Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

 

Title: The Lucy Variations

Author:  Sara Zarr

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen.

Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside the exclusive world of privileged San Francisco families, top junior music competitions, and intense mentorships. The Lucy Variations is a story of one girl’s struggle to reclaim her love of music and herself. It’s about finding joy again, even when things don’t go according to plan. Because life isn’t a performance, and everyone deserves the chance to make a few mistakes along the way.


Review:

I love books set in highly competitive settings, and musical competitions are a favorite.  Lucy’s competitive days are over, though.  At the start of The Lucy Variations, she’s been in retirement for eight months.  Eight months since she quit, since she walked out of a concert hall in Prague.  She has been lost to herself for all of this time; longer, actually, because she lost her love for music and for her piano well before then.  Her journey to find herself is not without mistakes and heartbreak, but when she does find herself again, will she have the courage to stand up to her family and take herself back?

After destructing in Prague, Lucy is happy with her new, stress free life.  That’s what she keeps telling herself, anyway.  After her grandmother’s death, nothing mattered anymore; not her music, not her family, not her schoolwork.  Walking off the stage in Prague was intended as a protest to her grandfather, a message that she didn’t appreciate how he had made the decision that she would be competing instead of with her dying grandmother.  Betrayed, Lucy still hasn’t forgiven her family for lying to her, and she hasn’t forgiven herself for not standing up to her grandfather.  When she walked off the stage, he took her protest to be permanent.  He called her a quitter, and told her her career was over.  Now, the attention is on her talented younger brother, also a gifted pianist.  Now, without the pressure of competition and practice, Lucy can be a teenager.  She can have crushes and make friends and be a normal kid.  Only, truthfully, she will never be a normal kid because she misses being someone, though she can’t even admit that to herself.

Lucy is a compelling character.  She’s confused and angry.  She can’t get past that day in Prague, when she gave everything up, only she didn’t realize at the time that her actions would last forever.  She never thought that her grandfather, a harsh taskmaster, would be so uncompromising, and that he would deny her the chance to apologize and get back on with her piano practice.   Instead, he dumped her faster than a garbage truck emptying a load at the local landfill.  Lucy has no one to stand up for her against her grandfather, and as the months go by, she is more and more resentful of how she has been judged and left wanting. 

When her brother, Gus, needs a new piano instructor, Will and his beautiful wife enter their lives.  Will is so alive and so passionate about music.  He makes Lucy remember all of the things she loved about it.  He makes her want to try new things and play just for herself.  As she gets to know him better and work through her issues with her family, Lucy develops a monumental crush on Will.  This is the part of the story that I liked the least.  Lucy jumps from an inappropriate crush on her English teacher to a crush on Will, but none of the moral dilemmas were adequately explored.  There are no consequences explored, no significant examination of how their friendship is hurting Will’s wife.  I was very disappointed with this aspect of the story.

Overall, I did enjoy The Lucy Variations.  It’s an engaging story about a girl longing to find herself again, and to reestablish her voice in her demanding, controlling family.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Win City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte!

Thanks to Penguin, I have a copy of City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte for one of you to win!  I really enjoyed this quirky book, and I think you will,too!  To enter, just fill out the widget below. Earn extra entries by following.

About the book:

Cosmically fast-paced and wildly imaginative, this debut novel is a perfect potion of magic and suspense

Once a city of enormous wealth and culture, Prague was home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it’s whispered, hell portals. When music student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloging Beethoven’s manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Prague is a threshold, Sarah is warned, and it is steeped in blood.

     Soon after Sarah arrives, strange things begin to happen. She learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide after all. Could his cryptic notes be warnings? As Sarah parses his clues about Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” she manages to get arrested, to have tantric sex in a public fountain, and to discover a time-warping drug. She also catches the attention of a four-hundred-year-old dwarf, the handsome Prince Max, and a powerful U.S. senator with secrets she will do anything to hide.

City of Dark Magic could be called a rom-com paranormal suspense novel—or it could simply be called one of the most entertaining novels of the year.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Didn’t win? You can purchase a copy from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the links below.

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

 

Title: Rival

Author: Sara Bennett Wealer

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0061827624

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Brooke
I don’t like Kathryn Pease. I could pretend everything’s fine between us. I could be nice to her face, then trash her behind her back. But I think it’s better to be honest. I don’t like Kathryn, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Kathryn
I saw a commercial where singers used their voices to shatter glass, but the whole thing is pretty much a myth. The human voice isn’t that strong.

Human hatred is. Anybody who doubts that should feel the hate waves coming off of Brooke Dempsey. But I don’t shatter; I’m not made of glass. Anyway, the parts that break aren’t on the outside.

Brooke and Kathryn used to be best friends . . . until the night when Brooke ruthlessly turned on Kathryn in front of everyone. Suddenly Kathryn was an outcast and Brooke was Queen B. Now, as they prepare to face off one last time, each girl must come to terms with the fact that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had.

Review:

When Rival first came out, the book flew under my radar.  It wasn’t until reviews started popping up that I realized that it was another contemporary featuring music as a backdrop.  I loved Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, so I added Rival to my library hold list.  I wanted to revisit the competitive world where gifted musicians put their talent on the line.  This time their instruments were their voices, and the prize was a hefty check to help with college expenses.  For Brooke, the competition is about winning her dad’s attention, and expressing her love for music.  For Kathryn, it means giving her already cash strapped parents a hand with her tuition bills.

Like Virtuosity, the girls must battle with rival singers, and they must also battle with their own inner demons.  Kathryn yearns to be somebody, and when A-lister Brooke befriends her, everything changes for Kathryn.  Unfortunately, her sudden popularity goes right to her head, and Kathryn soon becomes somebody who is very hard to like.  She turns her back on her best friend, starts lying to her parents, and lets her grades plummet.

As Kathryn is drawn further into Brooke’s clique and starts hanging out with Brooke’s other friends, Brooke begins to wrestle with jealousy.  She liked Kathryn when it was just the two of them, talking about music, listening to operas, and going to performances at the local college.  Little by little, Brooke begins to change too.  She allows her envy to eat away at her, and soon, Kathryn and Brooke are mortal enemies, after their emotions flare out of control at a party.  Now Kathryn must deal with bullying as she becomes a social pariah, and Brooke is left with even more feelings of groundlessness.  Her friends don’t understand her, and she knows that they will never get how important music is to her. 

Told through alternating flashbacks to their junior year and their current, intense rivalry now that they are seniors, Sara Bennett Wealer weaves a gripping, compelling look at a friendship gone terribly wrong because of a misunderstanding and the inability of the protagonists, especially Brooke,  to express their feelings.  As Brooke becomes ever more dissatisfied with her friendships, she withdraws more into herself and refuses to confront her feelings.  There’s a lot of angst here – Brooke has so many issues she is trying to deal with, but she can’t open up and confide in anyone, not even Kathryn.  Everyone thinks that she’s one of the golden girls, but her popularity and her status as the Queen B don’t matter to Brooke.  She just wants to lose herself in her music, and she desperately wants to win her father’s approval. 

There were many times that I didn’t particularly like either character, but I did care about them.  They are both flawed, which made them both more relatable.   I kept hoping that they would get over themselves and see what they were throwing away because of their personal ambitions.  I became impatient with both of them, because neither of them seemed to be learning from their mistakes.  Kathryn grew especially trying as she morphed into someone totally opposite of who she had been before she started hanging out with Brooke’s social circle.

If you enjoy emotion-charged contemporaries, Rival is the book for you.  It builds up slowly to a gripping, unflinching look at two friends turned to enemies, exposing their faults and flaws layer by complex layer.  I could not put the book down as they grappled with their inner demons and their sudden and intense dislike for each other.  I bet you won’t be able to put it down either.

Grade: A-

Review borrowed from my local library

Teaser Tuesday–Rival and Bleeding Hearts

I had a bunch of holds come in from the library, so I am trying to fit as many of them into my reading schedule as possible. The first one I picked up was Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer. After reading Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, I was craving another story with a competitive music backdrop.  So far, this is really good.

 

“Hey, Kathryn! Catch!” A beach ball hits me in the chest and then plops into my lap.  I look up to see Brooke’s older brother Brice bobbing in the water in front of me.

 

My other read is Bleeding Hearts by Alyxandra Harvey.  It’s about the Drakes.   I adore the Drakes.  There is nothing else to be said. 

 

Nicholas won’t even sit in the same car with me because the smell of warm human blood is still too tempting.  He just turned a little over a year ago, and it takes time to get all those appetites under control.  I think of it like a case of perpetual PMS, where you just feel inside your bones that if you don’t get a hot fudge sundae right away, you might actually kill someone.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Review: Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez

 

Title: Virtuosity

Author: Jessica Martinez

Publisher: Simon Pulse

ISBN: 978-1442420526

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Now is not the time for Carmen to fall in love. And Jeremy is hands-down the wrong guy for her to fall for. He is infuriating, arrogant, and the only person who can stand in the way of Carmen getting the one thing she wants most: to win the prestigious Guarneri competition. Carmen’s whole life is violin, and until she met Jeremy, her whole focus was winning. But what if Jeremy isn’t just hot…what if Jeremy is better?

Carmen knows that kissing Jeremy can’t end well, but she just can’t stay away. Nobody else understands her—and riles her up—like he does. Still, she can’t trust him with her biggest secret: She is so desperate to win she takes antianxiety drugs to perform, and what started as an easy fix has become a hungry addiction. Carmen is sick of not feeling anything on stage and even more sick of always doing what she’s told, doing what’s expected.

Sometimes, being on top just means you have a long way to fall….

Review:

Virtuosity is a book I would have skipped if I hadn’t received a review copy.  The cover does nothing for me, and it left me with an incorrect impression of what the book was about.  I am so glad that I did receive a copy and was coerced into reading it, because this is one of the best reads of the year. 

Carmen is a violinist.  She lives and breathes violin.  She has played in the most prestigious venues in classical music long before she was old enough to drive, and her entire life revolves around music.  Even though she is having serious anxiety issues.  Even though she is kept in a sheltered bubble of lessons, performances, and competitions.  The violin is all she has ever known, and the thought of it no longer being a part of her is incomprehensible. 

Enter Jeremy, her gifted rival in the Guarneri competition.  Enter a dangerous, self-destructive attraction for the person who makes her see that there just could be other things in life more important than her violin.  As Carmen grapples with a riot of new emotions and rebels against her strictly ordered life, she is forced to make painful decisions about her music, her relationship with her mother, and herself. 

I really loved this book.  Carmen is so miserable at the beginning of Virtuosity, but she doesn’t even realize it.  Every single thing she does is for her music, and her structured days are planned by her mother, Diana, all to further Carmen’s musical career. Carmen’s relationship with her mother is an interesting one, based almost strictly on music.  Diana is the volatile force behind Carmen’s career, and she is a harsh taskmaster.  She expects instant obedience.  Music is all about dedication and sacrifice, and personal wants are to be set aside for the pursuit of the perfect performance. 

At the start of the book, Carmen and Diana seem to have an ideal relationship.  They are working towards the same goal, they are both behind success, and together, it seems that they can accomplish anything.  Then the tiny cracks in their relationship begin to show, and as Carmen is drawn to Jeremy again and again, despite her mother’s warnings, these cracks become fissures.  As long as Carmen is the obedient puppet, she and her mother are in harmony.  Once Carmen begins to question what she wants in life, there is a discordant screech where the harmony used to be.

While I didn’t care for Carmen at first, I quickly found her a relatable character.  She doesn’t have many of the social graces that the rest of us take for granted, and she doesn’t know how to communicate with her peers.  Her entire life has been lived in musical circles, with only her tutor, an older girl, for a companion.  Jessica can discuss music with anyone, but when it comes to normal teenage things, she is hopelessly out of  her depth.  They are beyond her, as she strives to become the greatest violinist in the world. I couldn’t help but want her and Jeremy to somehow work out their awkward relationship, so the socially inept Carmen could at least feel like she’s a normal girl.

If you enjoy tense, emotional contemporary novels, this is the book for you.  I could not put it down, and it’s a promising start to Jessica Martinez’s writing career.  I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher