Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Ella Queen of Jazz by Helen Hancocks


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a very short book - effectively only thirteen pages - aimed at a children's audience, to introduce them to a true diva, but for me it missed the mark. I don't lower my expectations for children's literature, but this book seemed to, and the ebook version - which as an amateur reviewer was the only one I had access to - was missing text on at least two pages as far as I could tell. Hopefully the print version is complete!

Ella Fitzgerald was known for her singing talent and in her earlier years for her love of dancing, but I didn't get any of that feeling for her out of this book which seemed more like it was interested in telling the tale of a struggling artist than telling that and the much more joyous success story - with a huge love of singing - that she became. Her career began when she wanted to enter amateur night at the Apollo theater, but was intimidated with regard to her dancing, so she chose to sing instead. She won first prize.

That pivotal moment was completely bypassed in this book, which began when she was already a mature performer. The first two pages which were, I assume, double-page spreads in the print version, simply showed her singing, with neither words nor descriptive text. The pages were not numbered, but the e-numbering at the bottom of the screen showed the first text appearing on page 'seven' where it began, "Before long, Ella was taking her music up and down the country" - so, story already in progress. It was a bit of a sour note for me.

While the illustrations were colorful if nothing extraordinary, and the text did tell her career story in brief, nowhere was there a song lyric. I know to quote whole lyrics demands all kinds of permissions, but to fail to quote even a line here and there, which is entirely permissible, was unconscionable for a story about someone of Fitzgerald's pedigree and contribution to music. We learned nothing of her childhood or influences, but first encounter her on the road, running from one gig to another.

There's a brief mention of how Marilyn Monroe helped her get a gig at a venue where 'coloreds' were typically not welcomed, and this boosted her career too, but then the story is pretty much over. On the 'Marilyn' page there were two speech balloons which contained no text. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but after the obviously missing text earlier in the book, it was irritating to be left in the dark about whether this was purposeful or not. Keeping Marilyn's name secret for a couple of pages previously seemed fatuous. I don't imagine for a minute than any child reading this has a clue who Marilyn Monroe was. Well, she was Norma Jean Baker! But kids today won't know that either so the reason that this section was written this way was obscure.

I felt this was a chance to really talk about a powerful and influential woman of color, and it was lost. I know for a book for young children, you can't go into huge amounts of detail and technical matters, but for a book for children, it helps to connect to them by showing that Ella was herself a young child at one point who came from poor circumstances, but who loved music and dance, and who overcame setbacks to reach success on her own merit. It could have been so inspirational, but to me it did neither her nor the young reader any favors. It essentially told a rather plodding story of how a white woman 'saved' a 'helpless' black woman, and it felt patronizing. Consequently I'm not able to commend this as a worthy read.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dan Zane's House Party by Dan Zane, Donald Saaf, Claudia Eliaza


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is one party that got my vote! It's a fun and educational look at folk songs from a wealth and variety of origins, from the 'A' landmasses: Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Australia, and they even let in the 'E' landmass: Europe, along with some island nations, so that pretty much covers everywhere. Curiously, Antarctica didn't get a shout. I don't know why!

There is a brief, but interesting introduction by the author, followed by the song discussed, and accompanied with music notation by Claudia Eliaza, and cute illustrations by Donald Saaf. The list contains songs you have undoubtedly heard of, some of which have become popular hits in the west, along with many you probably haven't heard of, some of which have been hits in the past or in non-English languages.

The collection is extensive and is backed by an index, but since this is evidently designed as a print book, that index isn't tappable, to take you to the song listed. Neither is the contents list, but the search function in my ebook reader works well! The book also has chord diagrams. The songs are divided into interestingly-named categories:

  • Songs of Wonder & Waves
  • Songs of Dust and Sunshine
  • Songs Heard From Open Windows
  • Songs of Gusto and Celebration
  • Songs of Love and Community
  • Songs of Childhood and Morning Dreams
  • Songs of Mystery and Miles

This was a fun read and I am sure you can find many of these songs on You Tube or some other online venue to get a feel for how they sound and for the tempo and rhythm, although there are no links in the book. Such links would have been useful. I was able to find pretty much every one I looked for although I only looked for a random sample of them.

One other thing I thought would have been useful was translations. Some of the songs are not in English and no translation of the words is given. While they no doubt sound great in the foreign tongue (a couple that i listened to did, particularly Pigogo, I felt it would have been nice to know what those tongues are saying!

That aside, I think this is a fun and instructional book, and a worthy read for anyone interested in the history and sound of folk songs and I commend it.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

From This Moment on by Shania Twain


Rating: WARTY!

Shania Twain was born neither Shania nor Twain. She was Eilleen Edwards. The Shania was an invention (and not an Ojibwa word) and the Twain came from her stepdad. This audiobook is her autobiography. Why she doesn't read it herself, I do not know. She reads the introduction, which I skipped as usual, and the concluding chapter, but the rest is read by Sherie Rene Scott, and she doesn't read it too well for my ears. The book starts with Twain's childhood, but I skipped all of that until it got to the point where the author is starting to get into music, which was the only bit that really interested me.

I have to say up front that I'm not a big country music fan, or even a little one. Once in a while there's a country song that I like, but it's a rarity. However, this singer released a crossover album in 1997 titled Come On Over and has spread her wings a bit since the early days. She came to my attention with That Don't Impress Me Much and ever since that one, I'd had an interest in her, which is how I came to pick up this audiobook.

My interest waned as soon as I heard she said she would have voted for Trump had she been resident in the US. Obviously she's out of touch with reality. She lives in Switzerland. Not that those latter two things are necessarily connected.

She appears to be the clichéd country singer: growing up in a large impoverished family, which seems to be a rite of passage, at least for old school female country stars, but her mother was always indulging her interest in music. This one incident she related was disturbing though. She was eleven and was traveling alone on an overnight train to Toronto, to compete in a talent show. On the train, the conductor looked at her ticket and told her she was on the wrong train heading in the wrong direction!

After she asserted that she simply had to get to Toronto, the conductor said he would make a call. He came back later and said they would stop the train, and she could get off, and a train going in the opposite direction would stop and pick her up. They dropped off this eleven year old girl, her suitcase and her guitar by the side of the track - not at a station, but out in the middle of nowhere (Twain calls it the 'bush'), and after an hour, a train coming in the opposite direction did indeed stop and pick her up! Wow!

The oddest thing about this story though, is that after all that, she said not a word about how she did at the competition! The reader is left only to assume she fared poorly. But to have such a dramatic build-up, true or not, and then say not a word about the result is just wrong.

I honestly don't know whether to believe that story; maybe that kind of thing happens in Canada, maybe it doesn't, but I had a tough time listening to some of this story regardless of its veracity because it was simply ordinary everyday living which contributed nothing to my education! For someone who is big in music, there really wasn't a whole heck of a lot about it. Yes, she referred to it and sometimes told a story about it - such as the train story - but for the most part it really felt like it was tangential to her life instead of central to it.

I gave up on listening to the Shania Twain book after she reached the point where her parents died in a car crash. This is sad, I know, but she'd spent a good part of the story rather dissing her stepdad for not being supportive and for abusing her mother, and then went into weeping mode when they died. It felt a bit disingenuous. I could see how losing her mother, who had been so supportive, would be devastating, but a mean stepfather?

That wasn't what actually turned me off the story. What did that was her rambling on about how her mother had previously been to a fortune teller who had told her that her husband would die prematurely, but who had then refused to tell her anything more, and made her mother leave.

So Twain is going on about how the fortune teller must have foreseen her mother's death. I'm like, check please, I'm outta here. It was just too much. It's a pity that the fortune teller wasn't charged with manslaughter by irresponsibly failing to warn this woman that she was going to die! Not that I believe in any of that crap.

I got this autobiography in the first place because I thought it would be interesting, and I thought I could learn something about how she approached her music, but it was less about that than it was about everyday life, which wasn't that interesting to me.

I can appreciate that she had a rough life and pulled herself out of poverty to become a success, but she didn't really have a very engaging way of telling her story and given that her success was in music, there was really very little about the actual music. Admittedly, she hadn't achieved stardom at the point when I quit listening, and maybe there would have been more about it later, but I didn't have enough faith in the story to stay with it. I should have got Faith Hill's biography instead - that would have offered more faith, right? LOL! Based on what I heard, I can't commend this one. It don't impress me much.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Beatles on the Roof by Tony Barrell


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a short, easy read, full of interesting facts, informative asides, and rife with anecdote, detailing the rather depressing period leading up to the street-clogging Beatles "concert" on the roof of their Savile Row office building in London's toney Mayfair district. What they were actually doing is making a documentary about making an album, and they had ascended to the roof to record some songs, which is why they played some of them more than once - although the video release of the occasion doesn't make this clear. The film though, in many ways, became a documentary about the disintegration of the Beatles, and Let it Be became their swan song, even though they went on to record an equally famous (if not more so) album directly afterwards, called Abbey Road.

It was perhaps a fittingly cold day - especially on the roof where the wind blew across a London unfettered by the plethora of skyscrapers which have sprouted there more recently - to reflect the chill between the fab four, each wanting their own life, their own way, their own recognition. John was into heroin and even more into Yoko. He seemed completely lethargic, leaving it all on Paul to try and keep things moving, which made the latter seem like a drill-sergeant at times. George was disillusioned with being treated as third string after the internationally famous song-writing duo of Lennon-McCartney.

Ringo, whom the other Beatles called Ritchie - which after all was his name! - was annoyed by the constant bickering. He took off for a two week holiday. Later, George announced he was quitting and walked out. Eventually they all came back together, perhaps never more so than on the roof that day, when everything was forgotten but the band and the music, and they rocked out just like they had a mere half-dozen years before, at the start of their distress-flare career which arced so brightly over the sixties.

Paul really wanted to do a live concert and record that for the album. They talked about places they could do it - such as Tunisia or Russia, or even some venue in London, but George was dead set against performing live again. As each new suggestion was tossed out, one or other of them would veto it until the idea arose, parodying the words of a McCartney song, "Why don't we do it on the roof?" And after having people come in an put up scaffolding so the roof would not collapse under the weight of the people and equipment, they did it on the roof on a day that will be remembered in fame.

This book makes for a fascinating read (although I could have done without being reminded yet one more time that Paul's Höfner violin bass still had the playlist stuck on it from their last (real) concert in San Francisco's Candlestick Park from several years before.

The book had some ebook issues of the type which are common in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. In this case the issue was that the um was removed from the laut! I'm joking, but what I mean by that is that, the umlauts are off to the right of the letter they're supposed to be hovering above! I have no idea how that happened, but it was consistent throughout the ebook.

Presumably this will be fixed before the published version is released. I didn't even know it was possible to separate them like that, but I promise you if the Kindle-izing process can screw up an ebook, it will. You can't submit anything to this system except plain vanilla text if you don't want it mangled. My recommendation is to use the Nook format or a PDF. But note that I am highly biased against Amazon for its business practices and for personal reasons.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it as a worthy read.


Friday, June 1, 2018

The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro, Joe Pekar


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It was another 'read now' offering from Net Galley, and while some of those really are gems that ought to be more widely read, too many of them are like this one unfortunately was - not really that interesting.

This seems to be the start of a series which features different characters in life-affirming stories, full of bon-mots and optimism. That's fine, but along with that, there really needs to be a story that draws a reader in and in this case, there was not. Set in high-school, in the senior year, this is the story of four guys who get together in a band. The problem was that there didn't seem to be any real reason why these guys would get together.

The worst part of this though for me, was that once again we had a story of young guys whose taste in music is curiously exactly the same as the older author's taste! I've seen this time and time again in novels and it really kicks the reader out of suspension of disbelief because there's no reason that we're offered for why these kids would like music which is so far from their peers.

Much of the music (at least those songs I looked up) was from decades ago, and it wasn't what I would describe as 'rock 'n' roll, although some of it was. If you want your young character to like it, fine, but you really need to supply a good reason as to why they stray so far from the norms for their age group.

There may well have been more recent music that I didn't take note of, and there are, without a doubt, kids who like music from earlier periods, but usually there's a good reason for that. Maybe there was in this story, too, but none was offered to the reader, so why these kids were together and why they all seemed to like this same 'antique' music was a complete mystery, the only explanation for which is that the author was writing what he knows and including his favorite music without giving any thought or regard to whether it would really be the music of choice for these particular high-school kids.

I didn't really like any of the characters. The author, who I understand does a lot of work raising money for hockey charities, a sport he's evidently very such into, did not flesh out any of them. They seemed, ironically, very much like Joe Pekar's artwork - sketchy and unfinished. The art was black and white line drawings, and some of it was so faint in my ARC electronic copy that it looked like it was only partially done: an initial sketch which never got fleshed out. Like I said, it was an ARC, so it may well have been unfinished, but I can only judge on what I see, not on some future promise, so I can't recommend this graphic novel for the artwork, either! The drawings were OK, but nothing special.

Although the author says, in an interview I read, that he doesn't like to write predictable stories, this one was very much predictable all the way down the line, including the ending. I didn't like the way the characters were pigeon-holed. We're told that the name of the band came from the characters being stereotyped by their peers in school, but this didn't have a ring of truth to it. For example, the 'smart kid's did not appear particularly smart. And how would he be stereotyped as a 'smart kid'? I don't think 'smart kid' is the term anyone abusing him would choose!

By that same token, the 'geek' was not particularly a geek and would more likely have been pigeon-holed for his weight or appearance than for being a geek. The 'star athlete' was a dick who let one of his jock friends - a stereotypical bigot - be truly mean and abusive to his bandmates without offering a word in their support or their defense. And what's with naming a sick kid a weirdo? He wasn't weird at all - just quiet. High-school being what it is, he would more likely have been abused for his ethnicity, which was Inuit, than for being weird or quiet. So in short, all of this seemed fake and false, like it was no more than an attempt to cover all demographics.

Overall I did not like this story. It felt inauthentic throughout, and it was stuck in a very traditional rut, so it did not appeal to me at all. I wish the author every success in his endeavors, particularly in his charity ventures, but I cannot in good faith recommend this effort.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free by Kathleen Karr


Rating: WARTY!

This audio book was a full-cast production, although it's more aptly described as a full body-cast production since if I'd bought it, I would have felt stiffed. It's based on the novel which itself is rooted in a true story. The true story which occurred in 1914, was not done justice at all, which is a sad thing to say about a novel set in a prison!

None of this made me feel this was worth listening to. At times it was positively obnoxious, and the musical interludes rather spoiled it, than added to it for me. This is a problem for me - when they put music into audio books. I can see, in this case, some motivation for it, but the author's original novel - unless it came issued with a CD or something! - had no music in it, so this goes beyond whatever the author had imagined - assuming she didn't originally imagine it being produced in this form when she wrote it.

Far too many audiobooks have music included and it ruins it for me, particularly when the book isn't about music at all, and therefore the music is completely random and totally inappropriate since it has, I'm guessing, little or nothing to do with any authorial input. This is why I never want to go with Big Publishing&Trade, because you lose all rights to your work even as, legally speaking, they remain with you. You don't get to say who publishes the audio book, or whether or not it has music and what that music is like. You don't get to choose the cover, which is why this book has a cover which is totally inappropriate to the content, making it look like the novel was about a risqué fifties jazz singer! That's not for me; I'd rather sell none than sell out.

Sooo, onto the story! Libby Dodge is 16, and in Sherborn women's prison for reasons I never did find out since I DNF'd this. Maybe we never did learn, or maybe I just missed it. Sherbourn was a real prison and they did put on a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Other than that, the work is fiction, although one or two real names are used for the people involved. The novel tells of the arrival of Mrs. Wilkinson, the new cleric on site, who starts in with this progressive treatment of prisoners, much to the chagrin of the warden. In real life, this warden later did become more benign and progressive in her own outlook.

There is a truly uplifting story (the real one) to which this book is an insult. I can't define it any better than that. It just never resonated - never clicked - with me and I couldn't get into it. I didn't like it, so I can't recommend it. The singing was obnoxious at times, so this was one issue.

Some of the characterizations were so amateur and pathetic that they really distracted from the book itself. I think a story about the warden would have made for a better read, but it's not what we got, and what we did get wasn't good enough. It seemed to be a problem with allowing other people to take charge of your creation and run with it. Instead of running, they fell flat on their faces in their shabby shorts, and not only because they had such poor material in which to run in the first place.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales


Rating: WARTY!

This is yet another let's-give-it-a-try audiobook which turned out to be a mistake. It was read tiresomely by Rebecca Lowman. The first chapter was nothing save non-stop whining told in a nauseating first person voice by this clueless, whiny-ass brat of a girl named Elise Dembowski. She should have been named Dumb-Bitchski. Far from being (as the blurb lies) told in a "refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice," this novel was just the opposite.

The entire first chapter went on and on about how much of a social pariah Elise is, but never are we offered the slightest reason to explain why she's so disliked. After listening to this though, I knew perfectly well why no one liked her. Forget others warning people away from her. I wanted to warn people away from her! She was utterly clueless, insensitive to others, obnoxiously self-centered and self-important, and completely lacking in empathy. I saw no reason why anyone should like her. I sure didn't.

This is yet another in a vomit-inducing long line of first-person voice YA novels, and it was depressingly cookie-cutter. If it hadn't been in first person, that probably wouldn't have improved matters at all, but it might have made her less repellent. This was a DNF for me for several reasons, not least of which was the whining. The extremism in the apparently clueless author's claim that literally everyone in school shunned her was laughable. It simply was not remotely credible.

It was even less credible that she could turn this around and become a renowned and cool DJ - like this is somehow a pinnacle of achievement. Seriously? If she'd gone to Africa and helped AIDs victims, or helped feed starving people in some third world nation, or even handed-out blankets to the homeless one cold night in her own town, that would have been turning things around. That would have been changing who she was since she was so self-centered before, but to cite DJ-ing as some sort of life-altering plateau of achievement and coolness? I'm sorry, but all that induces in me is the idea that the author is as out of touch as her character is.

You know a YA author is not getting it done when her youthful main character has precisely the same musical tastes as the much older author does, but the final insult is that this is yet another YA author who seems to think that teen girls need a guy to validate them, otherwise they're somehow incomplete. Get a clue. Get a life. Think before you write, and quit pulling your plots out of the dumpster for goodness sake. I'm done with this author. This song won't save your life; it will bore you to death.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban


Rating: WORTHY!

Normally I avoid like the plague stories which feature striped socks on the cover - which is almost a genre of its own these days - but once in a while a worthy one comes along, and as it happens, this was a very short audiobook which I loved. Yes, there were bits and pieces which were less than thrilling, but overall, I loved the voice of this ten-year-old girl, Zoe Elias, who dreams big dreams but lacks the motivation to achieve them, as many in her age range doubtlessly do. Plus, she gets very little support from her parents who are bordering on being abusive, not in a 'physically beating their kids' sense, but in the case of her dad, having issues which need medical treatment he's not getting, and in the other case, a mom who works all hours and is almost not even a character in the story because she's so absent. Her dad being a conclusion short of a premise the reason her mother works so many hours, it would seem, since dad is profligate with money on those rare occasions he ventures out. I loved the reading voice of Tia Alexandra Ricci, and the sense of humor which ran through the narrative.

Zoe dreams of playing piano in Carnegie Hall, wearing a tiara no less!), but it's only a wild fantasy, which is squelched when her three-sheets to the wind father comes home with an electric organ instead of the grand piano she unrealistically demanded. But the organ does come with some free in home lessons, and so this is what Zoe has to deal with. That and Wheeler Diggs who is an oddball guy at school who befriends Zoe's dad more than he does Zoe, and consequently hangs at her house routinely after school instead of going straight home. Rightly or wrongly, Wheeler reminded me a bit of Heath Ledger's character in the hilarious movie Ten Things I Hate About You, which itself was loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew.

Zoe's Carnegie Hall moment comes actually in the form of a minor win after entering the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition sponsored by the makers of the organ she's learning to play. All around, the story was engaging and funny - especially in regard to Zoe's take on life and on people. It was occasionally boring here and there, but overall, a worthy read.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mozart Musical Masterpieces (author uncredited!)


Rating: WORTHY!

I've never understood why audiobook producers are so obsessed with larding-up the book with musical introductions and worse, interludes, which the author certainly did not write, never had in mind when writing, and when the book has no musical theme whatsoever. Well here's a case I not only approve of, but demand. If you have a book about music, then you need to include the music! It has to be an audiobook after a fashion, even if it's a print book.

This is a sweet little book of only some twenty pages. One might term it a suite little book, since it contains a CD of some of Mozart's most beloved work. The pages depict his life, and briefly discuss the music you can listen to, which consists of short pieces (a movement, an overture, and so on) from the following works: The Marriage of Figaro, Clarinet Concerto, Piano Concerto #21 (You may recall this as Elvira Madigan due to its association with a 1967 Swedish movie about a real life tragedy). Also featured are Horn Concerto #4, Exsultate Jubilante for the budding coloraturas amongst us, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the Gran Partita serenade, the Sinfonia Concertante, Symphony #40, and finally two pieces from Mozart's last work, the Requiem he pretty much wrote for himself as it happened. The featured pieces are Æeternam and Hostias).

There's also a little quiz at the back to test yourself on what you've learned. If you like this kind of thing, then you're in for a treat because it's one of a series featuring other composers, such as Beethoven and Chopin. You know what they say: when the Gershwin gets tenuto, the tenuto go Chopin.

I can't say all of Mozart's music is to my taste by any means, but some of my favorites are here. I recommend this not only for fans of Mozart but for anyone who wants to learn a little about him and enjoy some of his finest work.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Get Back, Imagine...Saving John Lennon by Donovan Day


Rating: WARTY!

NOTE: I understand from the author that this book is undergoing some changes, so this advance review may not apply to the final published edition.

Erratum:
"They wanted a good more than that." A good bit more than that? A good deal...?
"We need to keep our stories straights." - too many esses!
"I’m going back to December 9, 1980" - you'd be a day late. He was killed the night of December eighth!

I finished this book yesterday, and while I went into it thinking "Don't let me down" and so wanting it to please, please me, in the end it didn't come together, and it can't buy my love. This fiction followed a long and winding road like an old brown shoe, as it asked the question, "What if someone could go back in time and save John Lennon from being killed that chill, early December night in 1980?" It sounded like a great premise to me.

Lenny's ("Is his name actually Lennon?" I initially asked, but no, it isn't, I'm sorry to say!) story is that he's staying with his granddad and his granddad's husband (which was a nice touch) while his mom is out of town. Dad left a long time ago for a girl he met at a ball game, and Lenny was angry. He became Lenny the Lion, stealing coffee cups from the display at Starbucks and selling them. This eventually earned him a trip to a psychiatrist's office, which is oddly where he learned to play guitar. Anyone who has actually tried to learn to play guitar is going to resent how easy it was for him. I know I do!

A day in the life of first person PoV Lenny Funk (which is why we get no perspective on Yoko) consists of him playing his guitar in the Columbus Circle subway station to make some cash. Yoko (not that Yoko! This is a younger, modern Yoko who isn't even Japanese) shows up when a bully is giving Lenny grief. Lenny talks her into singing with him, and we read, "A crowd of people gathers around us..." What would have been wrong with writing, "A crowd of people stopped and stared" - a line from the Lennon-McCartney song, A day in the Life, one of the few songs to which they actually both contributed significantly, and specifically, a line that Lennon himself wrote? That would have been so cool, but it was a glorious opportunity missed, and in the end, that came to signify the entire novel. I was guessing at this point that we'd be seeing very few Lennon or Beatles references of this nature, and I was right. It was one in a too-long line of chances which were squandered thoughtlessly. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da!

The real starting point of this story is where Lenny discovers that an iPod nano, given to him by his grandfather, is his ticket to ride a time portal. When he plays a song from a certain time, he can physically travel back to that time and interact with people there, although how this works is rather arbitrary and very convenient for Lenny and Yoko, and when a friend like Yoko says, "I wanna hold your hand" they can travel with him. This is a great premise which reminded me of the Kathleen Turner - Nicholas Cage movie, Peggy Sue Got Married, which I loved and which was also heavily influenced by music. This is a different story, but while it's technically well-written and was quite engrossing to begin with, overall, I can't recommend it as a worthy read because there was far too much wrong with the story to let it slide.

The first sickening problem I had was with the "women are only worth anything if they're beautiful" insult to which far too many writers seem addicted, and with which this novel is replete. I know Lenny is a high school kid and this is his PoV, but he gets on this one-note song and he never gets off it. Pretty much as soon as Yoko showed up, I read, "...but this girl is maybe the best-looking female to talk to me. Ever." A couple of screens after that, he's convinced he's in love with Yoko. This shallowness gave me no confidence whatsoever that Lenny would ever be able to do anything for John Lennon! Worse than this, and at the same time that we’re being told that only beautiful young women are worth anything, we’re also learning not a thing about how Yoko feels about anything, and this is serving only to reinforce what we’ve been told: that what’s going on in a girl's mind is unimportant because only her looks matter. It’s truly nauseating, especially from a near-adult make character.

The litany of beautiful was ugly:

  • Even the most jaded of commuters can’t ignore a beautiful girl singing her heart out.
  • Did a beautiful girl my own age...
  • I'm the one with the beautiful girl...
  • Yoko’s beautiful face pops into my mind.
  • ...where a group of beautiful women are crowded around the owner...
  • There are, of course, beautiful women with them
  • “I knew it was her because she looks just like you, just as beautiful.”
  • She is so beautiful.
None of this necessary, and it's not just with the word 'beautiful' either. It's a full-frontal assault on women's credibility as people as opposed to window-dressings and trophies. Consider, for example, "...the band members are posing with a young, hot Asian woman." It couldn't be merely an Asian woman, or even a 'young Asian woman' or even 'a cool-looking Asian woman'. It has to be a "hot" one. All others can just go home. Then there's this double-whammy: "Instead of beautiful English girls, this club is filled with stunning French women...."

The insults get personal too. Shakira gets this: "Shakira is an exotic beauty" - and this was to imply that Yoko was not, which is insulting at best and racist at worst. It;s insulting to Yoko and to Shakira nbecuase it implies she has little or nothignt o offer other than her looks, which is pure bullshit. I'll bet you didn't know that Katy Perry has nothing to offer but her looks, either did you? That's what this tells me: "Well, John is a man and Katy Perry is a looker..." That insults not only Katy Perry, but also John Lennon! It could have said, "Well they're both talented musicians" but it didn't. It could have said they were both about human rights, but it didn't. Instead, it deliberately took the low road and thereby promoted John as shallowly searching for a hot babe, and Katy Perry as a skin-seep sex doll with no self respect.

Yoko (her name means ocean child, but it can mean many other kinds of child - ko - depending on how it's written) Ono comes in for some abuse later, too. It seems evident from this writing that this author is one of those who blames the Beatles break-up on Yoko, when the truth is that she really had little to do with it. It implies that John Lennon, who had already left the band but had not yet publicized it, has no mind of his own, and it also ignores the fact that the break-up was actually about many things, including Paul's very public quitting. All of this in turn was really all down to the lack of effective and consensus leadership after Brian Epstein died. Paul's hissy-fit over the other three not wanting his father-in-law to run Apple Corps didn't help. Of course, there were more currents running, and running deep here, than can be detailed with any simplicity, but the absolute best you could argue is that Yoko was merely one catalyst. You cannot realistically or fairly make her carry that weight alone.

A major issue for me was how unbelievably expert these seventeen-year-old kids were about the sixties. Yes, I'm sure there are some young people out there who do know more than you'd expect, but these two (Yoko and Lenny) were Mary Sue and Gary Stu. They had an all access pass wherever they went, and they knew everything about everything no matter which time period they were in. it was too much. At the same time, paradoxically, they knew nothing, because their entire focus was on musicians and music and they were completely oblivious to everything else around them. This made then truly annoying, juvenile, and shallow.

The idea comes up in the story that Jim Morrison can be prevented from overdosing, and later, that John Lennon can be saved from being murdered, but never once do we hear it even suggested that they could go back and save Martin Luther King, or Bobby Kennedy, or the passengers on the Pan-Am 103 flight that crashed at Lockerbie, or some three-thousand people in the Twin Towers, or the sixteen thousand or so who have died from the Union Carbide incompetence at Bhopal. This complete lack of awareness and this obsessive-compulsive focus on The Beatles only made the characters seem more dull and more shallow than ever. I get that this was about one theme, but the failure to even mention, let alone address other possibilities made the two main characters callous and selfish. I didn't like either of them.

On a matter of a pet peeve which has nothing to do with this novel, I used the word 'murder' back there deliberately, because from everything I've read about John Lennon, he was one of the least pretentious and most down-to-Earth people there was, and I honestly don't believe that he would want to be put up on a pedestal or compared, via this kind of terminology, to people like Ghandi. If he was that kind of a person, he would never have returned his MBE.

On top of all the other issues, Yenny and Loko were shown to be incredibly stupid, making the same chronically bad decision twice in a row in allowing someone to stay back in time for a visit. Lenny in particular was shown to be thoroughly clueless and incompetent with his decisions. This occurs often in time-travel movies. For example, Marty McFly's decision in Back to the Future to add only a few minutes to his return time to save Doc Brown's life, when he could have added an hour or a day or a week is a direct parallel to Lenny's last minute idiocy. Authors so easily forget that these are time travel stories: you can go back and back and back again until you get it right, unless there is some feature to the travel which prevents it. Indeed, this was a feature of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day movie, but Lenny never gets it. Yes, his time is dwindling, but he still has plenty of time and he fails.

If this had been one of those 'butterfly effect' movies where something that's changed in the past results in a horrible dystopian future, I could see how the ending, while still poor, might have made a limp kind of sense, but we'd already been shown that this isn't he case, so that excuse wasn't on the table. If we'd been shown that fate intervenes to 'correct' changes that are made, this would have been another validation, of a weak kind, of the ending, but none of that held, so the ending made zero sense. However, it was infinitely better than the dumb alternate universe we did see, which was truly sad (and not in a good way).

Even the times he does go back he fails in an epic manner, and he's too stupid to figure out why. We can work it out, but he evidently can't. At one point, a simple call to the police would have fixed all of his problems, but he's quite evidently not smart enough to entertain such an idea. One of the best loved episodes of time-travel sci-fi series Doctor Who actually makes a virtue of the "Why don't they ever go to the police?" question, and is the better for it. Unfortunately, Lenny doesn't know how to ask for a little help from his friends!

The overall impression I had from this was that the story had not been well thought through, so it's hello, goodbye to this one, and I feel fine about that. It read more like a second or third draft than a finished story, and on top of that, something about the way it portrayed John Lennon, particularly in the later chapters, felt disrespectful. While I could bring up other issues, I think this is plenty to make my point. I can't in good faith recommend a story which is obviously lacking so much in plot and character and where, in the end, the sum total of what we learn about the main character is that all he needs is love, but the fact is that he's a real nowhere man and this bird has flown.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a graphic novel based on an animated TV series which ran from the mid to late eighties (the TV show was titled simply Jem). There's also a movie release (October 2015) which has created some controversy about faithfulness to the original. Jem is the alter ego of Jerrica Benton. When Jerrica's father died, he left her a prototype entertainment studio named Synergy, run by an AI which has remarkable powers, particularly that of projecting holograms. Somehow it can also project these onto people to make them look different or augmented. Jem, who has been suffering chronic performance anxiety, finds that she can use a pair of star earrings, which facilitate her holographic makeover, and disguised as Jem, she can perform with her band.

The fly in the ointment is The Misfits - a rival, rather unscrupulous band, which runs a contest "The Misfits Vs." - whoever wants to challenge them in a battle of the bands. They've apparently been singularly successful in fending off all challenges, but now Jem wants to take them on, and the Misfits want to sabotage Jem because she's the first real rival they've faced.

Jem's band consists of her tall and willowy sister, Kimber Benton, her younger 'sister' Aja Leith, who writes their material and plays keyboards (a 'Keytar'), and Shana Elmsford, who plays drums. In the cartoon series, Jerrica and her band-mates live in a large house which is also a home to several orphaned children. All of that is excluded from this graphic version. Also there's none of the struggle for ownership of Starlight Records and contingent band showdown. Other than that, it's very similar in most ways.

One significant and very welcome difference in the graphic novel is the diversity and acceptance brought to the characters. There's more racial variation, and more body image variation in the graphic novel than in the cartoon series and (I strongly suspect) in the movie version. The graphic novel illustrator isn't afraid to depict women who are outside the tragic norm of skinny waif that's unfortunately so dominant these days. Some members in both bands are shown to be what might be termed big bodied women (BBW) or large boned as some people call it.

Note that I use these terms in differentiation to them being described as 'overweight' or 'fat', which these characters were not. So kudos for showing some diversity of body type as well as race. You tend not to find that, even in graphic novels, unless it has some bearing on the story being related. In this case, they were just people! There was no commentary, no point to be made, and the story had nothing to do with exactly how they looked, which was very refreshing.

The misfits are pretty much the same as the cartoon: Pizzazz (Phyllis Gabor in the original), Roxy (Roxanne Pelligrini in the original), and Storm (Mary Phillips in the original), the song-writer who becomes very close friends with Kimber, despite the friction between the bands. Jetta (Sheila Burns)???

Overall, I liked the mood and tone of the story, and the "girlie pink" color scheme which paralleled the original cartoon series. I think the story was enjoyable and good fun, and I recommend this if you were a fan of the original series, or if you're into some light and playful storytelling and good graphics, or even if you're just Jem-ing for the movie and need something to "take the edge off" in the meantime!



Friday, May 1, 2015

Cosmic Dancer by Paul Roland


Title: Cosmic Dancer
Author: Paul Roland
Publisher: Tomahawk Press
Rating: WARTY!

Had he lived, Marc Bolan would have looked at turning 68 in 2015, but he never saw his thirtieth birthday. The reason for that is that he and the woman he was sharing his life with at the time, drove straight into a tree in a Mini, at god knows what speed. The fact that none of this is covered in Paul Roland's book (beyond the bare fact that it happened) is what I find rather curious, and is really one of the main reasons that I'm rating this negatively.

No one in their right mind wants to drag-out every last gory detail from the accident, but the fact that scarcely any details are mentioned of the aftermath is an inexcusable omission. I think the book, for as much detail as it goes into in every aspect of his life (except this), needed to say a lot more than it did. As it is, it might have people asking why the author white-washed Gloria Jones as he apparently did. I think people want to know, as far as can be determined, what went wrong here to cut his life and his career short before it had a chance - assuming it was going - to take off again. What went wrong and how could it have been prevented so others do not make the same mistakes? It's one of the few things in this book which isn't given any depth or weight.

Marc Feld's (that was always his name - he never legally changed it) father was of Russian/Polish Jewish heritage, and drove a truck (or a 'lorry' as they call them in Britain). His mother was about as British as they come and of Christian heritage, but despite this background, Bolan never was religious - he kind of made up his own. Initially this was fashion, but he also got into fantasy, particularly of the Lord of the Rings and Narnia nature, and sometimes he had a hard time telling that from reality.

This book covers his life from birth to death, and provides quite a wealth of detail for everything in between, although there are omissions, or subjects which feel like they're skated over. The the author's style was not the best in the world. He alternately seemed like he was hero-worshiping Bolan, and at other times pillorying him. He was also inconsistent with his observations on the songs, seeming like he would run one into the ground for a trait it exhibited whereas when a previous song had exhibited that same trait, it wasn't even considered worthy of mention. There were a lot of times that it felt like the author wasn't actually giving his own opinion, but was instead going along with whatever popular or critical opinion was current of Bolan in the period being addressed. This was annoying.

In addition to his music, Bolan came to be known for two things - seriously exaggerating his life, and being powerfully driven to success and acceptance one way or another. The means to this end came through music, which he broke into almost be sheer force of will. He never was a very talented guitar player, but what he knew, he really knew what to do with it.

He success began with his own band - of which he was very much the boss - which was called Tyrannosaurus Rex. This he formed after a boy band he was in, called John's Children, broke up after a disastrous tour as opener for The Who in Germany. Tyrannosaurus Rex was a two-piece band which put out four albums and garnered themselves what Bolan considered to be a hippie following, playing a run of small acoustic gigs with a steady fan base, and releasing a couple of singles, until Bolan began to realize that he was going nowhere with this, and after marrying his girlfriend, June Child, he retooled, ditching the acoustic guitar for the electric.

He also changed the band's name, shortening it to T.Rex. The first single he released was Ride a White Swan, which, after a long slow climb, made it to the number two spot on the British charts. This is one of my favorite songs. His appearance, with some glitter on his face, effectively kick-started 'glam rock', although Bolan himself never considered his band to be a glam rock band. He followed this up with Hot Love, which went all the way to number one. T.Rex was in, and Marc Bolan had started to live his dream.

There came a string of top ten hits, many of which were number one or nearly so, and Bolan's popularity in Britain came to rival that of the Beatles in their heyday, with screaming fans fighting to get up the the stage and their noise drowning out the music. For all his success in Britain, Europe, Japan, and elsewhere though, he was never accepted in the USA, where "Get it On" was his only hit, and that had to be renamed to avoid confusion with an earlier song of the same name, so it became known as "Bang a Gong" in the US.

It was at this point that Bolan became his own worst enemy, drunk on what he considered to be his single-handed success and refusing to listen to anyone. His fame started to wane as did his hits, and he reacted by indulging in drugs - something which he had avoided like the plague to this point in his life. His wife eventually gave-up on him after he started an affair with Gloria Jones, evidently thinking he could have a wife and a mistress. It turns out he couldn't.

Bolan sunk into the depths and became more of a joke or a self-parody than anything, but then Gloria became pregnant, and Bolan started turning things around, and trying to reinvent himself. He was, it seemed, on the verge of doing just that, and finding his way back when around 4:00 am on Friday, September 16, 1977, Gloria Jones was driving him home (Bolan never learned to drive) after a night out when the car hit a tree. Neither was wearing a set belt. She survived, splayed across the hood of the Mini. Lying on the road beside it, Bolan didn't. As wikipedia reports it: "She was later due to appear in court in London on charges of being unfit to drive and driving a car in a dangerous condition. She never returned to face the charges and the Coroner's Court recorded a verdict of accidental death."

Bolan's second wave of success did indeed come after his death as more and more people acknowledged his influence and contribution to rock, but he was no longer around to enjoy it. While I can definitely recommend some of his music, I can't recommend this book.


Monday, July 1, 2013

The Prelude by KaSonndra Leigh





Title: The Prelude: A Musical Interlude Novel
Author: KaSonndra Leigh
Publisher: KaSonndra Leigh Books
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is shorter so as not to rob the writer of her story.

Errata
P12 is missing a close quote after "Do we have a deal?"
P34 "She prances right up to where Luca Martuccio's sits."? "...where Luca Martuccio's party sits" maybe?
P71 "respond back" tautology.

I didn't like this novel at all, which makes me feel bad because I want to support independent publishers. I was put off it very quickly, and while I did try hard to read all the way through it, I found myself skipping sections because they were simply uninteresting.

Erin Angelo is the female protagonist who narrates the opening section, and she had lost my support by p13 when an "Adonis" walks in: Aleksandr Dostovsky. His mouth is "a heart-shaped ode to sex". Honestly? I just cannot picture a guy with a heart-shaped mouth in a frame designed to hold a picture of a great lover! It just doesn't work. I can picture a "French fop" from an historical romance with a heart-shaped mouth. I can picture an adorable infant with a heart-shaped mouth. But a leading man? No. I'm not sure what I expected with this novel, but I did expect more maturity and class than this, especially given the Italian opera angle. Are we being told an actual story here or are we merely the uncomfortable audience for an author's 222 page wet dream? Perhaps it would have been better titled Prélude à l'Après-Midi d'un Porn?

"Adonis" tells us that he likes to be called Alek Dostov, although that sounds more like something an American would say than a Russian, and we're offered no real reason to believe that a man like him would shorten his name for the convenience of others. But his "god-like" accent turns Angelo on, apparently stirring things she hasn’t felt in ages. Unfortunately, stirring things like that tends to bring a lot of murk and pollutants to the surface. This does bring on a full-blown asthma attack in Angelo, but she still manages to speak in complete sentences! Yes, she's that amazing!

He gets her inhaler, she gets to suck, and she's finally able to obsesses on his eyes, telling him they're unusual; then she checks herself and apologizes saying that it was inappropriate! This is after this stranger has been stroking his thumb along her cheek and she saw nothing untoward about that! Talk about double standards. And why make Dostov Russian, but then refer to him in terms of Greek gods? Why not just make him Greek? Unemployment is sky-high in Greece right now. A Greek guy looking for work abroad is not an uncommon thing at all.

Angelo is in love with his accent. He says "Did I not?" and she hears it as "Deed I knot?" Maybe it's just me, but I don't see how 'not' is different from 'knot' in pronunciation. You can argue that those three particular words actually mean something else and this is what Angelo sees, but that's not how Leigh conveys it to us. Or if that's what she intended, she ties herself in knots trying to do it! Neither is Dostov a 'maestro' as he's referred to all-too-often. No one at 23 gets that appellation. Maestro means something. It's an insult to music to toss an honor like that away, and it's a betrayal of what Leigh is supposedly trying to do with this novel.

'Maestro' doesn't mean stud, or tough guy, or sex god, or even heart-shaped mouth; it has a real meaning related to music (usually) and Dostov has no cred whatsoever in that regard. What's he done? In 23 years he has not put in anywhere near sufficient time to earn such a title. Nor are we ever treated to any kind of explanation from Leigh as to why he should carry such an honorific, or what he could possibly have done to merit it at so youthful an age.

Bear in mind (or given 'deed I knot' above, perhaps 'baring mined' might be more accurate?!) that this is obviously the guy who's being introduced as the instadore du jour, yet never once does Angelo consider being completely honest with him at their first encounter. She could have explained to him that the supplier had sent the wrong color fabric, and he could have found it refreshing that here was someone who was willing to be completely honest with him given the life he's led. This would have been the perfect opportunity to remove this novel from the "Twilight" zone and put it somewhere these tall tales seem to have an insurmoutable problem in going: into honesty and authenticity, but Leigh doesn't take us there. If Angelo had been completely honest with Dostov right there and then, that would have offered the possibility of a bond, shameless bond(!), being forged between them: something which might have led to a love rooted in something other than developmentally-retarded adolescent fantasy. As it is, Leigh looks like she's writing young-adult chest-pounding romance, betraying the entire genre in the xiphoid process.

When Leigh introduces us to the reason for titling her novel the way she did, I can see where she's going, and it’s admirable, but she fails to convince me that she's chosen the right title or knows how to play this piece. I see no respect accorded to the careers which are assigned to either actor in this drama. I found that very sad; it had me distracted from the story because I was wondering why someone would make their main characters a fashion designer and a musician if they're not then going to go somewhere with it - especially in a novel which supposedly has music at its core.

On that score, I'm not sure that 'prelude' is a proper fit, either. It seemed to me that what Leigh was really looking for was more along the lines of an overture; however, given that both parties had been in relationships before, perhaps prelude - the beginning of a new movement - is better than overture, which to me signifies the start of something brand new. The two are probably interchangeable at least to some degree, but this relationship was supposed to be the start of something brand new, yet neither party to it seemed to be making any original overtures.

I was intrigued by how Leigh introduced the music motif, but disappointed that it then goes nowhere, since it was the only thing which was holding my attention! The main characters are far too one-dimensional to inspire loyalty and too predictable to generate any interest. The setting was no better. I was not at all moved by this story supposedly taking place in Milan, because I felt none of the atmosphere of that city. Everyone in the story acts exactly like they're American, with American speech patterns and even their thought processes are as American as you can get.

Not only is there nothing to make us believe we're in Milan, there isn't anything to make us believe Angelo was ever in Austin, Texas, either. Take this example: "A road that ran along the swamp lands." In Austin, Texas? Texas which is in a three-year drought? Texas which had its driest year ever in 2011? What swamp? Does Leigh not understand that there's a difference between Texas and Louisiana? Or does she think Austin is on the coast with a salt marsh next door? That was suspension of disbelief out the door again.

Why was I uninspired by the two protagonists? We have Angelo, who is supposedly a fashion prodigy at 23. That I could just about buy, but even if I swallowed that unquestioningly, what does Leigh offer me in return, to validate my trust in her? Nothing! I'm sorry, but I can't buy that a fashion meteor like Angelo goes through life thinking of nothing - quite literally nothing whatsoever - save how hot Dostov is. She goes through the entire novel and never honestly contemplates fashion. She never dwells on her work, or ruminates other than briefly in passing on her ideas for designs. She never becomes engrossed in what needs to be done to get her opera project where it needs to be. There is no fashion in her head and that makes this character a complete fraud for me. Romy and Michele were more convincing as fashion designers than Angelo is.

Yeah, we get one evening where she sits and roughs out some sketches of things she wants to make, but that's it, and it's over far too quickly. We get to share none of her thought processes during this time: there's nothing about how she's viewing what she does, nothing about how she gets an idea and translates it onto the page; nothing about how she can see fabric giving a three-dimensional life to her drawings, nothing about the fit, flow and feel of the material. Remember this is told from her first person PoV (alternating with Dostov's), yet we almost never find a fashionable thought drifting anywhere in her mind! The young-Earth creationists have more intelligent design than she does, and I can't buy that she would be even remotely like that were she a real person - not even were she hopelessly in love as well. It's a betrayal of her entire life's choices to depict her this way.

Even Dostov agrees that Erin Angelo is simply uninteresting and has nothing to offer. I know this because when we get into his mind all he has going on is lust for her body. All he wants is her "boobs" under his hands, and honestly, given the way this story is told, who can blame him when she evidently has nothing else on display? We're reminded ad nauseam that he's a maestro, yet never once does a real musical thought enter his brain. He never thinks about his opera. He never thinks about the musical direction in which he's taking it. He never thinks about any piece of music he would compose or play. He never relates music to what's happening in the real world, or sees music in the everyday events of the real world. Not once. Not ever. And he's a "maestro", so we're expected to believe. Well I don't believe it; I've been offered no reason to do so, unless you count him raising and waving his baton all over the place. And yes, do rest assured that he's tapped a few podia with it. His name ought to be Do-stiff, not Dostov.

An example of how inappropriate he is to his position is clarified starkly when he asks Erin to perform in the opera in an important solo role. This made me laugh out loud because it was so brain-dead. Some maestro. An important opera is opening and some untried, untested girl off the street with zero training is thought appropriate? We can tell what an aria-head Dostov is by the fact that his narration runs like this: "I only make it as far as the door to my Aston Martin...". Since we already know the make of car he owns, was there something wrong with merely saying "the door to my car", or are we intended to understand that the nipple-devouring Dostov is a pretentious parvenu?

The entire novel shows that this pair of one-note people don't know the score, let alone how to write or sing along with one. Their entire repertoire consists of nothing more than lusting after the other. Now I can buy that someone is hot, and would be strongly in your thoughts, but for that to be the sole subject of pretty much their entire mental process is patent nonsense. If there are truly people like that, they need competent medical attention rather urgently, and if they fail to get that, then they need law enforcement attention even more urgently before someone gets hurt.

I looked forward to reading this and would have liked to have loved it (or even loved to liked it), but I could not. This novel was not about real people with real careers, hopes, and dreams. It was merely a story of how two sets of repressed genitals got their rocks off. This novel ought to have been titled Tragédie en Musique but that one is already taken, so might I suggest Catastrophe de Mode played at tempo di licenziosità?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In Mozart's Shadow by Carolyn Meyer

Title:        In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's Story

Author: Carolyn Meyer
Publisher: Harcourt
Rating: WARTY!

The story begins with Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (known as Nannerl) having all the musical attention, in fact being rather spoiled (I skipped the prologue in this story since it offered no attraction for me).

I tried to find out why there is this obsession with adding '-erl' to people's names, but could find no reference to it in anything I read about Anna or Wolferl (Mozart). Name etymologies all suggested different derivations, which only goes to show that none of them really know what they're talking about! It would appear, at least at first blush, that it derives from Anna, but I still have no good idea what the deal is with this. I can only assume it’s some sort of affectionate term applied to youngsters and cute pets.

Meyer uses this diminutive routinely, and I have to say I find it insulting. Given that Meyer's obvious agenda here is to promote 'Mozart's sister' and her accomplishments, why would she undermine that aim by consistently relegating Anna's status to that of to a child with a pet name? Th ebook itself is divided into four parts, every single one of which is titled using one of Wolferl's names: Wolferl, Amadeo, Wolfgang Mozart! How insulting! The book is supposed to be about Anna,. yet it's really about Wolferl all along! It's Meyer who actually puts Anna into her brother's shadow! I have, therefore, decided to rebel against this, and to refer to her as Anna from here on out! So there! And I'm going to use Mozart's diminutive from here on out, too. Take that!

Anna's privileged position changes significantly when her brother Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (as he evidently liked to be known later in life), called Wolferl (and their dog was Bimperl!) arrives, and as he grows, shows himself to be a musical prodigy. The story really takes off when Wolferl is five and Anna is ten, and their father insists upon taking them to Vienna (later to become the home of the famous Strauss musical dynasty) to get them known, and to make money. They end up performing successfully for royalty, for which they're rewarded with money, clothes, and marzipan cakes.

OK, now you know my superhero weakness. Yes, you attack me with marzipan and I am defeated instantly.

I have read five chapters of this as of this writing, and I have to say I'm having some small difficulty with Meyer's style. I'm not a fan of historical fiction (and especially not historical romance, which this isn’t) so I'm biased against this in a way, but I am interested in reading historical work if it’s informative and well done. Meyer's effort isn't a disaster by any means; I get no feeling so fat that I want to ditch this novel prematurely, but it's a bit choppy and her style is not easy on my mind. It feels a bit like reading a high-school essay!

It's like she read up industriously on all things Wolferl, which is commendable, but she's now simply transposing those notes directly into a novel without thinking too deeply about the flow of her prose or of smoothing out the rough edges and balancing things. This lack of attention to composition I find rather sad given that this novel is very much about composition (in music), about musical talent, and about harmony. Her style betrays that somewhat, but I'm going to stick with it.

When you're writing about someone whose native language isn’t English, it's hard to strike a balance between using plain English and conveying to your readers that this person is not English, does not speak English and may have thought processes which are rather alien to those of us whose native language is English (especially when such people are removed from us by many generations). Meyer approaches this by tossing in a German phrase here and there, which I found disruptive because it does keep reminding me that I'm reading a novel, but it’s not a game killer. Of course, if this novel were written in German I’d be lost because I can’t speak it! What you gain on the carousel you lose in the vomit, I guess....

Anyway, after their success in Vienna, their father is determined to make a grand tour of Europe. Already by this time we can see Meyer's bias strongly coming to the fore. She's very much determined to make Anna's father a villain, and to transform Anna into a tragically robbed victim of child abuse. Maybe she's right, but I'm not ready to buy into this wholesale.

From what I've read of Wolferl and Anna, it would seem their father was driven; that he was one of these parents we see all-too-often today, who want their children to make up for some perceived lack in their parents' character or achievements instead of allowing the child to be a child and as they grow to play to their strengths, and flourish in their own right. So they keep pushing and pushing the child.

There's another assumption at play here, too: that Anna was on a much greater par with Wolferl than history has allowed her, but the fact is that we do not know this at all. We know she could play and compose. We know she was good enough to play in public and her father encouraged this, although he made her increasingly take a back seat as Wolferl himself came to the fore. But we have no compositions of Anna's extant, so we have no means at all of really judging how good she was, and even if we had her compositions, it would not tell us how well she herself played.

Some point to the fact that Wolferl, in at least one letter, referred to Anna's composition and encouraged her to continue, and he even played some of her pieces (so I understand), but this still doesn’t speak to how competent or talented she was. It’s possible that Wolferl was merely indulging his sister out of familiar affection. It’s possible that he truly did believe she was talented and wanted to encourage her. I don't think we know the answer to that question. Not from what I've read, anyway.

I'm a strong champion of women, but I don’t think anyone does women a service by falsely promoting them or by promoting them to great heights without sufficient justification for it. Perhaps Anna was worthy of every accolade with which her champions seek to shower her, but given our obsession with creating heroes out of everyone these days, I think we need to exercise caution in these endeavors, and to accept that if we’re honest, we really have insufficient data to make that call with any real confidence. It’s like Syndrome says in The Incredibles: "Once everyone is a superhero, then no one will be."

What I can readily agree upon is how shamefully women were treated back then (and still are today it needs to be said). We can agree that Anna was robbed of the opportunity to succeed or fail, but the assumption from which Meyer is operating: that Anna was seriously talented and that she was desperate for recognition and her own career in music is not something of which Meyer or my own reading at this point, has convinced me.

On another topic, here's a problem in jumping from one genre directly into a novel of a completely different genre: when I read of the young Wolferl's playful relationship with his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, who was referred to as bäsle (little cousin) all I could think of was Baal, the evil demon who attacked Jael in Misfit! Sad, sad, sad!

<>The grand tour takes them over three years to complete and they visit a variety of places, including Paris, England, and Amsterdam. Every time they think they're going home (and this is something which Anna evidently dearly wants), their father determines that there is just one more place they should go in pursuit of the almighty franc, pound, or guilder. They also get dangerously sick a few times, especially Wolferl.

Given all of the traveling which this family undertakes, the story suffers because it’s never about the journey, always about the destination which is rather odd in a story which is ostensibly about Anna's journey through life! It would have been nice to have shared with the family some of the hardships they endured actually during the journey. Yes, we hear of bad roads and uncomfortable seats, at one point a broken wheel, and at another a game Wolferl and Anna played with their stylist, but I get the feeling that these were only there because Meyer had made a note of these things and was determined to include them no matter what, rather than tell us something more interesting about the people who undertook these awful journeys, how they spent their time, and what they discussed. It’s not like you set out in the car and you're there three hours later having listened to music from your player all the way! These were long, painful, arduous journeys, but we hear almost nothing of what really transpired during them.

Noting that absence of discussion also makes me wonder why this family never discuss their siblings. Of course, they were all dead by the time the novel begins! The only place I have found any information on them was in the wikipedia entry on Anna's mother.

Anna and Wolferl were the only two survivors of seven births (and Wolferl himself had only two of his six children survive). Yes! Disease was brutal on children back then which was one reason (the other being lousy contraception!) why they had such huge families - so many of the children died that if they had only one or two, they would eventually and in short order be childless. Families were not outraged by this; they accepted this appalling attrition as part of family life. Of course, they were grieved by them, but they did not rail against an unjust and callous god for hacking down their infants with the very diseases he had purportedly created during the only six days he worked in his entire life! It was normal for them to have so many children die so readily. Three of the five siblings of Anna and Wolferl died before either of them were born, but two of them died during Anna's lifetime, yet she speaks not a single word about them.

When the Mozarts arrive home they're celebrities (this sounds like it could be a TV sitcom, doesn’t it, rather like the Partridge Family! Lol!). However, daddy isn't content (not to be confused with incontinent), and wants them to tour in continent some more. They make an abortive return trip to Vienna, where a massive smallpox outbreak prevents them from performing and eventually lays both Anna and Wolferl low. Each time they get sick, they 'take powders' and have blood let, and steadfastly maintain that they must endure god's will no matter what it is. This is why their father refused to have them inoculated against the smallpox. Upon their return home, they eventually get the good news that their archbishop is willing to fund a trip to Italy for them. The catch is that 'them' means only Wolferl and father. The women of the house cannot go, so daddy says.

The story telling style hasn’t improved. In fact, what Meyer is conveying to me with all this is that Anna spends all her time bemoaning the endless travel and whining about her having to play second fiddle (or rather, second harpsichord) to Wolferl, whilst her brother is spending all his time practicing, practicing, practicing, and composing. The funny thing is that at the same time as she's frequently referring to Wolferl playing in the background or in another room, Anna is also insisting that he needs no practice and that she must practice constantly! Yet we never get the feeling that she is practicing so tenaciously! It’s mentioned here and there, but we're never allowed to be with her when she's practicing, nor to learn how she feels about it, or what her difficulties and real joys are. This is not a good way to get the impression over to me that she's somehow being slighted or derailed despite her endless hard work whilst spoiled brat Wolferl is getting a free ride.

I also have to observe that despite the fact that this entire novel revolves around the passion for music and musical accomplishments, in the first hundred or so pages, we learning nothing about music or about how Anna plays or relates to it, even as we're urged to accept that she's head-over-heels in love with it! We're frequently told that all she wants to do is play, play play, but we never sit with her at the harpsichord or the clavicle and get to feel how she feels about it, or what goes through her mind as she's playing.

In Misfit, Jon Skovron routinely conveyed Jael's experiences and her depressed or elevated feelings really well. We experienced the same thing in You Against Me. I tried hard to convey this in Seasoning, but here in this novel, we're offered no real reason to buy into what we're told about Anna's deep attachment to her music. I find myself querying whether Meyer herself is that interested in music - or at least in this period's music.

I know a lot of writers like to play music when they write. Some even publish their 'playlist' with the novel it accompanied. I can't do that. I find myself far too distracted by the music, and my writing suffers for it! But in this case, with this novel, you'd think that we'd have much more conveyed to us about the music for its own sake. Ideally, a novel like this ought to be issued with a CD of music labeled so that you can listen to it at appropriate moments during reading, or the music ought to be supplied on a web site for download to your favorite listening device.

As it is, I'm disappointed, but I am still willing to continue my 'suspension of disbelief' contract with Meyer in this tale. My feeling at this point is that even if I'd been more disappointed in it than I am, I’d still be inclined to rate it as worthy because I think it’s important that people read works of this nature in order to understand better what our ancestors endured and what, in this case, women endured, even if the telling of the tale lacks something in credibility or isn't presented to its best advantage.

She could, had she thought more deeply about it, have found herself a husband who could have helped her continue working towards her musical ambitions, but all Meyer does is to continue to paint Anna as a maudlin victim, someone who is completely helpless without a man (in this case Wolferl) at her side. How does this render a portrait of a talented young woman who only needs a bit of a springboard to launch herself into the atmosphere she supposedly deserves? I don't think Meyer does Anna any service whatsoever, frankly, and now I want to read something about her written by someone who actually is telling it the way it was. I also want to read Anna's letters to Wolferl and his to her.

Meyer writes that Wolferl composed a sonata duet for Anna's twenty-first birthday, but when they come to play it together on the same 'keyboard', her fingers are stiff from lack of exercise. How are we supposed to comport this with the underlying theme which is Anna's passion for music? Surely if her passion was so great, she would have played regularly instead of buying a canary with the attendant resolve to teach it to sing? But we honestly don't know whether Anna's fingers really were stiff. We do know that Meyer has made this up and that she's really betraying Anna here, rather than championing her.

Meyer writes that Anna is pleased that Wolferl never criticizes her 'keyboard technique'. The word 'keyboard' did not come into use until long after the period about which Meyer is writing! Anna would never have used that term, but that's not the worst crime. Meyer is here betraying the understanding that some people have, that Wolferl thought Anna's talent to be strong, and her composition to be good. If he is, as Anna states here, so averse to criticizing her, then we have no meter whatsoever with which we might accurately measure her talent. For all we know, based on Meyer's writing, Anna could have been quite average, with Wolferl praising her only because he didn’t want to upset his emotional sister. I'm not saying that's the way it was, but Meyer certainly isn’t making a convincing case that it wasn't!

I began this on Anna's side. I wanted to see that, and understand how, she had been robbed. Unfortunately, the more I read Meyer's words, the more I find myself in a state where I can be easily convinced that she wasn't, but whether Anna was robbed or not, the fact remains that it’s not reality which is convincing me, it's Meyer herself! Presumably this is the very opposite effect to that which she sought to achieve with this novel! My feeling right now is to go ahead and recommend reading this, but to treat it as pure fiction, bearing the same relationship to reality that an impressionist painting does to a sharp color photograph. Yes, it's an image of the same scene, but if you want to pick out the fine details, you need the photograph. It you want all emotion and don’t really care about how things really are, then you need the painting. The painting is far more about the artist than it is about the scene the artist paints. And I only recommend this novel if it has the effect on you that it did on me: now I really want to learn the truth from a reliable source. Or at least as closely as we can approach the truth some two hundred years after the fact of it.

Meyer writes that Wolferl composed a sonata duet for Anna's twenty-first birthday, but when they come to play it together on the same 'keyboard', her fingers are stiff from lack of exercise. How are we supposed to comport this with the underlying theme which is Anna's passion for music? Surely if her passion was so great, she would have played regularly instead of buying a canary with the attendant resolve to teach it to sing? But we honestly don't know whether Anna's fingers really were stiff. We do know that Meyer has made this up and that she's really betraying Anna here, rather than championing her.

Meyer writes that Anna is pleased that Wolferl never criticizes her 'keyboard technique'. The word 'keyboard' did not come into use until long after the period about which Meyer is writing! Anna would never have used that term, but that's not the worst crime. Meyer is here betraying the understanding that some people have, that Wolferl thought Anna's talent to be strong, and her composition to be good. If he is, as Anna states here, so averse to criticizing her, then we have no meter whatsoever with which we might accurately measure her talent. For all we know, based on Meyer's writing, Anna could have been quite average, with Wolferl praising her only because he didn’t want to upset his emotional sister. I'm not saying that's the way it was, but Meyer certainly isn’t making a convincing case that it wasn't!

I began this on Anna's side. I wanted to see that, and understand how, she had been robbed. Unfortunately, the more I read Meyer's words, the more I find myself in a state where I can be easily convinced that she wasn't, but whether Anna was robbed or not, the fact remains that it’s not reality which is convincing me, it's Meyer herself! Presumably this is the very opposite effect to that which she sought to achieve with this novel! My feeling right now is to go ahead and recommend reading this, but to treat it as pure fiction, bearing the same relationship to reality that an impressionist painting does to a sharp color photograph. Yes, it's an image of the same scene, but if you want to pick out the fine details, you need the photograph. It you want all emotion and don’t really care about how things really are, then you need the painting. The painting is far more about the artist than it is about the scene the artist paints. And I only recommend this novel if it has the effect on you that it did on me: now I really want to learn the truth from a reliable source. Or at least as closely as we can approach the truth some two hundred years after the fact of it.

Meyer writes that Anna is pleased that Wolferl never criticizes her 'keyboard technique'. The word 'keyboard' did not come into use until long after the period about which Meyer is writing! Anna would never have used that term, but that's not the worst crime. Meyer is here betraying the understanding that some people have, that Wolferl thought Anna's talent to be strong, and her composition to be good. If he is, as Anna states here, so averse to criticizing her, then we have no meter whatsoever with which we might accurately measure her talent. For all we know, based on Meyer's writing, Anna could have been quite average, with Wolferl praising her only because he didn’t want to upset his emotional sister. I'm not saying that's the way it was, but Meyer certainly isn’t making a convincing case that it wasn't!

I began this on Anna's side. I wanted to see that, and understand how, she had been robbed. Unfortunately, the more I read Meyer's words, the more I find myself in a state where I can be easily convinced that she wasn't, but whether Anna was robbed or not, the fact remains that it’s not reality which is convincing me, it's Meyer herself! Presumably this is the very opposite effect to that which she sought to achieve with this novel! My feeling right now is to go ahead and recommend reading this, but to treat it as pure fiction, bearing the same relationship to reality that an impressionist painting does to a sharp color photograph. Yes, it's an image of the same scene, but if you want to pick out the fine details, you need the photograph. It you want all emotion and don’t really care about how things really are, then you need the painting. The painting is far more about the artist than it is about the scene the artist paints. And I only recommend this novel if it has the effect on you that it did on me: now I really want to learn the truth from a reliable source. Or at least as closely as we can approach the truth some two hundred years after the fact of it.

I began this on Anna's side. I wanted to see that, and understand how, she had been robbed. Unfortunately, the more I read Meyer's words, the more I find myself in a state where I can be easily convinced that she wasn't, but whether Anna was robbed or not, the fact remains that it’s not reality which is convincing me, it's Meyer herself! Presumably this is the very opposite effect to that which she sought to achieve with this novel! My feeling right now is to go ahead and recommend reading this, but to treat it as pure fiction, bearing the same relationship to reality that an impressionist painting does to a sharp color photograph. Yes, it's an image of the same scene, but if you want to pick out the fine details, you need the photograph. It you want all emotion and don’t really care about how things really are, then you need the painting. The painting is far more about the artist than it is about the scene the artist paints. And I only recommend this novel if it has the effect on you that it did on me: now I really want to learn the truth from a reliable source. Or at least as closely as we can approach the truth some two hundred years after the fact of it.

Meyer really picks up the pace of the book, with considerable amounts of time passing and very few pages expended in detailing them. We quickly find that Anna is 23 and is playing not at all, but is instead obsessing on her hair, her clothes, her friends who are becoming engaged or married. She does get to visit Munich for a month, but that's all.

Her father and brother go on several trips, none of which results in jobs for either of them. She makes mention that music is her first love, but spends her time shooting air guns, socializing, and playing cards instead of playing music! Finally her father essentially gives up and sends Wolferl out with his mom this time, leaving Anna at home with him, which she resents, but which actually results in her playing music again. So much for her abusive gather! Strict? Yes! Domineering? Yes! Opinionated? Yes! Abusive in any meaningful sense? No, not from what’s written here and not by the standards of their time. Anna of course resents that she must now take charge of the house, evidently having learned nothing of how to do that during those long periods when she was home with her mother and her mother stepped up and took charge.

At this point, I'm actually feeling far sorrier for Wolferl than I am for Anna. Yes, he gets to travel and play, but he's working constantly, creating sonatas, operas, masses, and earning money, and he cannot find a patron for himself. He's constantly under the weighty thumb of his father.

One thing I don't understand is why her father has not moved the entire family to Italy. It would cost no more to to do that than to fruitlessly travel as much as they do, the weather would be more kind, and they would be in a more conducive atmosphere for Wolferl's work, as well as keep Anna happy (not that this was one of his priorities!). But there it is!

I started wanting to like this, and hoping it would be interesting, informative, and not too far flung into the realm of wild speculation and melodrama, but at this point I'm afraid I cannot recommend this novel. Maybe if you're under the age of fourteen and not too discriminating, you will find it enjoyable, but I can no longer support it.

The latter part of the book descends into one long tiresome tirade of how badly Wolferl is behaving, and how he's harming his family. There's nary a word about his struggles; about what he's truly suffering through, only about how Anna is suffering. We do get to feel for Anna as we learn that her mother died whilst traveling with Wolferl in Paris, but she's evidently soon over that (to be fair, perhaps the startlingly rapid passage of years at this point accounts for that).

At this point I've really ceased to care very much what happens to Anna. Whatever it is, I'm honestly beginning to feel that she deserves it! I'm sure that's not what Meyer intended, but it is what she has achieved with me! Fortunately, I feel this only about the Anna whom Meyer has invented, not about the real woman, whom I honestly feel I do not know despite having completed almost all of this book.

We do see more mention of Anna's attachment to music, but we see far more mention of her socializing, her resentment and frustration over Wolferl, her gossiping, and her growing attachment to her star crossed captain, but even that is odd. At one point, Meyer has Anna refer to him as captain immediately before she reveals that she now calls him by his first name. Anna shamelessly (for the time) kisses him in the street and then has the hypocrisy to feel embarrassment over Wolferl's behavior towards the woman who will become his wife!

Her father refused her the marriage to her captain for what were (for the time in which these events take place) reasonable objections, such as that he was almost twice Anna's age, and had little income - an income he was likely to lose if he married Anna. These reasons were no different from those many other fathers of the period undoubtedly employed to refuse their own daughters. Yes, it's appalling that people in love are refused the chance to share that love with each other and to marry; we see that same shameful state still today, especially when those who are in love and wish to marry are of the same gender, but to seek to pillory Anna's father for the refusal is nothing but drama on Meyer's part.

Eventually we learn of Wolferl's meeting with and courting of Constanze Weber, who became his wife. She was from a musical family and was the sister of renowned singer Aloysia Weber. She wrote the first biography of Mozart after his death. We learn that Anna eventually talks her father into granting permission, and Wolferl marries. If this (Anna's part in it) is true, then it's heartbreaking that it's her influence which allows her brother to enter into the marriage he seeks and from which her father initially withheld consent, when she herself cannot marry because she lacks this same consent, but with this story, we don't know if this is what really happened or if Meyer is simply making it up as she goes along, in order to 'enhance' the story! That's sad.

Shortly after Wolferl's first child dies, Anna meets Johann Berchtold, the man she will marry. He is older, and has several children already, but he is wealthy. They marry and now Anna has something new to complain about: the manners and habits of his children. I find what Meyer has written on this score hard to believe. Perhaps it was true, but I have no way of knowing that and no longer trust Meyer at this point!

I find it especially hard to swallow this given what I know about the real Anna: that when her first child was born, she left it with her father to raise until he died when her son was about two years old. Hypocrite much, Anna?! Of course, this, once again, actually isn't Anna, but merely Meyer's impressionist painting of Anna, and she paints it that Anna is so miserable in her married life that she doesn't want her child to be subject to it; that she can't bear for her own child to be drowned in this, and she's doing it all for love of him! I'm sorry but I don't buy Meyer's account here at all. Some argue that this arrangement was enforced upon her by her father's wish to try and raise another musical prodigy, or that it was because Anna's poor health, or because of of the strain of being mother and stepmother to so many children, but the plain truth is that we don't know.

We know that Anna's father supported her in the sense that he sent her much music during her rather isolated living circumstances in her new married life. This tends to discount somewhat the claims made against him that he was an unrelenting tyrant!

The novel tends to just run out of breath at the end and it ends when Wolferl dies, yet another reminder that this really isn't a novel about Maria Anna Mozart at all, but is, instead, a shadow of a novel about Wolfgang Mozart, and that's a different story altogether.