Scott Alarick: Revival

Scott Alarick’s Revival is a beautifully crafted, eloquent, heartfelt novel about folk music, the enduring bonds of love and friendship, and the equally heavy burdens of doubtful youth and regret-filled age.

There are undeniable elements of Crazy Heart in the romance between the novel’s washed up, alcoholic, folk curmudgeon and his feisty, young, female protégé. There are also parallels to the tv show Nashville in its juxtaposition of the country music industry’s dark, greedy, business side with the ragtag group of struggling unknowns at a local open mic night. Though the publication date indicates the book predates the tv show.

Beyond those plot threads lies a rich tapestry of folk music history, a sincere and delightfully gushing love for the art and struggle of making music, and a championing of folk artists both classic and current. Alarik delves back into the origins and traditions of folk music, its evolutions and international travels and transformations, and philosophizes on the pros and cons of songwriting techniques and credits.

There’s also a very passionate, somewhat crusty folk critic character I found myself relating to a bit. Considering Alarik’s past as a folk critic for The Boston Globe, I wonder how much of the character is autobiographical. Alarik was the first Boston critic to write about Ani DiFranco, Alison Krauss, Dar Williams, Kate Rusby, Shemekia Copeland,and Crooked Still. He’s also a coffeehouse-frequenting folk musician, so I’m also curious about what else in the novel may have been taken from his own life.

The novel references several well known names in the folk community – everyone from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to Emmylou Harris and Dar Williams to Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco. Alarik even incorporated Dar Williams’ song, “February,” into the story by changing the title and making it a song written by one of the protagonists.

Yet all the folk music namedropping, like everything else about this exquisite novel, is completely organic in placement and pace. The characters are at times overly starry eyed and sentimental, but it fits with the novel’s overall hopeful, jubilant mood. It’s very much a love story, but it’s also very much a story about loving music.

It’s also a lovely book in the literal, physical sense. The paperback is as large as a hardback, but not heavy. The gorgeous cover art shows the intertwined bodies of a fiddle and guitar.

Revival is a beautiful book inside and out.

I actually hugged the book when I finished it, happily sighed “Now that’s a book!” and handed it to Brendan, who is reading it as I type this review. He just said: “This book is awesome! How does someone create such lovable characters within a few pages?”

So there you go, two very enthusiastic endorsements from the Muruch household. Oh, and we did not get a free review copy if that matters. It was worth every penny we paid. Revival is now one of my new favorite books of all time, and possibly my favorite book about music.

You can sample the first pages of the novel at Amazon and if you like them, you’ll probably love the book as much as we do. You can also hear free audio readings from the book by the author himself here.

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Scott Alarik Official Site

Hallie Ephron: There Was An Old Woman

A daughter discovers her aging alcoholic mother has become a hoarder. Next door, a nephew tries to convince his elderly aunt to move into an assisted living facility.

These are the seemingly innocuous elements which begin Hallie Ephron’s novel, There Was An Old Woman, but there’s many a twist and turn before the true mystery is revealed.

Who’s losing their mind? Who’s hiding ulterior motives? And where are all the little old ladies (and their houses) in the neighborhood going?

I can’t say more without spoiling the ending. I was pleasantly surprised by this slow building but satisfying suspense novel. Author Hallie Ephron is the sister of late writer/director Nora Ephron and There Was an Old Woman was inspired by several real events, which you can read about on her official site.

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Jennifer E. Smith: This Is What Happy Looks Like

Jennifer E. Smith’s novel, This Is What Happy Looks Like, is a sweet little (well, big) story about two teenagers who randomly connect online, fall in love and then meet in person.

The twist, which is revealed at the beginning, is he’s a famous movie star and she’s harboring a secret past.

I would’ve liked it better without the extra celebrity melodrama. Far more interesting and charming were the emails that open the first few chapters and the awkward transition the two lovebirds experience when they finally meet face to face.

Still, it was a refreshingly light, romantic and happy read.

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Jami Attenberg: The Middlesteins

Guest Post By: Brendan

Jami Attenberg has captured the zeitgeist in her heartbreaking and life-affirming novel, The Middlesteins.

Edie Middlestein is eating herself to death and Attenberg shows us her sometimes sad life, and the ramifications of her decisions for herself and her family.

Deftly hopping through time, we are situated not with the date but with Edie’s weight at the time. It’s a surprisingly effective device.

The story is told from a variety of perspectives – in one memorable chapter, the Cohns, Goldsteins, Weinmans and Frankens describe the Middlestein b’nai mitzvah.

Full of life and flawed humanity, The Middlesteins reminds me of some favorite novels of the past decade – Next, Last Night at the Lobster, Paula Spencer and Olive Kitteridge.

Attenberg was the subject of a recent interview at Other People with Brad Listi (mp3).

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Molly Ringwald: When It Happens To You

Guest Post By: Brendan

I expected When It Happens To You to be good… for Molly Ringwald, but thought that perhaps from another author it might be considered a disappointment. I was wrong. This is a remarkable work of fiction with glimpses of brilliance.

The work is described as a collection of interlinked stories, but it felt like a novel to me. When It Happens To You is the story of a disintegrating marriage, of betrayal and hope, only briefly touching on the lives of some who interact with the central couple.

The virtuosity of the title segment, which serves as a centerpiece for the book, is at times breathtaking. Here’s a sample…

When it happens to you, you will ask him why he would choose to forsake this good, sweet life that you carefully built together for a girl who couldn’t begin to understand him, and then you’ll realize that is partially the point. He doesn’t want to be understood. He wants to be misunderstood because in the misunderstanding lies the possibility of reinvention.

When It Happens To You is the most pleasant literary surprise of the year.

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