It’s so real, so chilling. I can see the meeting of the scorned women so clearly, as if I was watching the reality show based on them. (Is there one? Gosh, I hope not!) And while I don’t read the rags, I’ve seen enough of them in my day to believe this vile, snarky world Weisberger plunges us — and Brooke — into.

If you’re looking for real rock and roll fiction, there are better books out there. If you want a pleasant read to pass a few hours with, this is definitely the one for you. I may not rave about it, but I’m sure glad I read it.

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

It was my mother, of all people, who told me to take Meg Cabot’s Size 12 Is Not Fat out of my TBR mountains and read it. The lead character, Heather Wells, is a former pop star turned amateur sleuth. Doesn’t that qualify for Rock Fiction?

Well, yes and no. Cabot’s former pop star is trying to go incognito, shrinking and demurring when people think they recognize her. There’s music in these pages, mostly in the form of ex-fiance Jordan Cartwright and Tania Trace, but the music doesn’t come alive and breathe the way the best Rock Fiction does. We’ll have to call this one a glancing blow.

The most striking part of Size 12 is how closely it resembles a Chick Lit novel. Heather’s not very worldly, for all that she’s been around the world and lived in an environment that probably deserves its own episode of Shark Week. She’s not very confident, for all that she stood in a spotlight and sang in front of (presumably) thousands (but possibly only hundreds; it’s not clear) of teenyboppers. With a background like this, she’s lacking in a lot of areas I wouldn’t expect her to be lacking in — like self-confidence in front of others. Oh, and for someone who’s 28, she sure acts like she’s 18 a lot of the time…

Overall, this is a cute book about a woman trying to figure out where she fits in the world. She’s working in a residence hall, hoping to make it to the six-month point at which she can enroll in classes, seeking some sort of degree that she hasn’t figured out yet. She’s living with her ex’s brother, who she’s got a massive crush on but can’t bring herself to do anything about. And then a girl goes and falls off an elevator, spinning this story into a cozy mystery.

Truly, Cabot bends genre here. Rock Fiction, chick lit, cozy mystery. She does it well, and the mystery unfolds with a sort of ramshackle grace that fits the genre-bending. The prose is fun. Heather, despite her many flaws, is a welcome character to spend time with. I hope as the series develops, so does Heather. Watching her grow from an ugly duckling into a swan will be quite the treat — if Cabot can keep Heather from following in the usual Chick Lit style to make it happen. I don’t want to see Heather lose weight and become a size eight again. I want to see her stay a 12, to be comfortable within herself, and even to embrace her music and find her power as a songwriter. I suspect it’s there, lurking, and once she and Cabot find it, this will, indeed, be Rock Fiction.

Lisa Gillis and I have started crossing paths via social media more and more often of late. I’m not arguing; I love having cool people in my life.

Her first in the Silver Strings G series has come across my radar and since I don’t recall having blogged about it before, here we go.

Marissa is a craps dealer, and in one quick second that she never wants to remember, her life turns to crap. Her best friend convinces her that the cure for a breakup is a hookup, and reluctantly, she heeds this advice.

However, Jack (what was his name again?) is not the average girl’s revenge sex.

Jack is a celebrity in his niche of the music world. Women throw themselves at him, toss their lingerie on the stage, and scream his name. Marissa has no idea of his public identity, and while she does not initially throw herself at him, she does go on to toss aside her lingerie and ultimately scream his name.

Five minutes after parting, Marissa holds no illusions about seeing him again, but does vow a new outlook on her life and herself.

Five days later, they exchange a very short text.

Five months later, Jack astounds her with an invitation to Los Angeles. Although Jack is now a star in her very non rock star fantasies, Marissa is concealing a huge secret that prevents her from accepting.

Five years later, the secret comes out and despite the conflicting emotions each feels towards the another, they must meld their two worlds together.

Hmm. Big Secret Trope. I’ve seen them done well, and I’ve seen them done badly, and I’ve seen everything in between.

The frustration here is that I haven’t read anything of Lisa’s yet. I want to talk about how confident I am with how she’ll handle this, but … I can’t.

Gotta read it and see, I suppose. And what better place to start than the start of the series? There’s even a series of short stuff meant to enhance the experience, Storm Cells. Reminds me of … well, the Demo Tapes series. Go figure.

One final note… there are comments over at GoodReads about these books needing a better editor. There’s always room on my client list for a Rock Fiction author whose social media world overlaps mine…

Jett-300x300

Susan sent me a copy of Annie Seaton’s Hot Rock. I’m not sure where she got it from, but she’d have blogged about it if it had been a gift from the author.

Whatever. I got a copy and I read that copy and let me just say, this was one of the dumbest books I think I’ve ever read. No, it’s not the time travel storyline that bugged me. It’s that there really wasn’t a story.

You’ve got this chick, Megan. She’s just landed in England to research what I think is her PhD thesis and she gets a call: some jerk of an ex has hacked into her entire life and sabotaged her entire career. She could be fired from her job at the university, she could be labeled a cheat and dishonest, and be turned into some leper or something. I’m confused ’cause how can she have this job if she doesn’t have her PhD yet? Don’t you sorta need one of those to land the job in the first place?

But our buddy Megan doesn’t care about this risk to her job. She’s going to a music festival! And sure, it’s her research, but hey, look at all these bands who’re playing! And wouldn’t it be great if she ran into this rocker dude she’s had a thing for since she was a teen? And hey, check it out! When she fumbles – because she fumbles more than she does much else – her way onto the wrong cottage’s porch, guess who opens the door?

Umm… and how devoted are you to your job, honey?

And then there’s David. This rocker dude who has chosen to live in Megan’s present and not the 1970s he’s a rocker during. So past history tells him he writes this song called For Megan or something, but he’s not sure why, even when a chick named Megan shows up on his doorstep.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

And, of course, he tries to protect her from his secret because she may not take it well. Ya think? Maybe if there was some chemistry between the two… heck, maybe if the characters had seemed like living, breathing people, there’d have been some redemption for this book. But ugh, the clichés. And these people never stop being words on a page. They never seem real.

As for the romance itself, I don’t get it. Part of the fun of a romance is seeing what obstacles a couple has to get over before they have their happily ever after, but the biggest problem these two have is that Megan can’t listen when David tells her to wait for him. Well, okay, David takes off after this Holly chick ODs, like she’s his responsibility or something even though we know he doesn’t like her. It’s never really clear what role this Holly chick plays in his 1970s life, and it’s never ever the least bit clear why the other two guys in David’s band can’t pony up and take responsibility for this unlikeable girl.

And if David’s so important to the band and its past, why does he rush off with Holly, ignoring his true love, Megan, and thumb his nose at the man who he knows – because he knows his past history (although nothing about writing a song for a girl named Megan or sharing his past with her) – is going to be the band’s big break?

Like I said: Stupid.

Probably the best part is when electronics go wonky around the solstice because of the power of the ley lines that tie into Stonehenge, but that subplot, which is so important to David, doesn’t go anywhere. The gates mostly present the obstacles for David and Megan, but they only do because they are both stupid people.

Skip this one, unless you want to take a stab at explaining that title. I’m deleting this off my reader and hoping to forget about it.

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

It’s sad to see a trilogy come to a close, even when the series has been an uneven one. Such is the case with David Hiltbrand’s series featuring recovering addict Jim McNamara.

Dying to be Famous is the third in the series, and I continue to think the main character and his addiction is the selling point. I’ve read other addicted detectives before, of course—who hasn’t?—but I don’t think I’ve read any that have given me such a clear glimpse into what it’s like to live life with an addiction.

In this adventure, Jim travels to LA, where he’s been hired, after much wooing, to find out who killed the leading contender on a show that’s suspiciously like American Idol. And that’s putting it mildly.

It’s a great plot, centered around a world that Rock Fiction was overdue to explore. (Mind you, Dying to be Famous is copyright 2007, which goes to show how far behind the eight ball your favorite expert here is.) And this book certainly takes us behind the scenes and lets us see the grimy underside of TV. I have no qualms about the authenticity of Jim’s surroundings, as has been the case in the other books in the series. This man knows the music business (as well he should. Go read his bio, if you haven’t yet).

The problem with the book is that it takes too long to get going. By the time I felt like Hiltbrand was done setting up the scenario and the suspects, I had hit the three-quarters mark. Which means that all the fun I’d been having up to that point—and it was fun, don’t get me wrong—wound up being rushed to an ending that didn’t do this book justice.

It’s a good read, but the best in the series, far and away, remains Deader than Disco, the second book. If you’re only going to read one, that’s my pick.

Not quite a West of Mars Recommended Read, but not one to ignore, either.

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

I remember when I first heard of David Hiltbrand. He’s a rock journalist and feature reporter for those cross-state folk at the Philadelphia Inquirer. No, not THAT Inquirer. Sheesh.

Anyway, I picked up Hiltbrand’s first novel, Killer Solo. Even dropped the man a friendly e-mail because, hey, us rock and roll authors ought to stick together.

And then… I didn’t love the book the way I expected to. I know, I have really high expectations for anything involving a musician. Maybe too high.

But you know what? I liked the book enough to hit up BookMooch or PaperbackSwap and get my hands on Hiltbrand’s next two books. They hung around my office awhile, as books usually do. In preparation for Rocktober, I finally picked up the second book, Deader than Disco.

If Killer Solo had been as good as this book, I’d be raving about this series from top to bottom. Deader than Disco is a GREAT read.

The rocker at the heart of the book, Angel, is almost a total ripoff of Madonna. (I hope Madonna isn’t so unpleasant in person, but on the other hand, I can believe that there’s a glimmer of truth in Angel’s character.) The storyline deviates, however, in that I don’t believe anyone has ever turned up dead at Madonna’s home, making her a suspect and sending her on the run.

As with Killer Solo, the music details are pretty authentic. Hiltbrand knows this world, inside and out. In Deader than Disco, however, there are some almost fatal mistakes. Eighties bands such as Duran Duran are shifted an entire decade earlier, into the seventies, for example. Given the level of knowledge of a pop star’s inner circle, these mistakes seem more out of place than the mistakes you’ll find in a book that doesn’t obviously know the rock world so well. Yes, I’m saying I’m holding Hiltbrand to a higher standard. Given his pedigree, it’s not an unreasonable standard.

Where Hiltbrand doesn’t fail is with our main character, detective Jim McNamara. He has an authenticity about him that can’t be denied. His AA life is well represented and seems as real to me as the music world.

Of course, Jim rides to the rescue and saves the day — and Angel’s hide, too. That’s pretty much a given in today’s literature, and people would be calling for his head if this weren’t the case.

Unfortunately, this series, published between 2003 and 2006, seems to be Hiltbrand’s only fiction. Not just rock fiction, but fiction. Period. It’s too bad. While the series got off to a rocky start. Deader than Disco is a definite West of Mars Recommended Read.