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

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.

"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.

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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sister Mischief by Laura Goode

Title: Sister Mischief
Author: Laura Goode
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Rating: WORTHY!

Since I went outside my usual genre for You Against Me, I figured I might as well go for broke. This is another one that's not typically on my reading list, about a hip-hop girls group in a high school. I'm always ready to learn something new if it's interesting or useful, so we'll see how this debut novel goes!

I'm having some sort of existential crisis or something but I definitely do not recommend going directly from TimeRiders to Sister Mischief as I did today. You'll break your neck with the whiplash.

This title is supposed to be young-adult fiction, but now I'm wondering what young-adult means in this context because if this were a movie it would be very likely be rated NC-17! Here's another reason not to read prologs - you might get more than you bargained for! Laura Goode is definitely not going to have a good effect on me!

Wikipedia says that young-adult fiction can also be called juvenile fiction, but then what does juvenile mean?! I am starting to wonder if I needed to change anything at all in Seasoning in order to re-publish it as Seasoning YA!. Wikipedia also says that "55% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers over 18 years of age", so Laura Goode wil be right at home there with this novel.

It took a few pages to properly get into this. I got the impression that Goode was trying a bit too hard to sound hip and cool, but once I got into the rhythm, it felt a lot better. The story is entertaining and interesting so far even though all it is, ostensibly, is just another disaffected highschool story about love, rebellion, bullying, and acceptance. But that's an old theme, so the trick is in the telling of it, and I'm enjoying that so far.

I'm not sure about the cell phone texts which the characters send to each other. They're amusing and informative, but they're shown as numbered footnotes on each page. It’s an interesting technique, but I’d have preferred them to be an integral part of the narration. It’s less distracting from the story that way to me. I found it a bit like watching a foreign language movie with subtitles. Film is a visual medium and whilst dialog is important, if I wanted to read it instead of watch it, I’d get the novel!

When I'm watching a movie I don't want to be constantly be forced to take my eyes off the imagery to read what they're saying, especially when the subtitles don’t actually convey accurately what’s really being said. I’d rather watch it dubbed, which isn't perfect, but is a lot less dispruptive to me. Maybe Goode has something in mind with her approach here. We'll see.

It was interesting to note that in the first couple of pages there were two 'samples', given that a theme of the story is hip-hop and lifting samples to make new music. Goode lifts a quote from Rita Mae Brown to start off the novel, and in it Brown lifts the term 'polymorphous and perverse', which I first heard in the Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall, but which comes from Freud (afaik).

Then Goode herself puts the phrase 'white man's overbite' into the narrator's mouth to signify how white people are perceived as dancing. This may well come from Billy Crystal's character in When Harry Met Sally, which means it comes from Nora Ephron.

That description seems rather racist to me, but isn’t it the case these days, for example, that non-white comedians can get away with racist jokes about whites, which whites get called on when they do the same in reverse?

I know whites have a lot to be sorry for in the way they've abused (and continue to abuse, let’s face it) non-whites, but the way to address that pendulum is not to let it swing all the way to the other end of the arc; it's to stop it dead in the middle and never let it move again.

Anyway, I read the prologue! Yeah! But this goes to my beef about prologues: in this case, I don’t get why it’s a prologue and not chapter one. I don’t know if this was Goode's idea, or if she put this in just to fit some perceived norm (which would betray her theme in this story!), or if her editor/publisher made her do it. It’s hard to tell when so many people have had their fingers in the pie in producing a novel, but to me, it’s not a prologue; it’s chapter one!

In this case I'm glad I read it because it's really chapter one, and it adds a bit to Esme's character. Unfortunately, the main thing it conveyed to me is that she's a rather mean person. That's not a good trait to perceive (rightly or wrongly!) in a narrator. I happened acciendetally across the website which returns trivia about any name you type in, so I tried Esme and got this page!

Esme is the narrator of Sister Mischief, and we discover pretty quickly that she's gay, but she had doubts about her sexuality (who doesn't! lol!) and wanted to test herself by losing her virginity to some guy who had wanted her for a long time.

She was not impressed, and this evidently confirms something to her, even though their coitus was interruptus by two cops. I'm by no means convinced that having abortive and uncomfortable sex in the back of a cramped vehicle is the best test (as indeed one of her friends points out!), but it’s apparently enough to convince Esme, and she's so decided that she comes out to both her friends at school, and her dad (her Jewish mother is long gone) right after the episode in the car.

Yes, these are very mature themes.

So next we find Esme and her homies in school. There are four of them: Esme is MC Ferocious, Tess, who is religiously protestant, but not insanely so is The ConTessa; Marcy who is Catholic in origin if not in practice is SheStorm, and Rowie who is Indian of no specified religion, who is MC Rohini (which happens to be her actual name). I mention the religious stuff because religion is raised a lot in the first few pages.

Rowie is a bit reminiscent of Sal in TimeRiders, curiously enough, but she's a much more developed character than Sal ever was, and this is in just the first few pages. Marcy is very tall, evidently skilled at basketball, and the most butch hetero Esme has ever seen! Tess is a bit shy and retiring, which is odd because she's the lead singer in their amateur band. Esme doesn’t tend to blab much herself so you have to impute things from her narration.

The villain of the piece so far, is Mary Ashley Baumgarten (or MashBaum as they refer to her - yes, the author has an eye for a Goode turn of phrase), who is determinedly anti-gay. I hope this isn’t going to be one of those black and white good v. bad stories, but Mashbaum is highly religious, so to find this bigotry isn’t surprising. The fundamentally religious can be depressingly intolerant. Maybe that's one of Goode's themes.

People of color (as Goode refers to them) are very rare at Esme's Minnesotan high school in Hollyhill (or Holy Hell as they view it), so her hip-hop wannabe band is 75% white. They're very much into their music, and discuss it in terms which seemed to me to be a bit mature for their age group and disposition, but these girls are all very smart, so perhaps it’s not outside of their character to relate to each other in this way. They work hard at school and get good grades because they want out of Hollyhill badly, and wisely see college or university as their ticket, even though they rebel against a lot of what’s required of them in school. And therein lies a story!

They discover, after another in an evidently ongoing series of minor fights with MashBaum that their school is instituting a set of anti-hip-hop rules, accusing that culture of being disprespectful, lewd, violent, etc. All four in the band immediately rebel against these regulations and declare that they will start a 4H club: Hip-Hop for Homos and Heteros, which they plan to try and get accepted as a school club. They figure if the school can establish religion by allowing a religious school club, then they ought to be able to have their hip-hop group.

So our four heroes get called into the principal's office to discuss their refusal to sign the pledge of dis-allegiance, and they negotiate with the principal to have use of the 'school shack' for their group. Provided that they do this on the down low, and that it works out without any problems, they'll get to have an official school group. The shack is technically not on school grounds, so the principal really isn’t giving them much, but they see this as an acceptable victory since they're still getting away with not signing the pledge - at least for now.

Later, MashBaum has the nerve to stop by Esme's house to try and sell her poinsettias, the profits going to some right-to-life group (it’s a new school year, so this is taking place in the fall). Esme gives her lip and shuts the door on her, and she and Marcy head out to overnight at Rowie's to work on their music.

Marcy is driving, and she detours so they can steal a sign from MashBaum's yard. The sign is promoting her dad's candidacy for some public office or other. The sign says 'Herb for Hollyhill' and this amuses them (herb, weed, grass, and so on). At Rowie's, they rapidly get derailed from their music making plans as Marcy produces an old joint she dug out of her older brother's car, and the three of them (Tess having left) repair to a tree house in Rowie's yard to toke a bit and listen to some tracks and stare at the Moon.

I found myself recalling that scene in the movie succubus or something, like Bo in Lost Girl, and is sacrificing her relationship with her daughter because she doesn’t want Esme to be contaminated and turned by her presence! But no.

Esme replaces her mother with her mother's books, reading them and paying particular attention to anything she underlined or noted in the margins in case it reveals any intel on why she split. She's currently reading The Diary of a Young Girl and discovering that Anne Frank was evidently gay. Either that or really, really curious! It's interesting to note that Frank was approximately the same age as Esme when she died of Typhus in a German prison camp only a month or so before the camp was liberated by the allied army.. I hope this doesn't portend Esme's future! But then Esme is an only child, whereas Frank's older sister died with her.

Back to the story. Esme's relationship with her father, is very healthy and open. She can pretty much tell him anything, and she reflects on this at one point, feeling that it's a bad thing in some ways because if she has no secrets, then it’s like she really has nothing to call her own. I'm not sure I agree with that philosophy, but from Esme's PoV it seems to make sense.

I find myself wondering if we’re learning a lot about Laura Goode here as we learn things about Esme, but since I know squat about Goode, I have no way of knowing that; however, if I keep getting drawn into the story as I am, and wondering what disaster is lying in wait for these people (or if any even is), I'm starting to think I'll need to rectify my lack on intel on that score!

So what Goode telegraphs at the sleepover, where she indicates that Rowie and Esme will be sharing a bed, comes to pass in the treehouse after Marcy leaves. The two of them decide to kiss to see what it's like since Rowie hasn't really kissed anyone, and from that point on it's all desi-re esme! Their relationship blossoms, but they tell no one of it.

Their next activity is to perform at open mike night in a bar and so they head out there in Marcy's truck. For people who are supposedly as rebellious and loosely hanging as these girls, they have a seating order in the truck, with Marcy driving, Esme riding shotgun, and Tess and Rowie in the back. I don't know what's up with that, if anything, but at one point later, Esme ends up in the back with Ro, and Tess rides shotgun.

Anyway, the story really starts to take off, beginning with the concert. Their hip-hop open mike is a huge success and they go home really pumped. Es and Ro spend the night together, again. They're now doing this several times/week and it’s inevitable that Es's dad is seriously wondering what she's doing, so she 'fesses about her and Ro.

They have their first meeting of the 4H, at which MashBaum gatecrashes and tries to steal Es's notebook, getting bitchslapped by Es for her trouble, which makes Ro really hot for her even as she herself is wrestling with her fear of fallout if their relationship becomes public knowledge, and her parents disapprove.

Halloween comes around and the four try to recruit Mrs DiCostanza, head of the English department, to be their faculty advisor for the group; then all hell breaks loose - almost literally - as some school jocks pull a prank, coating the floor and stair rails in soap and Crisco (now there's a good cuss word! I once thought of rewriting part of the Prince sing Let's Go Crazy substituting Let's go Crisco! and touting it to Procter & Gamble as a commercial jingle! See below)), and setting off the fire alarm at fifteen minute intervals, as well as loosing four goats in the school, some of them covered in fake blood!

The school is evacuated, and when they hear Mrs. DiCostanza on her phone suggesting to the principal that he get on top of this and close the school for the day before the media learns what's happening, Marcy immediately tweets the local TV news to tell them of it. She knows someone at the local TV station, and soon enough a reporter and camera operator come out there and interview the girls, who use this as a golden op to plug their 4H problem with the school!

Definitely some high humor here and a lot of fun, but this made me wonder if something is going to come crashing down in counterbalance. While on that topic, a word might be in order about Esme's notebook - not a computer but literally a notebook in which she writes thoughts, ideas for songs, and caustic observations. These scribblings are footnoted just like the texts (the texts/scribbles reach number 41 on page 141). The notes appear under the header 'SiN' for 'scribbled in notebook', which is amusing to me since it makes Esme a prolific sinner! They're irreverantly funny, too, at times, like when she scribbled in a chemistry class something to the effect that she has no valence electrons and her nucleus is showing.

I think I'm jealous of Esme in that she has such a confident and feisty streak and such good and close frinds. I was always lacking confidence and very shy in high school, and the school culture itself didn’t help. It was a royal pain to me; I wasn't happy there, but as the camer guy advises Esme when he hands her his card for any follow-ups to the halloween high school horror story, there is life after school (and I survived it!). Hopefully Esme & Co. will survive it too. It would have been nice to have had some of the warm school experiences which Esme enjoys; although I think I could do without the Hollyhill holocaust of soap, goats, and Crisco!

Cue the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince!

Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today to get through this thing called high school!

Electric words high school.
It don't mean smoking weed and that's a mighty long blunt
But I'm here to tell you that there's something else: Halloween!
A day of never-ending craziness where you can always get someone's goat

So when you call up that TV station in Holly Hill
You know the one: Dr Film at 11
Instead of asking principal how much of your mind is left
Give him a piece!

'Cause in this life, things are much harder than being dead in a hole
You're on your own, and if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy - soap the school floor!

If you don't like the school you're studying in
Take a look around: at least you've got friends

You see when I called the TV news
with a hot scandal, they picked up the phone
and came right over!
Sister Mischief is all I heard.

Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?
Oh, no let's go!
Let's go Crisco! Let's get goats!
Let's look for the soap on the bannisters
'til they close the school, let's go!
I like the way Goode approaches religion in this novel. She's healthily skeptical about it and discussions of it pop up periodically because there are four different religious perspectives in Es's group: Catholic, Protestant, Judaic, and Hindu (presumably! Ro doesn’t say a lot about her faith, assuming she follows one).

Tess is overtly religious, although liberally so, and they get into a brief spat in the truck on their way to Ro's house over Marcy's tarring all believers with the same brush. Es is not at all together on her position. Despite the Judaic world being patriarchal, your Jewishness (if I can put it that way) runs matrilinearly: if your mom is a Jew, then so too are you. Es feels confused because although she's technically a Jew, she's never had any training or education whatsoever on how to be one or what it means to be one because her mother left her at such an early age.

At Ro's house, Es is met by Ro's mom and given a birthday cake. She's very moved by the realization that Ro's mom is the best mom Es has ever known! It becomes apparent that there is still tension between Es and Ro. Es wants to go public with their relationship, but Ro is too scared of the consequences to be OK with that. She fears not only the public exposure, but also how her parents will react suce they evidently expect her to mary a nice respectable Bengali boy.

Tess sits at Ro's piano and plays a hymn: How Can I Keep From Singing?, which I'm actually listening to as I write this. Of course, Tess isn't performing the one I'm listening to; it was recorded by Enya aka Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (is that a cool name or what?!). Enya's words are subtlely different from Tess's.

The first time this song was mentioned in the novel, I thought they were referring to the Enya song on her Shepherd Moons album because I wasn't aware of its origin, but Goode reproduces the words for a couple of verses and refers to it as a hymn. None of the girls evidently knows about this (perhaps Goode doesn’t know it either) since Enya's recording of this song isn't mentioned.

Es decides that she should have a belated bat-mitzvah - the coming of age ceremony for a Jewish girl (for the boys it's a bar-mitzvah) which they normally have when they're 12 years old (or 13 for a boy - the develop more slowly don't you know!). So Esme's is belated by five years, but she decides it’s going to be a hip-hopaffair and the crew is all onboard with that idea. They're also talking about a holding a concert for their band, since they're expecting to be featured on the news that evening, after their interview at school earlier, so I was guessing at this point that the two events would be coincident, but they were not. The bat-mitzvah is never held. The concert is!

I have to say that I think Laura Goode, from her pic in the back of the book, is much more my idea of Esme Rockett than is the girl on the front cover of the book (Goode's short hair notwithstanding). I just don't see that girl as Esme no matter how hard I try. This is another problem with the disconnect between author's intent and publisher's interference. Maybe it's just me; maybe Goode is good with that cover, but for me, it doesn't represent. Actually, neither does the title for that matter, but at least the title is the author's! And not that it would be easy to convey the breadth and depth of this novel with one cover image or a two-word title.

So this book is in three parts: Before Rowie, During Rowie, and After Rowie. Yes, they break up over Rowie's inability to handle this relationship and her uncertainty about who she is. The break-up is moving, and it precipitates almost out of nowhere, although the portents have been long in the air, as we've seen. Esme goes through hell, and Goode does an amazing job of portaying it without over-doing it. I hope she's not speaking from experience because no one should ever have to go through that, but it sure sounds like she knows what she's talking about from her writing.

So the 4H meetings go ahead without Rowie, who starts 'dating' an Indian boy at the school and Es feels it very deeply. Mrs DiConstanza stops by one of the 4H meetings and it comes under assault from some jerks wearing Boy George masks who toss a roman candle into the hut. After they flee and it's ascertained that no one is injured, the meeting goes on and is one of the most interesting parts of the book.

Esme writes a long, rambling, and frankly boring letter to her mom, but we don't learn if she actually mails it at this point. The letter is interesting to me only because it shows that Es now feels guilty about how she treated the boy from the prologue - the one in the back seat of that car. She makes her peace with him after he comes out in support of her and what they're doing. That's a nice touch.

After the school principal blows them off when they meet with him to complain about the assault on their 4H meeting, the Sister Mischief crew plans a rebellion. In order to carry it off, Es needs to meet with Ro, to whom she hasn’t spoken, almost literally, since they broke up. Ro comes back on board and the four of them bust up the principal's all school assembly on student behavior (lol!) with a well planned hip-hop performance.

The problem with these performances is the same one I had when I started wirting this nvoel abotu aband, years ago. it was never finished, but reading Goode's lyrics, I feel how empty they are without having the opportunity to hear the music and see the performance. Sister Mischief isn't about poetry (although that's part of it) it's aboutwho these girls are, and without their act on stage and without the music, we're missing over 60% of who they are and what they represent.

Obviously, in a book like this, there's no choice, since it's the written word (or typed, whatever! Leave me alone already will ya!), but I sure hope someone gets with her and they put the words to music and have some appropriate (or more likely, inappropriate, given Sister Mischief!) quartet perform them and put it up on You Tube.

Anyway, the fallout from Sister Mischief's disruption of the school assembly is that they're suspended for a week, but the harsh and immovable principal inexplicably caves and grants them everything they asked for! That seemed out of character for him.

After that, the novel completely fizzles. Es gets a lame-ass letter from her lame-ass mom indicating that she might be coming back to the USA - not because she was moved by Es's letter (which evidently Es did send), or because she feels bad, or because she wants to try to be the mom she failed to be, but because her visa is expiring! After eight years! Way to make Es feel like a second hand bastard.

Somehow this magically makes Es feel okay about her mom. That didn’t ring true to me after all the pain she's endured and still carries, and all the confusion with which she'd been swaddled by this huge betrayal and abandoment.

I frankly expected something a little a bit better than what she gives after Goode's mastery of the story-telling which precedes the ending. I don't know, but it just seems like she gave up, or didn’t know quite how to end it (a position I can both empathize and sympathize with!). We don't even learn what becomes of MashBaum! After all the issues with her, and the talk of her father being elected, that just fizzles into nothing, too.

No, I didn’t expect a reconciliation between Es and Ro, not after what Goode had given us, so it wasn't that, but it would have been nice to have something. As it is, Es is just left there sitting on a frozen lake with nothing in her future but vaguery. Is that the negative take-home message?

We never see if or how Ro's problem with accepting (or even finding out) who she is, is resolved, regardless of what’s in store (or not) for her and Esme. It might have been nice to have offered perhaps faint promise for those two - like they're both accepted at the same college, or failing that, that Es happens across someone else who offers a bit of promise. Or gets it on with Tess lol!

Even if you want to leave her out on her own like that, without Ro and with no forseeable prospect for a partner, I still want to have an idea of what happens to her! It’s not like she can’t make it on her own, but I'm left with a bad feeling for her, a worry about what will become of her, and we're allowed no real idea of what she's going to do next with her life. Maybe that was Goode's intention, but that's not what it seemed like she intended to me; it’s like she just put Es on hold, as though her week-long suspension from school bled into the rest of her life!

We learn nothing of the future of this band, which seems to me to be the biggest problem with the ending, since the very name of the novel is the name of the band: Sister Mischief. It served only to emphasize to me the question of why that title, especially given this ending?

With all the crew apparently bound for different colleges, it looks like all this power-talk about the band, and what it was, and what it was going to be, and how important it was to the girls, just shrunk away like an old balloon, and that seemed to me to be at odds with the story's bass line and with the positives from earlier where, for example, Es is told by more than one person (Tess's older sister, her own father, the camera guy from the interview) that things will get better.

We’re left without no real feeling that they did, only the hopeful and blind assumption that they will. It's funny, but in a way, it made me feel a bit like Es did after Ro's abrupt departure from their relationship! Laura Goode dumped me!

But enough whining. I still think this is a great novel and worth your time to read it.