Archive for August, 2014

Jett-300x300 Books like this one make me understand why Rock Fiction is such a strong category of books.

Here. Take a look:

Jennifer Chance unleashes her hot new series with the tale of a smoldering rocker and the fangirl who catches his eye—and finds herself living out her wildest dreams.

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? I mean, it’s usually one or the other — fangirl finds her fantasies come true, or else the girl has no idea who the guy is and has to be won over. (See some of Susan’s favorites: What the Librarian Did, or the other one that starts with the rocker coming into the flower shop and the woman there having no idea who he is.)

This one falls into that “How professional are you, lady?” category ’cause she works for the band’s booking agency. Like she was able to hide her fan girl issue during the interview? I don’t buy it. I’ve seen too many groupies reveal their true colors as soon as they even think they’ll be getting near someone who is near someone who works for the band.

Susan’s right when she says you’ve got to actually read the book before you judge it, but that’s a pretty big mountain you gotta climb, just to buy what’s happening in the story. Still, I’ve seen authors pull this off, so there’s hope. There’s always hope.

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

I’d figured that with such a great title, there was no way this book could go wrong. So I bought it for myself at BookCloseouts.com, a place where I’ve found many a gem. I mean, when you added in the back cover copy with the title…

“Eliza is looking to date a rock star — though she uses the term loosely. None of her boyfriends has been famous. Most have unbearable habits and overbearing mothers. A few only played show tunes. Still, they’re intense. Pierced. Tragically stubbled. With a predilection for dressing in black. Eliza finds them deep — in theory, anyway. But in reality, none comes close to the object of her original rock-star crush: actor/crooner Jack Wagner. When he latest catch turns out to be another mama’s boy, Eliza begins to realize love is nothing like her favorite ’80s song.”

Looks like fun, right? And totally relatable, since I came of musical age in the 80s, myself (which sorta explains why I am so devoted to Metallica these days).

The problem here is twofold: one that this reads like one of those wandering, narrative memoirs that is more of a telling of the author’s life than anything with a point. And two — perhaps because of the thinly veiled autobiography — it’s hard to get a fix on Eliza. At one moment, she seems to be sixteen. At another, I’d think she was in college. In fact, she is neither. Even the writing is problematic: at points, it screams of coming out of a graduate program’s fiction workshop whereas at others, it is unremarkable and serviceable.

And so is Eliza. She’s a typical girl who you might have found in Singles, or Reality Bites. While both movies had okay soundtracks (the former better than the latter), that was about all they had going for them.

I can’t remember the last time I was THIS disappointed in a book.

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

I can’t even remember where or when I heard about Gayle Forman’s Where She Went. It is the sequel to If I Stay, which seems to have been a pretty important book, given the way people talk about it.

If I Stay wasn’t Rock Fiction. Or it didn’t seem to be from its description. But Where She Went? Let’s see: Adam Wilde is a rock star and Mia is a rising star on the cello.
While I call the genre Rock Fiction, I never insisted that every musical angle be rock and roll. It’s just got to be about music. And let’s face it: Rock Fiction sounds way better than Music Fiction. That makes this a double-header, right?

Not so fast. First, let’s talk about the story. Adam is our leading man. When the book opens, he’s wallowing in some sort of pity party and grief all rolled up into one pathetic, medicated package of angst and cliché. He is all but impossible to like.

Then, on a self-destruction escapade, he runs into Mia. Wow, what a coincidence! And she invites him back into her life even though she’d walked out on him years before. Nevermind that it was part of some sick promise he’d made without really meaning it and has never been able to get past.

And what do you know, but she’s headed out on a farewell tour of all her private haunts around New York, so she brings Adam along. It’s like someone flips a switch of his Xanax has finally kicked in because he is suddenly bearable.

I wanted to stop and ask him if he was serious. All this over a girl?

Yup. His entire world revolves around Mia. Her life revolves around herself and her need to escape her past. Which, of course, includes Adam. And, of course, can’t be run away from.

Definitely not a plotline that I’m excited to explore. The Adam in the beginning almost made me put the book down – there’s little I hate more than pathetic characters, and Adam is the most pathetic I’ve seen in a long time. But Mia? I didn’t like her, either. She dominates, dragging Adam around the city but still keeping her secrets, like they are the only glue holding them together. She comes off as controlling and manipulative, but everyone around her acts like she’s more fragile than a robin’s egg.

Okay, so I don’t have to like a book to be able to view it as Rock Fiction. This book is Rock Fiction from the get-go. Part of Adam’s misery has pushed him to the point where he is ready to quit his band. He hates them, and it seems like they hate him back. But, of course, he’s the sole reason for their success, so they’re all stuck with each other. Except that Adam stays in a separate hotel and travels separately, but they’re all bothered by the fact that interviewers want only Adam and not anyone else in the band. How they all missed the fact that the media fixates on one member of a band—usually the frontman—and why their publicist didn’t prep them, or why the band didn’t choose another spokesman… it makes no sense. It’s a plot device, not something terribly realistic. Not to mention the interviewer who refuses to respect the rules. Hello? Think she’d have a job after word of that got out? Assuming she got past the first question and some security dude or band employee didn’t escort her out from the get-go.

Even though the book is about Adam and his relationship with his band in the early pages, it’s not until late in the book that this feels like Rock Fiction, even though we see glimpses of Adam’s rock and roll lifestyle all along. It just doesn’t ring true. The band’s success is too fast, too meteoric, too easy, but at the same time, there’s the usual fictional contradiction of the really recognizable rocker who walks around New York City without a bodyguard, and the few people who do recognize Adam keep their distance.

What about Mia, the cellist? There’s no music in her, or very little even though we’re told the opposite. While we may see the musical side of Mia onstage, as soon as she puts her bow down, she’s just another prima donna with an overly inflated sense of self, even if that sense of self is projected onto her.

Overall, this wasn’t my favorite. Far from it. This is more of a book about angst and love and connecting and being down than it is Rock Fiction, even though music seems to be such a strong factor shaping the characters. It never stops seeming like a strong factor. It never crosses the line into being.

On to the next.

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Susan sent this one over; I guess now she’s sending links and letting me do all the work. It’s about time.

I’ve got to admit that when I see books that say things like, “an epic love story about rewriting destiny,” I roll my eyes. Like… really? Haven’t we seen this a million times?

But then it gets interesting. Sort of a Sliding Doors, you know that movie with Gwyneth Paltrow that I haven’t seen yet. Or so it claims to be. How many books have you read that claim to be one thing and turn out to be another?

This at least has some potential to it. Check it:

Over the course of five years, Mikki and Crush cross paths on three separate occasions. Their first encounter changes Mikki’s life forever, but their second meeting leaves them both buried beneath the emotional wreckage of a violent attack. Mikki is left with more questions and grief than she can handle, while Crush is forced to forget the girl who saved his life.

Now nineteen years old, Mikki Gladstone has decided she’s tired of the mind-numbing meds. She books a flight to Los Angeles to end her life far away from her loving, though often distant, family.

Twenty-one-year-old Crush has always channeled his blackest thoughts into his music, but he’s never had great aspirations. He decides to fly to Los Angeles to record a demo of the only song he’s never performed in public; a song he wrote for a girl he doesn’t even know: Black Box. He has no expectations of fame and he’s never felt like his life had any purpose… until he meets Mikki in Terminal B.

When Mikki and Crush cross paths for the third time in Terminal B, neither has any idea who the other person is; until they slowly piece together their history and realize that fate has more in store for them than just another love story.

 

Lots of questions here. What sort of success does Crush have? What’s his real name, or did  his mother not want him?

Susan says this sounds like a book one of her clients wrote, Beyond Parallel. I don’t see it, but she says it’s the whole chance encounter thing. One more book to read, I guess…

And come to think of it, we don’t see a lot of these chance encounter themes in Rock Fiction. Why not? A musician’s travelling life (transient, Susan says) is perfect for these casual run-ins. Seems this is an area where Rock Fiction needs to make some inroads. I dunno… I’ll have to ask Susan’s client if these chance encounter books are hard to write.

I really gotta get these posted before Susan has a chance to read them and edit them and add her two cents…

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

I was very jazzed when I came across Olivia Brynn’s Falling Star. I was even more jazzed when Olivia contacted me and offered to send me one of the few existing print copies of the book.

I read it with no small amount of relish. It’s a fun book. I’d recommend it, absolutely. But, of course, as with the majority of what I read, there are some issues. Nothing fatal, I’m pleased to say.

Well, okay. There was one almost-fatal problem, but we can’t blame it on the author. It’s the editing, specifically the copy editing. I’m terribly sorry, but “Come here babe” just isn’t grammatically correct. There needs to be a comma between the words here and babe. This was enough of a consistent problem, there was no way it can be excused as a fluke. Someone doesn’t know how to do their job. Period.

Let’s focus on the things that are what we’re really here to talk about, which is the story. It’s not a fresh one: rock star needs to clean up his act, walks incognito into a florist, and falls in love with an ordinary girl who has no idea who he is, even though she loves his music.

Does some of this sound familiar? A bit? It’s a similar premise of the recent book from Karina Bliss, What the Librarian Did.

I feel like lately, every review winds up as a comparison — with the more recently reviewed book falling short. In some ways, Falling Star does just that. But because it lacks the more serious subplot found in Librarian, this is a stronger beach read.

That’s a compliment. I love a good beach read.

Unfortunately, our rocker, Adam, is a bit bland. He’s fine. He’s likeable. But he lacks that zing we saw in Bliss’ Devin, that raw sexuality and charisma. Likewise, Adam is also lacking the real bad boy persona — and details — that is causing his star to fall. We’re told he’s heading for problems, but all we get to see is a nice guy. His excesses are glossed over, and that gloss hurts my rock and roll rating.

Flower shop owner Jade is a character with a lot of potential. Sure, she’s got the gay best friend thing going, but she’s also confident without being too strong. There’s nothing wussy about this girl. Even when she chooses to sleep on the couch, it fits her character. Again, though, I don’t feel like I’ve gotten to know her deeply enough.

This is a problem, especially as we have many of the properly cliched scenes. The woman who doesn’t recognize the star. Getting up in the middle of the night to find Adam working on a song. The boats, the homes.

Since this is an erotic romance, I am compelled to mention the sex. Hot. Steamy. Possibly the best part of the book, and I’ve already said this is a good read. But there was a problem, here, too. In one scene, Adam changes and becomes very dominant. This was a jarring change and it bothered me. We see him so consistently as a good guy, a gentle man. And then he’s growling and he’s almost forcing Jade up against a wall and … yeah. It was too rough. Too out of character. For me, it crossed the line into assault, simply because it was so out of character.

In other words: dominant males are fine. A Jekyll and Hide switch from gentle to dominant isn’t.

I suppose that leads us to the final assessment: as a rock and roll novel, how is it? Only fair, I’m afraid. There are almost too many clichés. If that doesn’t bother you — or you’re one of those folk who lap it up, especially in an erotic romance or a good beach read — you’ll be quite happy.

I do look forward to more from Olivia Brynn. Even if she’s not kind enough to send me a freebie each time.

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

You’ll hear this refrain a lot from me: I let this book languish on my TBR mountain range for too long.

The book in question is 2004′s Misdemeanor Man, written by Dylan Schaffer. It’s the story of a public defender by day and the singer in a Barry Manilow cover (and interpretation) band by night. Everything’s on track for Barry X and the Mandys to play a show that will be attended by Mr. Manilow himself — until a case lands on Gordon’s desk. A guy’s exposed himself to an eight-year-old girl. All hell breaks loose.

All hell does break loose because this isn’t a simple case of Look What I’ve Got. There’s more going on here. A lot is at stake, and that’s putting it mildly. A city’s development. Real estate prices. And a charity that pulls people out of the gutter.

There’s a ton to like in this book. The Mandys are a colorful bunch, supporting Gordon off-stage as well as on. Gordon’s got a family unlike any other I’ve encountered in fiction, and yep, they’re equally as colorful. Of course Gordon has issues of his own, and they color everything he does. Including the Mandys.
The mystery is interesting, too. It unfolds well and makes sense. One problem, though: too many characters. It took me about a week to read this and I lost track of a few people. Who they were, what they did, what their role in things is.

One other quibble: the trial. Ugh. SO unneccessary. Oh, parts of it are totally necessary — like the video. But the rest? Skip it, folks! I understand that author Schaffer is a lawyer and there’s always this need for the play-by-play, to establish your credibility or whatnot. The story, however, is what needs to reign supreme, not the author. The micro-details of the trial bog the story down. We’re here because we, first and foremost, want to know what happens when Gordon and company play for the man himself.

This is fun stuff. We haven’t seen such deliciously quirky characters in a long time, not to mention the whole Barry Manilow angle. I lost the last bit of affection I had for the guy when I read his concert rider at The Smoking Gun.

You know what, though? I can sorta maybe see the magic of Barry, at least through Gordon’s eyes.

That makes this rockin’ book a keeper.

Jett-300x300Seems I’ve been seeing a lot of male-male romances being talked about lately. That’s fine, I suppose. It’s not generally my thing. I  mean, I like men and all. But I’d rather read a romance and dream that I’m the one being loved. For me, that’s part of the reason a girl reads romances.

Rock Fiction is a strong enough pull to make me, well, not forget that I don’t really like m/m romances. But I’m willing to put up with it for the sake of the Rock and Roll.

Sounds like there’s plenty in Guarded. Sounds like the story takes place on the road, and I love road tales (when they’re done right, but know what happens more often than it doesn’t? The details are messed up and the authors shoot themselves in the feet.) and there’s even the usual junkie cliche storyline, too. The main plot, itself, is the bodyguard story we’ve seen so often. Sounds like this one might give Kevin Costner a run for his money.

Another beef I have going in to this one: the heroes are Jordan and Jace. Know how often I had to go back and double-check to see which was the rock star and which was the bodyguard? What happened to treating the reader like gold and making sure they could tell one character from another?

Susan said she entered to win a copy of this at GoodReads, so if she wins, I guess we’ll both get a crack at it. Maybe it’ll surprise me … in good ways. I like those sorts of surprises.

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

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When I came on board at West of Mars, Susan handed me a stack of books she’d read but never reviewed. She’d warned me they’d be coming, and I told her I’d do them. I just never said when.

Hindsight is everything it’s supposed to be. Especially because I dropped into the downtown library when I was between meetings and found Rock Star Superstar in the young adult room.

Okay, fine. I was only in there to find some Rock Fiction. Young Adult usually has really good stuff.

Yeah, I’m dropping clues like a tree in October. Because you know what? I hated this book.

First off, for a book with a copyright of 2004, it’s awfully dated. References to Molly Ringwald, pay phones, MTV playing music, and Discmans? I actually had to ask what a Discman was, which left Susan shaking her head at me and calling me a baby. Then she chased me around and tried to pinch my cheeks.

Man, after that, I went home and hugged my dad and told him he was the greatest. He asked if he needed to send me to rehab.

Parents.

Back to the book. I’m still trying to figure out what it’s about. This kid named Pete, whose dad is a drunk who Pete worships for having a musician’s past, drifts through life. He says he wants to make it as a star, but it’s not something he works real hard at. He pretty much waits for things to happen to him.

And then there’s his girlfriend. Same thing.

Really, this kid has no drive or ambition. He waits for things to happen. This means there’s nothing in this story that keeps me sitting on the edge of my chair, turning the pages as fast as I can. If I hadn’t wanted to get to the end just because I’m writing a review, I’d have set this one down pretty early on. The short, choppy sentences that make Pete sound like an idiot don’t help.

I’ve read a bunch of the hot YA stuff; I’m no stranger to that room in the library. And guess what? Those books are so damn good because they treat their readers like they’ve got a clue. And a brain. And they are smart enough to handle a complex sentence, even if Pete isn’t.

One more peeve in this bummer of a book: so Pete’s girlfriend’s parents find out they’re having sex. We never find out how they learn this or even why Margaret is honest with them. C’mon, kids. There are some times in your life when your parents don’t want you to be honest. Sex is one of those times. Trust me on that one.

All we hear is that Margaret’s parents are peeved and they don’t want Margaret seeing Pete again. (What trendy names!) But then Pete and Margaret find a way and the whole issue falls away. Just like the rest of the storyline. It all drifts along, like a bottle on an ocean. Bad things happen in this little bubble where no one really gets hurt, and the good things are pretty much in that same insulated bubble. It turns into a yawner of a book.

You can thank me for sparing you the time with this one when you see me.

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

One of the more recent books to cross my radar, Jen Sincero’s Don’t Sleep With Your Drummer certainly didn’t languish on the TBR pile for long. I’m not sure why; I had picked it up on the recommendation of a fellow PaperbackSwap member and I guess it just called to me.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Yeah, it’s sort of cliched in that this story’s been told before: girl decides to drop her life and make one last shot at the big time. But it also avoids falling into the many cliches and death traps that so many rock and roll novels fall into. Yes, the bass player is a junkie. Yes, the drummer’s hot. Yes, the lead guitarist is flaky. It’s the way that Ms. Sincero deals with all these that elevates this book into one I’d recommend.

Let’s start with Lucy. We’re told she’s flaky, but from where I sit, she’s not so bad. Every time she seems to flake on Jenny, she’s doing it for the same reason (and that reason isn’t a man, despite Jenny’s jealousy of Lucy’s way with the opposite gender). It was apparent to me that Lucy was in Sixty Foot Queenie only to make Jenny happy. Her heart was with the Afreaka! outfit; it’s a character flaw in Lucy that she wasn’t brave enough to speak up. It’s also a character flaw in Jenny that she wasn’t willing to see this and to let her best friend go.

Jake the junkie… This was one of the plot lines that wasn’t well served by Jenny’s easy-breezy voice. There’s a lot going on here, with an ex-wife, some violence, the drug use. Yet we never see beneath the surface. I’d have liked to, even a little bit.

Same for Scott the hot drummer with the serious jealousy issues. Here’s a man who’s willing to park his truck around the corner and crawl out the bedroom window so no one finds out he’s schtupping the band leader, yet if anyone touches his girl — the band leader, who of course is going to be the center of attention — he goes ballistic. It makes no sense. I need a backstory here. I need some character development.

I also wonder about the need to hide the relationship. After all, Rob Zombie and Sean Yseult, anyone? Yeah, the end of their relationship was the end of White Zombie, but for years, they made quite the team. Yes, Scott’s jealousy issues doom this relationship, but Jenny didn’t know that when she felt the electricity between herself and Scott. Yet she was all too quick to proclaim this fling as wrong. She never gave it a chance.

Ultimately, I had a hard time liking Jenny. My biggest issue with her was that she came across more like a nineteen-year-old kid than she did as a twenty-nine-year-old woman. That’s not because I was married by age 29 and therefore, Jenny was wrong to be so flighty. Hardly.

Jenny had a naivetivity to her that would have worked for a younger character, but didn’t work in someone who should have gained some worldliness and maturity. I frequently found myself losing patience with her, counting how many pages I’d read, and wondering if I could quit reading now.

I’m glad I didn’t. While Jenny never really grew into a woman in her late ’20s, this problem managed to stop bothering me so badly once the band began to take off. Besides, she had moments that salvaged some of my good will toward her — like when she was tutoring and found a way to get one of the kids to break his writer’s block. THAT was a masterful moment.

Ultimately, I like Rock Fiction best when the pages breathe music, and Don’t Sleep with your Drummer certainly did that. The music end of this book is real. It’s vivid. It’s almost enough to make up for the other issues I had.

Oh, if only Jenny had been nineteen instead of 29… we’d have a rave-worthy book…

Jett-300x300Wasn’t that long ago, Rocktober 2013, actually, that Susan turned me on to Eviscerated Panda. Best band name … well, in a long time.

She sent me a link awhile ago to this one: The Very Metal Diary of Cleo Howard, another in the series. Turns out the series is longer than Susan had known; there’s at least two others, maybe more.

This one, though, is a bit off the Beaten Panda Path. It’s the diary of a girl who’s a fan, and if we all can’t relate to that, there’s something wrong with you. Or you’re a dude.

Guess the question becomes if it’s Rock Fiction or not, but there’s only one way to find out. And it sounds like finding out might just be fun.