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review 2019-03-12 15:09
Recommended to lovers of Rock & Roll, music, and the 1970s rock scene.
Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Cornerstone, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I kept seeing this book pop up all over when it came to recommendations of new releases and that made me curious. I also read that Reese Witherspoon had bought the rights to adapt it into a TV series, and the comments about the book made me think about the movie This Is Spinal Tap, although the musical genre is different (yes, it’s all Rock & Roll, baby) and the story is not intended as a parody, and all that together with the evocative cover, I knew I had to check it out.

This is one of those novels where I was intrigued to read what other reviewers had said, and, curiously enough, one of those where I could see the point of both, those who really loved the book, and also those who hated it. Somehow, I could see the merit on both types of opinions, and it really depends on the kinds of books you enjoy or not. A couple of provisos, here. Many of the reviews talk about the author, and especially refer to one of her previous books, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which seems to be a well-loved novel, and for people who had loved that book, their expectations were very high, and some found this book too different (some fans of the writer also loved this book, so don’t let that put you off). I haven’t read any of the author’s previous novels, so I cannot help with that. After reading the reviews and this novel, I became curious about her other books, but I come to it without any previous knowledge. The second proviso is that quite a few people compare the ‘fiction’ band at the heart of the story, The Six, that is later joined by Daisy Jones, with Fleetwood Mac (with Daisy Jones then being a stand-in for Stevie Nicks), but I must confess not to know enough about the ins and outs of this band to be able to comment (I was quite young when they were at the height of their popularity, and I never read much about them, although having read a bit about them since, yes, I can see similarities, but I can also see differences). So, if you are a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, you might be more intrigued to read this novel, but you might also hate it. You’ve been warned.

So, what are the comments on both sides that I agree with? The way the story is told will not be to everybody’s taste. This is the story of the band, and of Daisy Jones, pieced together through interviews conducted many years after the band was created, and that makes it very fragmented. It does follow a chronological order, and we get to know about Daisy Jones, and about the Dunne Brothers (Billy and Graham), from before they got into singing, composing, and playing songs, and later on the rest of the members of the band, Camila (Billy’s girlfriend and later wife) and their manager also come into play. These fragments of interviews often refer to the same events, providing the reader different points of view, and sometimes completely different descriptions, but it can cause a disjointed effect, and it will suit some readers but others will hate it. Personally, I found it fun and quite dynamic, but it is true it does not immediately create a picture of what’s going on in one’s head, in the same way as more standard narratives do.

There were also a lot of comments about the characters, and how some of them were one-dimensional and it was difficult to tell them apart. As I have said before, the story starts with the origin of the band (we later learn why), and then we only get to hear from the rest of the members as they join the band or meet the other characters. For me, Pete, Eddie and Warren were not distinctive enough. Yes, Eddie always seemed to have issues with Billy and didn’t like his style of leading the band. Pete had a girlfriend in the East and he would phone her often, and Warren was the drum player, but other than that I’m not sure I got a strong impression of who they were, and when later in the book one of them wanted to leave the band, I realised that I must have been told two of them were brothers already, but because that hadn’t feature prominently anywhere (after all, the interview is about the band, their tours, and their records, and the questions asked are mostly about the time they spent together), it had not registered with me. Camila is talked about a lot, because many of Billy’s songs are about her, and although she seems to represent an old-fashioned model of femininity, the staying-at-home Mom, she gets involved at crucial points and she has a more important role than one might think when the story starts. I did feel that the female characters were the strongest, and although that did not make them immediately sympathetic and likeable, I thought they were the more complex and the ones I most enjoyed. I liked Karen (I’m not a musician, but I did feel a connection with her) the keyboard player, as well, and she is, perhaps, my favourite character. And I quite liked Daisy’s friend, Simone, also, although she is mostly portrayed as her friend, rather than being an individual in her own right, and that comes in part from her telling Daisy’s story and her role in it rather than giving us much insight into her own character. Although Daisy marries at some point, Simone is more of a steadying influence for her, like Camila is for Billy, than any of the men she meets and talks about in the book. But I agree, the way the story is told does not make for fully rounded characters, although many of the situations will feel familiar to people who have read a lot of biographies of rock & roll bands.

Some reviewers were disappointed by the ending, that perhaps feels more like a whimper than a bang, but I thought it made perfect sense, and yes, there is something I’ve seen described as a twist, that is perhaps not truly a twist, but it helps join everything together and adds a nice touch.

I am not an expert on music, and not a big follower of bands. I have not been to many concerts, although even with that, it is difficult not to have heard or read about the use of drugs, wild parties, hotel rooms trashed by bands on tour, groupies following bands from city to city, and the paraphernalia around the 1970s world of rock & roll music scene. There is plenty of that here, and also of envies, of fights, of creative differences, of the process of composing, creating, and editing an album, down to the shooting of the cover, that will delight people who really love the period and reading about it. Even I, who am not knowledgeable about it, enjoyed it, particularly learning more about the process of creation, although it might not sound authentic to people who truly know it. The writer gives the different characters (at least the main ones) distinct voices, and the lyrics of the songs, that are also included in full at the end, fit perfectly in with the band and its themes, and it made me keen on reading more of the author’s novels.

There is more than R & R to the book, or perhaps some of the themes seem inherently related to it, like drug addiction, family relations, alcoholism, abortion, fatherhood, bringing up children, the role of men and women in the family, child neglect and abuse… Although some of them are only mentioned in passing, we get a fuller picture of others (Daisy is very young when she leaves her parents and starts visiting bars, taking drugs, and engaging in behaviours that would be considered risky at a much older age, and drug and alcohol addiction and its consequences are discussed in detail), and readers must be cautious if they find those subjects upsetting.

I have talked a bit about the characters and said which my favourites are. In some ways, Billy and Graham are the most sympathetic to begin with. Their father abandon them when they are very young, and they work very hard, are talented, and support each other through thick and thin. However, when Billy becomes addicted to drugs and then gets sober and becomes the head of the band, he puts himself and his family first and is not always likeable (even if creatively he sounds interesting). Daisy, on the other hand, sounds at first like a rich-spoiled girl, but her family pays no attention to her, and she is in fact neglected. She is selfish and egotistical as well, but she has no role models or understanding. I liked her attitude, but not her in particular, at least at first, and her behaviour will be alien to most people (although typical of the image we might have in our head about what a rock star would be like). However, the way the story is told gives us the opportunity to read her later reflections and the way she now sees things and how she evaluates much of what she did at the time. And although I didn’t particularly like the Daisy of the period (she is described as a magnet to everybody who met her, but I never had the feeling I would have liked it if I had known her), I came to appreciate the older Daisy and her take on things.

What did I think of the book? I really enjoyed it. It panders to most of our standard images of what the life of a rock & roll band would have been like at that time, but it gives an insight into parts of the process that I found interesting. It also creates some credible female characters that have made their own decisions and fought their own fights, and in the world of music that is not always easy to find. The way of telling the story worked for me, although I know it won’t work for everybody. I highlighted a lot of the story, so much so that I decided to leave it to readers to check a sample and get a sense of the narrative style. Does it deserve the hype? Well, perhaps not for me, but it’s a good read and I can see why it will captivate some readers more than it did me. Oh, and for those who love audiobooks, I’ve read very good reviews of the audio version, and I understand that there is a full cast of narrators and each character is voiced by a different person, so it is worth considering.

If you are a rock & roll fan and enjoy trips down memory lane, especially to the 1970s, I’d recommend this book. And I hope to explore further novels written by the same author.

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review 2019-03-11 17:51
Beautiful graphic novel captures the drama of middle school and explores the trials of bullying, friendship, and first crushes through music
Operatic - Kyo Maclear,Byron Eggenschwiler

‘Somewhere in the universe, there is the perfect tune for you.’

 

This stunningly beautiful graphic novel is a treasure to hold in your hands. It’s a story with so many subtle layers, everything from bullying, to individuality, first crushes, and music history, all reflected within finely illustrated pages.

Charlie is nearing the end of middle school and while discovering the ‘soundtrack’ for her life for a school music assignment, she discovers opera and new friendships. While exploring the way we all identify differently with the music we hear, author Maclear tells Charlie’s tale of discovering the opera singer and diva Maria Callas, and those of her new friends Emile and Luka, boys who are alienated for liking bugs (weird) and singing (girly). Charlie recognizes how her classmates feel, their struggle to fit in and find their place along the cliques at school. The push of their class assignment encourages her to reach out to others as well as reach within and let her true self out.

 

The illustrations in this hardbound graphic novel (complete with a purple cloth spine and ribbon) tell so much of the story; they should be pored over and digested slowly. While the themes held within aren’t overt and initially obvious, ‘Operatic’ presents itself as a coming-of-age story that should be discussed and pondered to be absorbed, and it’s truly special.

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/40646241-operatic
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review 2019-03-11 16:47
Unique novel about the trappings of fame and the 70’s music scene will captivate you; Daisy Jones & The Six is like nothing you’ve ever read before
Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid

The true story behind the meteoric rise of the infamous 70’s band Daisy Jones & The Six is chronicled in this captivating book. As quickly as they shot to fame they fell back down to earth; how this happened is revealed by the band members’ tell-all, with details never heard before. The inner workings of a popular band such as Daisy Jones and The Six often come as an eye-opener once you see past the glitz and the glam and begin to see the trappings of fame. This is their story.

 

At least this is all what we think we see when we first take a glimpse at this new book from Taylor Jenkins Reid. The fact that this interview-based novel about a fictitious band comes from the genius of Reid, and is not based in reality, is one of its greatest appeals. Telling the story of all the characters by way of their own conversation with the interviewer (who we only find the identify of at the end) is complex and unique; no additional descriptions of what is happening are really given, so the storytelling is driven by each individual’s perception of their experience.

 

Daisy is the outsider to the group and the story really ramps up when she joins The Six. The numerous relationships between the members of the band are central to the book, as are their many problems. We learn about struggles with addiction, fidelity, loyalty and the challenge of maintaining any semblance of normalcy once they reach the realm of stardom. All of the characters are expertly defined by Reid, and although it takes a little while to keep all the individuals’ names straight, their experiences all become clear the further you go into the book. None of them are entirely redeemable and it’s hard to feel sympathetic to any of them once they get caught up in it all, but I don’t think that’s the goal of the novel.

 

There are some topics contained within that may be hard for some readers to read about: drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, infidelity, parental neglect, abortion, and promiscuity. Nothing is glamorous or trivialized about with any of these issues when you see them in the way they’re presented in this story; there isn’t any ‘fluff’ to make excuses for the characters since it’s all presented in the rawest of forms. Reid writes about these issues in a way that vividly conjures up the music scene of the 70’s and convinces the reader that she was actually there herself witnessing it all. The anecdotes come across as though they’re based on documented events but translate into a realistic presentation of a band and their story being told to an interviewer. It’s just all presented as fact and you can make of it what you will.

 

Although it’s a little hard to get used to a story being told through individuals being interviewed, this is an amazing book, just so unique and memorable. Any early considerations that it may not be the story for you because of the way it’s told should be dumped at the wayside because the payoff for reading it all is immeasurable. This is the sort of book that sticks with you and transports you to another time and place.

 

Complete with all the lyrics to the songs contained in the story, the experience is further added to with a playlist on Spotify, including tracks from Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt. It’s easy to imagine this being adapted for film, and if you love music, song-writing, or are even fascinated with the seventies and eras past, this book will be a fast favorite.

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review 2019-03-05 22:16
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner
Music of the Ghosts - Vaddey Ratner

This is an emotional, contemplative novel about two survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, who struggle to come to terms with their memories decades after the genocide. Unfortunately, its characters are half-baked: one of the protagonists is a blank slate despite nearing middle age, while the other is built up as a reformed villain only to turn out not to be a villain at all.

Teera arrives in Cambodia in 2003, for the first time since fleeing the country for Thailand and ultimately the United States in 1979, at the age of 13. She’s drawn to return in part by the dying wish of her aunt, the only other member of her family to survive, and in part by a letter from a man calling himself the Old Musician, who wants to give her musical instruments that belonged to her father. The Old Musician, aka Tun, lives in a monastery where he nurses his physical and emotional injuries from the days of the Khmer Rouge, and seems to live in a state of constant self-flagellation. The novel alternates between the perspectives of these two characters, as they wander about feeling lots of feelings, remembering their traumas in detail, and witnessing the harsh realities of Cambodia in 2003 (a country full of poverty and violence, though this never threatens the protagonists directly).

Given that this book revolves around the characters’ emotional journeys, it’s a shame they aren’t better-drawn. Teera in particular is a blank slate; she’s supposed to be 37, but I would have pegged her at late teens or early 20s, as she seems to have neither lived an adult life, nor to have thought about her life and what she wants from it. How does she feel about being single and childless at 37? How has her community of Cambodian refugees in Minnesota reacted to this? Has she ever had a romantic partner, or even a friend; has she connected with anyone other than her aunt in the last 24 years? And if not, how does she so easily fall into a romance once the book begins? Has she found purpose in her work as a grant writer (mentioned only to tell us she quit to go to Cambodia), or is it just a job, and if so, what does motivate and interest her? She apparently wants to be a writer, so what has she written in all that time, or if she hasn’t, why not? None of these questions are answered. Teera has a lot of feelings about her childhood, her family and her home country, but she’s lacking a personality and a life history outside of her childhood trauma. She doesn’t quite feel real.

Tun has had more of a life, though he’s still not a complex character. My issue here is that the book is presented as addressing the way Khmer Rouge victims and perpetrators now live side-by-side in Cambodia, and Tun is built up as the perpetrator in Teera’s father’s death. But it turns out to be one of those stories where, when our so-called villain protagonist’s history is revealed, he hasn’t actually done anything that awful. Tun joined the Khmer Rouge because he opposed the previous bad government and believed this would help bring democracy, and then he did his best at every turn. Every horrific thing he’s supposedly done turns out to have been either a mercy killing or something he was forced to do under torture or at gunpoint. I’m not sure what to make of this: was the author’s point that there were very few real villains, just lots of good people struggling with the terrible hand they were dealt? Or did she just chicken out on creating a complex and morally flawed character?

And while we’re at it, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the rest of the cast either. The repeated introduction of three-year-old girls orphaned under traumatic circumstances, and yet who are complete angels who bring nothing but joy and love (definitely never frustration or difficulty) to adult lives, was a bit much. One such child I might have grudgingly accepted, but two?

But I did learn a bit about Cambodia and its history from the book, and it’s a fairly quick read, though the subject matter is often dark and brutal. There’s a lot of presumably genuine emotion in it, as the author herself was a survivor who journeyed back to Cambodia in hopes of learning about her father’s fate. The writing style is fluid and easy to read, though I’d call it “wordy” more than “lyrical”; there was nothing particularly arresting to me about the use of language, but it’s certainly contemplative, with many passages embroidering on the characters’ thoughts, emotions, ideas, and sensations. While there isn’t a lot going on in the present-day plot, the story still manages to be engaging and vivid. I wouldn’t recommend this book on its literary merits, but as a deeply-felt novel by a genocide survivor, it’s worth a read for those interested in the places and issues addressed.

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url 2019-03-05 03:18
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