Tag Archives: Music

If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman

If I Go.Where She Went

That the film version of If I Stay is currently in production is reason enough to read the book before Hollywood leaves its indelible imprint too soon. Trust me: 99.9% of the time, the book is better. The intensity and ferocity that author Gayle Forman offers with her careful, lucid words, that your imagination magically makes ‘real,’ couldn’t possibly be duplicated on the flat screen – not with this sort of intimacy and depth.

Like the young lovers within, these two books shouldn’t be separated. The duo comprises a ‘she said’/’he said’ love story from its innocent inception to its miraculous recovery. In If I Stay, Mia and Adam are both musicians – Mia with her classic cello, Adam with his rock ‘n roll guitar. They are wondrously young, utterly in love, and infinitely hopeful … until Mia is lying in a hospital bed, the only survivor of a tragic auto accident that rips her away from her entire family. Mia’s twisted, damaged body lies comatose, while her mind remembers everything she has to live for, and her heart must decide if she should stay …

Three years later, in Where She Went, Adam speaks. He’s moved to L.A., he’s making amazing music, and he’s famous beyond his wildest dreams. He’s also living with a caring woman he can’t love, popping pills just to survive each day, and on the verge of imploding his rock star band. During a New York stopover on his way to London, Adam buys a ticket on a whim for a cello concert at Carnegie Hall. He’s too famous to sneak out, and is summoned by the evening’s star … and so begins a not-quite 24-hour reunion that will restore two young lives … again.

Fresh. Soulful. Raw. Sighs, tears, joy, as well.

Go ahead … put aside any cynicism and just believe.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2009 and 2011

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

I See the Sun in Russia by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese, translation by Irina Ossapova

I See the Sun in RussiaYoung Anton of Saint Petersburg, Russia begins and ends his day with music … he wakes remembering the notes of the ballet Swan Lake which he saw the night before, and drifts off to sleep that evening as his grandmother plays another Swan song at the family’s piano.

Music dominates Anton’s life, from the specialized music school he attends, to his violin lessons followed by his violin ensemble practice, to his mini-performance for his appreciative grandmother after dinner. In between, he visits the legendary Hermitage Museum with his class, helps his mother pick up a few groceries on the way home from school, plays soccer in the hall with a friend, and enjoys dinner with his family.

Anton’s story is somewhat of a departure from the other girls and boys who populate the expanding around-the-world, bilingual I See the Sun series from New England boutique press Satya House Publications: compared to his series’ counterparts, Anton is perhaps the most privileged. While “his parents work long days to provide for their family,” they have access to cultural luxuries that the series’ other children thus far have not, including visits to the ballet and opera, musical instruments at home, even a dacha – a “small country cabin … where they can relax on weekends and vacations in the summer.”

As with the series’ other titles, Russia concludes with a thorough contextual afterword; this one offers a cultural overview of Saint Petersburg, with an emphasis on the arts as a “powerful force.” When the going gets tough, especially in our Stateside schools, arts and music programs usually become the first victims of funding cuts. Anton’s life proves to be a subtle, cross-cultural reminder from the other side of the world to invest in making beautiful music together, with and for our children.

Readers: Children

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Bilingual, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific, Russian

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričić, with a postscript by Joshua Bell

Man with the ViolinGo ahead … open to the first spread: “Dylan was someone who noticed things. His mom was someone who didn’t.” Illustrator Dušan Petričić couldn’t have devised a more effective way of showing author Kathy Stinson‘s telling! Flying straight across the page, young Dylan’s contrail is filled with technicolor details of everything he passes – the mismatched rubber boots, the colorful candy, the misbuttoned jacket, the cost of a radio, someone’s pink phone. His mother, in contrast, has just a long empty space erasing everything in her path as she pulls Dylan forward with determination. Look familiar? Here’s a much-needed reminder that we all need to slowwwwwwwwwww down …

What happened that Friday in January was one of those impossible, magical events that will never, ever be repeated. As Dylan and his mother hustled and bustled through the subway station, Dylan recognized something extraordinary was happening and tried desperately to convince his mother to stop and simply listen to the music so entrancing that it made “the hairs on the back of Dylan’s neck tickle.” But like everyone else, his mother had somewhere else to go …

At home that afternoon, Dylan hears the music once more on the radio: “‘That’s the man in the station!’” And finally he gets to tell his mother, “‘We should have stopped. We should have listened,’” because that man was none other than Joshua Bell, “one of the finest musicians in the world … playing some of the most elegant music ever written, on one of the most valuable violins ever made.” The sad irony is that ” … few people listened for even a minute.” The saddest of all, though? This story is true. And it happened right here in the nation’s capital.

On January 12, 2007, Joshua Bell performed in DC’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station on his priceless Stradivarius as part of an experiment devised by The Washington Post. Of the 1,000-plus commuters passing through, only seven stopped to listen for more than a minute. Only children tried in vain to stop, but their accompanying adult had no time for such nonsense. To hear Bell play costs $100 and much, much more in the most lauded music venues all over the world; that day, after 43 minutes of unparalleled performance, his violin case held $32.17. Bell himself adds a final “Postscript.” But that you’ll need to read for yourself … through your regretful tears!

Tidbit: Check out this fabulous book video (and you can hear some of the gorgeous music in the background, too). Stinson’s parting words couldn’t be better said: “The world’s not a bad place if we pay attention a little bit more.”

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Nonethnic-specific

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

The words “A Novel” adorn the top of the cover of Chopsticks – but that’s definitely a debatable label. No such limits necessary here! A hybrid creation by novelist/short story writer Jessica Anthony and book designer/creative director (for Farrar, Straus, Giroux, who is not Chopsticks‘ publisher, in case you were wondering) Rodrigo CorralChopsticks melds together photographs, tchotchkes and mementos, pictures and paintings, music scores, letters, and texts to create an enticing narrative that might or might not be reliable … [You can also further extend your reading/listening experience with videos and more on the book's dedicated website, too!]

Without giving too much away (because the book is truly a journey of discovery …), allow me to offer a skeletal overview of the story. “World famous pianist Glory Fleming is missing,” shouts the breaking news a few double-page spreads into the book. The wayward teenager has escaped from Golden Hands Rest Facility, “an institution for musical prodigies,” according to a follow-up newspaper clipping which then leads to “18 months earlier” towards the who, what, where, why, and how … all of which you’ll have to piece together through remnants and clues, memories and expressions.

Glory is talented. Her medium is the piano. She doesn’t have a mother, but she does have a lonely, demanding, protective father. She thinks she’s found a soulmate in the newly arrived boy-next-door, Francisco, who’s moved to New York from Argentina. Francisco is talented, too – especially with blank canvases and color (as well as black and white), not to mention compiling fascinating mix-tapes (on CDs, as this is the 21st century after all). He’s struggling with academics and social life at his new school where his only welcome sign is a scrawled “Go Home Spic” taped across his locker.

Even more talented are the lovers’ creators. The theme song throughout is “Chopsticks” – which starts with the repetition of two notes together, F and G, then moves outward until the fingers eventually come back together. Are you getting this? The possible variations – together and apart, apart and together, repeat, repeat – are endless.

Francisco and Glory, Glory and Francisco: their resulting love story proves to be quite the mystery … perhaps one you may never quite solve. Did I mention something about variations? You’ve been warned. Now go experience their story for yourself …

Readers: Young Adult

Published: 2012


Filed under ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific, South American

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro

How wrenchingly ironic that this was the book I happened to be reading when I learned of a sudden death in our family. On the flight, in the car, during the rare moments of aloneness over the last four days, Kazuo Ishiguro’s stories that spoke of lost chances and endings provided an ideal counterpoint – both gentle and piercing – to the maelstrom of required public and private events of mourning.

Nocturnes – Ishiguro’s only short story collection thus far, as well as his latest title – is comprised of five stories in which music plays a principal role. Some are interlinked: two share characters, two share locations. In the opening “Crooner,” a young guitarist is hired by once legendary singer Tony Gardner – who was the guitarist’s mother’s favorite star – to play underneath Gardner’s wife’s open window as Gardner sings her love songs on the final evening of their bittersweet Venetian vacation. Lindy Gardner, that very wife who is now divorced, reappears in the (singular) “Nocturne,” recovering from cosmetic surgery in a posh Los Angeles hotel, sharing musical adventures with a saxophone player whose agent, soon-to-be ex-wife, and her lover convince the gifted musician that his less-than-gorgeous looks are the only obstacle to major success. In the finale, “Cellists,” the story returns to Venice, perhaps to the same transient band in “Crooners,” in which possibly another member – this time a Hungarian cellist – meets another American musician who nurtures and refines his already considerable talents … but to what end?

Of the remaining two pieces not linked to the three above, both feature troubled ménage à trois-of-sorts: “Come Rain or Come Shine” examines a trio-friendship decades after its university beginnings, in which the loner – a jazz purist – visits the couple on the verge of separation; in “Malvern Hills,” a struggling young British musician finds himself unexpectedly, intimately wedged in between a Swiss couple on their countryside holiday.

For Ishiguro devotees, Nocturnes might prove to be lighter fare than his six previous novels (and, yes, I’ve read each with fervent reverence). While each of the brief movements of this quintet are memorably haunting, the short story form just doesn’t allow enough space for the soulful, detailed, exquisite explorations that define Ishiguro’s longer work. That said, for an enhanced experience, I highly recommend the narrated version, made noteworthy with careful phrasing and added accents, especially as voiced by Mark Bramhall who begins and ends the audible collection.

Read (or listen) … the best music will always move you to tears, no?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Short Stories, British, British Asian

20th Century Boys (vol. 22) by Naoki Urasawa, with the cooperation of Takashi Nagasaki, English adaptation by Akemi Wegmüller

Confession first: even though I’m posting after the fact, reading this was a little birthday present to myself. The older I get, oh how I loooovvvvve the manga that much more! Must be an age-escapist thing!

The Friend has shockingly confessed that he’s the mastermind behind the destruction of the world thus far, and he’s going to annihilate the rest in the next seven days. Hoping against all odds to stay alive, the survivors are hiding in their homes trying to escape the flying saucers with their fatal virus-inducing spray. Tokyo is suddenly, eerily quiet, but the underground revolutionaries have their own plans for survival – armed with vaccines, bad-buys-turned-good, another behemoth robot, the “emblem of justice” … and so much more.

Kanna knows the only safe place is Expo Park, and she’s planning an enormous music festival to draw everyone there. Getting the big name performers to show up is just gonna be a minor detail, right? In order to get the masses rocking (and evacuating), Konchi wires up what’s left of a radio tower, and suddenly, the city is humming, singing, shouting, revolution-ing to the latest version of “guta-lala … suda-lala” … which can only mean that the song’s originator is really back … “to settle things, once and for all.”

Got goosebumps?

Tidbit: Just to clarify, while this volume 22 is the final 20th Century Boys, the series has two more volumes under the fast-forward title of 21st Century Boys. Make sure to stay tuned. In the meantime, check out all the previous volumes of 20th Century Boys by clicking here.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)
20 SEIKI SHONEN © Naoki Urasawa/Studio Nuts
Original Japanese edition published by Shogakukan Inc.

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

20th Century Boys (vol. 19) by Naoki Urasawa, with the cooperation of Takashi Nagasaki, English adaptation by Akemi Wegmüller

Kanna, Otcho, and Manjome are all in the same room – you could say even on the same side. The final words from Manjome leave everyone speechless: “Please … kill him.”

Fast track north to the guitar-slinging stranger who calls himself Yabuki Joe who’s sharing fresh grilled fish riverside with police officer Chono. The pair end up in a bustling border town where the Kanto Army fortress looms and the great wall separates Tokyo from the rest of the world. The only way to get through the checkpoint is with a transit pass … but attempting to cross with a fake will get you killed.

Yabuki Joe and Chono get noticed by the border’s resident tough-guy cowboy named Ichi the Spade who introduces the twosome to a talented manga artist. Not only is he the forger who created the one transit pass that passed, but this manga-maker also turns out to be an old neighbor of Kanna’s.

While Yabuki Joe convinces him to start cranking out those passes (and promising him that manga can change the world), Ichi sells Chono back to the police. Not only does Yabuki Joe need to get those gates open for 200 anxious border refugees, but now he’s got some rescuing to do.

In the fortress awaits a decades-old trap of “pure evil” for our guitar hero. “It’s hard being evil. It’s a lot easier being the good guy,” our defender of justice intones.

Winner of the Eisner Award (the Oscar of comics) for Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia in 2011, 20th Century Boys remains an addictive favorite even after 19 volumes. A mere three more are forthcoming, and already I’m missing the rowdy gang. Surely I’ll be humming my made-up version of “guta-rara … suda-rara” for many sleepless nights to come!

To catch up with all the previous volumes of 20th Century Boys – click here.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)
20 SEIKI SHONEN © Naoki Urasawa/Studio Nuts
Original Japanese edition published by Shogakukan Inc.

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song by George Ella Lyon, artwork by Christopher Cardinale

If you’re an American of a certain age, and went to public school when music class was still considered relevant and mandatory, you’ll most likely recognize this historical song. Here’s the link to legendary folk singer Pete Seeger’s rendition.

“What’s going on here?” the front book flap asks. “Let Omie, the eldest, tell it – eighty years after it happened.” That 80 has since become 81, but the story’s power doesn’t age. Welcome to Harlan County, Kentucky in 1931 where the men work long, dangerous hours in the coal mines: “We live in a coal company house on coal company land, and Pa gets paid on scrip that’s only good at the company stores. He says the company owns us sure as sunrise. That’s why we’ve got to have a union.”

But Pa’s views don’t make him popular with the controlling coal company, nor with the local sheriff and his “gun thugs.” With mounting threats, Pa goes on the run. Ma stands firm, announcing “‘We need a song’” to her frightened children hiding under the bed. “‘This ain’t easy, but sometimes you’ve got to take a stand,’” she insists. “This is how the night goes: bullets through the walls, talk under the bed, words on the page.” When Pa returns, he recognizes that Ma’s newly composed rallying cry will “bring folks together … And it still does.”

Harlan resident George Ella Lyon tells the remarkable story of how Florence Reece wrote “Which Side Are You On,” the song that “has been sung by people fighting for their rights all over the world.” The broad strokes of graphic artist and muralist Christopher Cardinale (who imbued magic realism onto the pages of Luis Alberto Urrea’s Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush) add a sense of urgency, the firm depictions emphasizing the determination to survive and succeed.

After the story — which came to Lyon via “Bev Futrell, a member of the Reel World String Band, who heard it from Reece herself” – Lyon’s informative “Author’s Note” is not to be skipped. “Whenever one side has all the power in a relationship something needs to change,” she writes, while also acknowledging that “[l]ike anything we humans make, unions are not perfect.” Greed and power plague unions, too, but unions can play a positive role in improving work conditions and establishing fair workers’ rights, she explains.

Like the song’s rallying cry, Lyon’s storytelling is ultimately a powerful call to seek social justice at any age: “It’s never too soon to become informed, decide what you think, and speak out. You have a choice. You have a voice. We are how change happens.” Great advice for the 18+ set, too, especially in this election year …

Readers: Children

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Nonethnic-specific

20th Century Boys (vol. 18) by Naoki Urasawa, with the cooperation of Takashi Nagasaki, English adaptation by Akemi Wegmüller

“Guta-rara … suda-rara” might sound like nonsense, but these lyrics belong to the music that quite possibly could save what’s left of the 21st-century world …

Otcho reunites with Kanna, only to find out that she’s the people’s Ice Queen. He tries to convince her to call off the August 20th uprising against the Friends because such rebellion will only bring certain death. “Every person I’ve ever loved is dead!!” she screams, “… This time, it’s my turn!” She was tricked into taking the vaccine that saved her life, but the cost of survival has literally left her ready to die.

Meanwhile, at the Northern border, an alien who calls himself Yabuki Joe has managed to walk through the heavily guarded gates. Surrounded by armed soldiers ready to annihilate him, he gets up after the first shot (!) and growls, “… when somebody’s singing a song … you can’t shoot them.”

“Guta-rara” becomes a rallying cry, and the already gathering mob of desperate villagers is ready to believe a Messiah has landed in their midst. They’re more than ready to obey and follow, if only to hear his next concert. While he rides off into the mysterious yonder toward “home,” Otcho and Kanna end up in front of the Friends’ top henchman Manjome, and nothing goes as expected …

“Guta-rara … suda-rara” … let the music play on … at least for another two months when vol. 19 is set to debut (on Valentine’s Day). Repeat after me: Patience is a virtue, patience is a virtue (and yes, I’ve already pre-ordered up to vol. 21!).

Don’t miss the previous volumes of 20th Century Boys – click here.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)
20 SEIKI SHONEN © Naoki Urasawa/Studio Nuts
Original Japanese edition published by Shogakukan Inc.

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

JIMI: Sounds Like a Rainbow | A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

Growing up in Seattle, Washington, young Jimi Hendrix first made music on a one-string ukulele. He drew, he told funny stories, he hung out at the local record store with his friends “who never teased him about his worn-out clothes and wild hair … or … always moving from one part of town to another when Dad was out of work.” Instead, they “would chatter for hours about the latest rock ‘n’ roll songs.”

For Jimmy – as he was called then – “[w]ith every sound, a color glowed in Jimmy’s mind.” The music “set off fireworks in his mind.” He made music with a broom until his father bought him a cheap guitar and Jimmy taught himself to play: “He had a rainbow of sounds at his fingertips, and he wanted to paint the world with them.”

Drowned out in a local band, Jimmy moves up to an electric guitar –”the cheapest model, but to Jimmy … was pure gold”– hooks up to an amplifier, and “[w]ith a flick of a switch, Jimmy’s life was electrified.” He would take his “colors of sound” all over the world, “painting the world with his songs.”

For its intended audience of the youngest readers, the book ends there … a sanitized version of the life of a troubled superstar. But author Gary Golio does not gloss over the rest of Hendrix’s young life; he adds a “More about …” to flush out Hendrix’s biography, and then follows with an “Author’s Note” that directly addresses Hendrix’s death at 27 from “an unfortunate combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.” While mourning his untimely death – “we will never know just what he might have accomplished had his difficulties with alcohol and drugs been addressed and treated” – Golio adds a list of resources “for better understanding and addressing the dangers of substance abuse.” The message is clear … it’s never too early to talk to your kids!

Illustrator Javaka Steptoe, who captures the energetic, multiple layers of Jimi’s ‘electrified’ mind, gets the last word: “Jimi rocks.”

Readers: Children

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Biography, .Nonfiction, African American