Posts Tagged ‘Michelle Hazen’

It’s always dicey to write a formal review of a friend’s book because for me at least, I expect really amazing work from my friends. Yes, I hold them to a higher standard than I do an author I’ve never met, and I’ll admit it. No freebies from me, even when it hurts me to not hand them out.

And when Michelle Hazen writes passages like

“My eyes are as round as greedy gold coins. I have no idea why he just told me that, and I don’t care. I want that collection, want to shoot it into my veins and roll naked in it and drown in the gorgeous, classic sound of song after song brought to life by the needle of my beloved antique turntable.” (Chapter 6)

about what happens when our heroine, Jera, finds out that our hero, Jacob, is a music junkie with an amazing vinyl collection, well, I know I don’t need to try not to offend. This is a display of some serious writing chops.

But she wanted my opinion on her latest novel, A Cruel Kind of Beautiful, because Michelle wanted my opinion as an expert in Rock Fiction. So let’s start there.

First off, this is a romance. Here’s where I can launch into a discussion of category (Rock Fiction) versus genre (Romance), but I won’t. You need to know this is a romance so you know that this is a book of two people who want to come together but have obstacles to overcome, including one so severe, it’s called a Black Moment and it rips them apart. And you need to know there will be a Happily Ever After when all’s said and done. And there, I’ve told you the plot.

Of course, there’s more to it than that (and the more to it is what makes romance so delicious), so let’s look at it in the context of Rock Fiction, as I said above I would.

Jera is in a band. She’s the drummer, content to, as she acknowledges, let her singer and bassist be the buffer between herself and the audience. This is an interesting point and an important one for the overall themes of the novel, one of which is that she’s the daughter of a musician, someone who almost made it big and regrets the decisions he made in his career. He understandably doesn’t want to see his daughter make the same mistakes.

And that’s one of the (too) many subplots: Jera’s band plays a showcase. They go from warming up an empty room to finishing up in front of a packed house, which seems unbelievable enough, but then they are offered a record deal, too.

Oh, and Jacob turns up late to the show but loves every single second of it.

This is after the two had a date that included listening to his record collection—really, who has vinyl collections anymore? Which makes this an amazing pairing right there—and some of the previously mentioned gorgeous writing.
And then the novel spins into agonizing over what the record company wants to change about Jera’s band until some sage words from Jacob allow Jera to make the executive decision for the entire band and call it off.

Viewing this from the angle of Rock Fiction, it’s not quite enough to tip us over a line the novel toes. The music isn’t carried through the novel—in the second chapter, we see Jera tormented by lyrics she needs to write and music she needs to let pour out of her. And it’s amazing, it’s great… and it’s dropped. We are told other songs torment and torture her, but we don’t see that cruel kind of beautiful again.

This hurts the continuity of the story, the idea that themes and subplots are woven through the story as a whole. And there are so many gorgeous opportunities in this novel for music to play the important role it does early on, I just ache at what this novel could have been: deeply textured and layered. Instead, it feels not quite episodic but definitely as if it has ADD, as it flits from one idea (Jacob and his family issues, Jacob and his jobs, Jacob and his friend’s art show which features nude sketches of our hero, Jacob fixing cars, Jacob and his baseball scholarship… and that’s just Jacob! Jera’s got her own set) to the next, without that gorgeous weaving and building that a writer as strong as Michelle ought to be giving us.

I have toggled back and forth on this one. Can romance be this richly textured? Can it address the very serious issues that are present, everything from body image (compare and contrast Jera and Jacob!) to family pressures, to music and how differently Jacob and Jera view it even while it’s a lifeline for them both, to the value and importance of friendship—Jacob’s relationship with his baseball teammates versus Jera’s with her band, for instance. There really is so much to mine here, and I’m genuinely sad more of it didn’t make it onto the page.

Yes, I believe a romance can support these weighty topics—in fact, I think it should, especially when it could have been done relatively easily. And yes, by a writer of this caliber. Check this passage, one of my favorites:

“He murmurs the words against my forehead and they lose none of their strength for his lack of volume. Instead, I feel like he’s tattooing them on my skin, ripping me open and dropping the ink inside so I can never forget what he said. (Chapter 21)”

So despite my reservation, I’d encourage you to not skip this one, and not just because Michelle is, as I said, a friend. Pick it up. Give it a read. Be like me and eye your water heater longingly—you’ll understand when you read it—and write your own review. Tell me if you’re satisfied to flit from idea to idea, or if you’re like me and you want more.

I want more from Michelle, I’ll tell you that. I want to see what sort of excellence is going to come out of her as she grows as a writer. I would wager that this texturing that I’m missing now is going to show up sooner or later (hopefully sooner). She’s too good to keep it inside—and like I said, it’s 90% of the way there now.

“He grabs my hand before I finish the sentence, squeezing it tight like he’s afraid, even though he still stares straight forward. I glory in the pressure, hopeful goosebumps appearing all up my arms. This is what I was missing, all those other times. In every relationship, you fall short or they do… until the last one. And then you’re stretching so far there’s no going back and you can feel the wind whistling against your face as you fall. But if you’re both reaching, you catch each other’s hands at the very last minute and it makes the perfect bridge.” (Chapter 28)

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This book is chick lit with a big sense of humor and 1989 hairsprayed bangs.

Start with backbeat cover

I spotted Start with the Backbeat by Garine Isassi on a Coveting post on this blog, and was intrigued by the setting—1989, a girl attempting to discover Gangsta rap bands—and the fact that it billed itself as “A Musical Novel” not a romance. I love a rock star romance, but I’ve seen the gritty gangster beginnings of the rap industry in Straight Outta Compton, and I thought this had potential to be a nuanced discussion of a cool epoch in musical history, which it turned out it kinda was.

It was also chick lit, which I didn’t expect. The genre’s a bit out of vogue these days, so that’s probably why it isn’t labeled as such, but it has all the hallmarks: the romance is a subplot rather than a main plot to make room for more challenges with the MC’s career and friends and family. There are lots of disasters, lots of comedy, and a would-be young professional girl sort of thrashing her way to where she wants to be. I loved all these features of chick lit, and it occurs to me in a lot of ways, it was the precursor of New Adult.

I came for the 80s setting and I wasn’t disappointed. Cassette tapes, a music industry in an entirely different time. Plus, it was just painful to watch Jill and her other white middle-class co-workers tiptoe into some rough NYC neighborhoods, looking for “gangstas” to sign, while trying not to get mugged and trying to judge what might be “authentic.” The class and racial lines here are shows with a wince-worthy comedy of errors rather than a preachy tone, which makes for the kind of read that makes you cringe and nod as you recognize real life.

The supporting characters are fun, from the sprawling Armenian family to the sleazy company vice president, and all the very different officemates who end up very loyal to each other. I will say LaKeisha seemed a touch stereotypical to me, but other than that, I enjoyed the variety of personalities all whirled together.

The romance was fun too—Jill ends up going after a computer geek named Alejandro, whose name no one ever gets right, and whom she wasn’t attracted to at all at first (I blame the khaki office pants. I mean, whose ass DOESN’T look saggy in those things?). Seems like everybody starts romances these days with OOH-he’s-so-hot and I have a great time when it starts a little rougher. Alejandro was truly a gentleman, and it showed despite their many missteps.

Where this book really shines (other than the 1980s details and band references, which I LOVED) is in all the moments where you can’t help but recognize real life. The suburban mom crying off her eyeliner because she wants her husband to help more around the house, but he doesn’t do the dishes quite right, so she can’t let him do that, and she can’t leave for the night because of course he couldn’t take care of their baby the way she can and…yeah. So familiar. And Jill’s boyfriend at the beginning of the book, the sound guy that can get them in the backdoor of every club, but who disappears when he’s on the road with a band, even though he SWEARS he’s being faithful.

This has a fun, romantic comedy feel with an 80s twist and a gangsta rap punchline, with amazing lyrics and characters throughout. Four stars.

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In a rock fiction book, I love it when the music lives and breathes, when the rock star character transcends cliché, and I give lots of bonus points for a take-charge, professional-woman heroine. You Really Got Me checked all my boxes, and for that, I award it 4.25 stars.

You Really Got Me

The book starts out with Emmie working as an A&R manager’s personal assistant (that’s the guy within a record label who discovers and works with bands). She’s hyper-competent, and from the first page, I loved the detail-oriented peek at exactly what machinations go on behind the curtain of managing bands. However, her boss won’t promote her to finding her own bands, so she says promote me or quit. He says, find me The Next Big Thing and we’ll talk. She moves in with her brother in his rock band’s shared house to cut her expenses while she searches Austin, Texas for a new band to sign.

While there, she becomes friends with the whole band, especially their soulful, manwhore-with-a-heart lead singer, Slater. She overhauls the band’s image, again giving us a cool look at what it takes (beyond the music) to make or break a band. The sexual tension between Emmie and Slater SCREAMS off the page, but she’s been hurt before and she’s not about to be the dumb girl who loses her heart to a rocker right before he goes off on tour and cheats on her.

Nothing new there, right? But like any good trope, it’s all about the execution, and Emmie and Slater breathe life and humanity into the setup, reminding us that this is a familiar story because it’s TRUE. It happens all the time in the musical world. I adored the friendship between Emmie and Slater, and I was dying for the consummation of their relationship almost as much as they were. Plus, once Slater falls for Emmie, he falls hard, and it’s so vicariously delicious to watch such an incredible specimen of a man be totally devoted to his woman. Plus, he doesn’t just play music and write songs, he fixes stuff and helps Emmie run errands and sue me, but that’s just hot. Give me a man with a tool box and a guitar and I need nothing else in life.

Drawbacks? Toward the end, Emmie’s reluctance started to feel a little contrived, like I’d seen too many exchanges of her distrust while Slater laid it all on the line for her. But just as I was thinking that, it wrapped up into a hilarious scene where she realized what she was screwing up. I also would have given it a few more fractions of a star if the rest of the band were filled out more on the page. There were five of them, and that’s a lot, but we didn’t get to know them and their friendship with Emmie as deeply as I would have liked. However, Emmie’s brother and his insecurities and backstory were very nicely filled out, so I’m excited for his book (up next in the series!) What I did love about this book? The realism of the conflict and characters, the mouthwatering sexual tension, the songwriting and performing scenes and oooh la la! The musical details of what it’s like to manage a band. Very cool. This author just won herself a place on my top 10 Rock Fic authors, and I’ll be checking out the rest of her books directly.

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A book about a band manager? That, friends, is my particular niche catnip. Let’s take a peek:

You Really Got Me

The first irresistible novel in a hot new series about a rock star on his way up—and the woman he wants to take all the way…

Emmie Valencia has what it takes to be the music industry’s hottest band manager. She just needs to prove it. Determined to discover a killer new band, Emmie is ready to make her move. First stop: Austin, Texas.

As a sizzling-hot lead singer, Slater Vaughn has no trouble raising heart rates—but his band’s been flat-lining for years. When Emmie, his bandmate’s sister, crashes with them in exchange for some free management, her industry know-how lands them a spot in the biggest music festival in Texas. But it isn’t just her business acumen that catches Slater’s attention. Emmie is sexy and warm, and—for the first time in his life—he wants more.

But as irresistible as Slater is, Emmie is done with musicians. In her experience, a man can’t be a rock star and someone to trust with your heart—but Slater is determined to show her he’s both.

Okay, I have a WIP about a badass tour manager and a rock star, plus one of my best friends lives in Austin, so I’m connecting to this book all over the place. There’s just something about a take-charge woman and a musician that makes a great pairing. However, the “doesn’t date musicians” conflict isn’t a particularly strong one, and the man whore lead singer, while realistic, needs to have a fresh twist (or three) in order to reel me in. After the description, I was undecided, but because I’d love to read about a band manager, I grabbed the free sample and YES!
Even in the first few pages, the good writing and great music details jumped out at me. I grabbed this one, and I’ll let you guys know as soon as the jury returns a verdict.

Note from Susan: How long before Michelle is as big a fangirl as I am? Anyone want to take bets? Sheesh. Erika, come hang with us! Write us guest blog posts! Interact with your loyal fans!

Hi everyone! I’m back for another guest post. For those of you who know me, you know that my current WIP is rock fic. And my first book doesn’t follow a set of rich and famous abs, it follows a girl playing her drums on stages so small they sometimes aren’t stages at all. Which is why, when I saw a book called GIRL with a Guitar, I said, “Yes, please!”

Girl with a guitar

After Kylie’s dad dies in a freak accident, he leaves her with nothing other than her crazy stepmother, Darla, and the ability to play guitar. When Darla kicks Kylie out and she loses her job all in the same day, she hops a bus to Nashville determined to make her late father’s dreams come true.

Waitressing and saving her pennies to record a demo, her big break comes when she’s asked to join a tour going down the tubes with once platinum album-selling country music superstar Trace Corbin. But touring with Trace is hardly a dream come true since he’s pretty much drinking his career down the drain. If Kylie can’t pull Trace out of his rut, he’ll pull her and her dreams down with him.

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My rating: 4 stars

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The first thing that grabs me about a book like this is the love story, and Girl With A Guitar pulled me in right away. Kylie is a three-dimensional person who adores music and misses her daddy, and I loved her mixture of spunk, vulnerability and kindness. Trace shows up as a hot mess with a heart of gold, and never decended into cliché bad boy territory, which I was fully braced for. Instead, I spent the whole book flipping pages, hoping to get to know him better, just as Kylie was doing the same thing.

One of the things this book does so well is character. The whole cast was lovely, from Kylie’s waitressing friends to the managers (so many rock books forget the managers! They’re crucial!) to Kylie’s girlfriends and Trace’s sisters. So much girl power in one little book!

The characters alone would have had me rooting for the love story, but I did feel like the balance was a little off here—I could have used another scene or two of them together and clicking in order to justify all the time they spent apart and miserable.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read rock fic, I want to be wrapped up in the world of music. I want to smell the backstage funk and wave my hands in the front row, closing my eyes to get lost in the lead guitar line. This book put me right there…and it didn’t. On a macro level, the plot was great. The barriers to Kylie’s music career and relationship were intriguing and totally believable. It was all stuff that would happen in a music career, but twists you haven’t read thirty times before. That alone elevated this book to a higher star rating in my eyes. However, on a micro level, the music fell a little short. First, the author hit one of my major rock fic pet peeves by saying cords when she meant chords. Let’s hope it was a typo, but I’ve seen this typo in many rock fic books and it makes me crazy. Second, I really needed more time with Kylie on stage to FEEL her love for the music that she was always talking about. We see her song lyrics, but through most of the middle of the book, I was yearning for some stage time.

I did get some in the end, though, and this novel wrapped up sweet and nice, with a satisfying resolution for the love story, but enough room for the next installment of the series. Thank goodness for no killer cliffhangers here!

Overall, I had a wonderful time touring with the characters of Girl with a Guitar and Caisey Quinn is definitely an author I’ll keep an eye out for in the future. Four stars.

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Thanks for having me on, Susan and all my fellow rock fic readers! If you’d like to keep track of me, my reviews of other things, or hear more about my books, my links are below:

 

www.michellehazenbooks.com

https://twitter.com/michellehazen

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6559289.Michelle_Hazen

http://www.amazon.com/author/michellehazen

 

 

Hi everyone! I’m back for another guest post, this time for a book I’m still coveting, instead of one I’ve already read. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Michelle Hazen, I’m an author and a total rock fic junkie. My current Work In Progress is a new adult series that follows a rising rock band from bar rooms to the big time, as the secrets of their sex lives begin to mirror the struggles of their musical careers.

What this means is I absolutely can’t get enough of rock star romances, of all shapes and kinds (the more twisted the trope, the better I like it), but it also means I have really high standards and I’m frequently disappointed. When I first saw this cover, I was intrigued by the look of this troubled, yet sexy rocker.

Rock cover

He had it all. He lost it all. And all he wants now is a second chance.

RK Saber ran from tragedy five years ago when his car went over the side of a mountain in a prom-night crash. Consumed by guilt, he walked away from Juilliard and morphed into Rock, front man for the global rock-band sensation, Son of a Jack. Five members. Five best friends. Five rising stars burning so bright, they had to know it couldn’t last.

When tragedy strikes again and the band goes from five to two, RK is sentenced to… home. Back to the place where all his nightmares started. Back to the memory of all the things he lost. Back to the reality he refused to face before he left.

The Vetti twins were identical in all ways but two. Melanie was insane and Melissa was not. One twin was killed on prom night five years ago and one twin was not. And now that RK has returned home, the twin left standing has quite a story to tell. Could she really be the girl he thought he’d lost forever? Or is Melanie just up to her same old tricks?

ROCK is a rock-star romantic suspense by the New York Times bestselling master of twist, JA Huss.

Huh, I thought when I first read the description. That sounds good. One of my favorite bands, JJ Grey and Mofro, actually did lose nearly the whole band to a car crash and it always broke my heart to think of the frontman having to go on without them. I’m not particularly into twin-swapping action (and really, don’t you figure there are GOING to be twins pretending to be each other in this book?) but if the author pulled it off, I could go along. I love a good romantic suspense, and I’ve never seen a rock star romantic suspense, but I also don’t see where the suspense comes into the plot as it’s been presented.

For those reasons, I clicked out of the page without downloading the free sample, but then I ran across a meme on Twitter with an excerpt. I haven’t been able to find it again, but here’s a tiny clip:

meme

When I saw that, I thought two things. First, wait, Melissa Vetti, rock star? Now the girl is the rock star? I’m in! My own work in progress series starts with the book about the female drummer and I would love to see more female rock stars. Second, the excerpt (especially the extended one) was so much deeper than the lines you normally see on advertising memes.

At the time I saw this, it was 1:30 in the morning and I was camping in my car, way too wired from the rock concert I’d just been in to go to sleep, so I downloaded that free sample as fast as I could click. And then started reading my phone’s already-depleted battery into the red. From the very first page of the sample, the book had HEART.

I’ve been in a real mediocre rut lately as far as reading. Even books that are technically well-executed have been leaving me feeling kind of “meh” so to really feel for the rocker guy from the first page was a refreshing experience. I am still a little leery of possible twin-swapping shenanigans, and Melissa Vetti dies before the book starts according to the description, but in the meme, she lived and became a rock star. Clearly, there is more to the story. Also, I still don’t see where the romantic suspense will come from. But I absolutely can’t wait to dive into this one, and I’ll be sure to write up a review for you guys once I do!

Thanks for having me on, Susan and all my fellow rock fic readers! If you’d like to keep track of me, my reviews of other things, or hear more about my books, my links are below:

 

www.michellehazenbooks.com

https://twitter.com/michellehazen

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6559289.Michelle_Hazen

http://www.amazon.com/author/michellehazen

 

Hi everyone! Susan was kind enough to have me on for a guest post, so let me introduce myself. I’m Michelle Hazen, I’m an author, and a total rock fic junkie. My current Work In Progress is a new adult series that follows a rising rock band from bar rooms to the big time, so of course I love to read anything with rock and roll and romance together. The book I’m reviewing today is called Seduced and it is the prequel to a series very much like mine, following a band from their practice sessions in a laundromat to bursting into stadium sized shows later in the series. Let’s have a look at the description:

SEDUCED
BY
TARYN ELLIOT & CARI QUINN

Summary: Warning: get ready for a testosterone overload. The guys are in the driver’s seat in Seduced – and the ride’s gonna rock.

Twenty-three year old Nick Crandall has one focus in his life: Oblivion, the band he formed with his best friend Simon Kagan. With gigs coming up and the band members lacking focus after losing their drummer to rehab, they’re out of ideas. Until Oblivion’s bassist, Deacon McCoy, poses a surprising suggestion.
Bring in someone new. Two someones.

One YouTube video gone viral later, Oblivion is poised on the brink of stardom. With their new hot drummer chick — who comes in a package deal with a talented guitarist who happens to be head over pick in unrequited love with her – it seems like everything’s falling into place. Or will the band Nick and Simon have fought to keep together disintegrate before their eyes?

Four guys & one woman + more success than they ever bargained for = trouble, of the sexiest kind.
Get Seduced by this novel-length introduction to the band Oblivion. This preview occurs before the four forthcoming books about each of the band members. Sometimes getting lost means finding yourself…

Seduced (Lost in Oblivion)

Seduced

Now, mind you, Seduced isn’t actually a romance novel (though the rest of the series is), but I’m going to give you five reasons to read it anyway.

5. The music!
It is a sad, sad state of affairs that most musician romance novels use music as a setting, but don’t fill it out with appropriate details. In this book, you can feel the desperation of the characters’ love for their songs, and the drive they have to share them with the world. As for the songs themselves, while there aren’t a ton of lyrics, authors Taryn Elliot and Cari Quinn use creative and visceral descriptions in such a way that you can hear the pounding rhythm of the songs, sweeping you into the spell of a great performance, even as the pages of your Kindle actually remain silent.

4. The men are MEN.
Co-authors Elliot and Quinn can write the heck out of a male POV, so it feels like a real boy thinking, not a romance novel hero. These are guys that sweat and spit and think about getting laid, not falling in love. Which just makes it all the sweeter when the right girl starts to get to them. Some of the cruder moments just made me love this book more because I truly like a realistic perspective at all costs, and I adore an author who isn’t afraid to say that, yes, real boys see absolutely no conflict with periodically pounding the crap out of their best friend in a drunken brawl.

3. Drugs
Bet you’re not used to seeing THAT heading in the pro column… Seriously, though, the music world attracts all kinds of abuse of alcohol, tobacco, different kinds of drugs, and even caffeine. I love that this book dives into that headlong and without a soapbox in sight. Instead, the authors’ only agenda seems to be to show the realism of mind-altering substances in the lives of musicians: how they use them to boost their creativity, and to comfort themselves when they’re not performing or writing as well as they should and eventually how the substances grow a mind of their own, until addiction and rehab become part of the landscape alongside gigs and time in the studio.

I felt like Seduced was a balanced, honest look at this facet of the performing lifestyle. I feel confident that as series progresses, the variance in the characters’ approach to drugs will give the reader a glimpse at all the different roads you can choose when you’re rich, famous, and the rules (almost) don’t apply to you.

2. The sex.
This book made all my hormones perk up and take notice. I wouldn’t give the adult scenes in this book a 5-star rating, but they’re edging into 4-star territory. The sexual tension is eyeglass-fogging hot, and the main sex scene…well…without getting spoilery, let’s just say you don’t read that in a romance novel every day.

1. It ISN’T a romance novel.
There is love in this book, folks, and attraction aplenty. I’m already dying to see the completion of some of the love stories hinted at in this installment. But I adore the idea of this book because this is a start to a series that sets up all the characters and the friendships before anyone finds their soul mate. This made the world feel more real, and perversely, I was more satisfied with the story than I would have been with a straight romance, even though I adore those.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to add that the book wasn’t flawless. One of the band members really rubbed me the wrong way. He repeatedly refers to himself as an asshole, and um, I’m forced to agree. He had very little control over his emotions and made a lot of short-sighted, hurtful choices and while I felt for him in many of those situations, I didn’t frequently like him. The authors do a pretty believable job of redeeming him toward the end of the book, but he’s still not my favorite. Regardless, overall this was an outstanding read- a solid 4 stars. Plus, it’s 99 cents, which is the perfect price to sucker you into any great series. I’ve read most of the rest of the series already, and I can tell you that while they’re not perfect, they’re all super enjoyable reads. I love the continuing band dynamics, the peek into what it really takes to be rock stars, and the delicious music details. Plus, if you like lots of steam, this is your series!

Thanks for having me on today, Susan and everyone! I hope to be back to do some more guest reviews in the future, but in the meantime, if you’d like to keep track of me, my reviews of other things, or my books, my links are below:

Website
Twitter
Goodreads
Amazon Author Page

Susan says: Thanks for coming by, Michelle! Jett is crazy jealous you got to this before she did, but now it’s on her Must Buy Now list (assuming she ever looks at it). Can’t wait to see what else you share with us!