REVIEW: More Than Music by Elizabeth Briggs
Dear Ms. Briggs,
I was browsing on NetGalley a couple weeks ago and your book caught my eye so I requested it for review. It’s New Adult, with a hero who’s the lead singer in a rock band. The heroine is a classically trained pianist with a secret bent for playing electric guitar. Add in the reality show and really, it was like catnip for me. What it also is, is a new adult book which isn’t over-angsty and for a million extra bonus points, there is no sexual assault or stalker storyline.
The book is very readable with a spare, fairly straight forward style. At times I thought there was not enough exposition – Jared’s man-pain and Maddie’s conflicted relationship with her parents for example, and I thought there were aspects of melodrama toward the end which didn’t work for me quite as well. Then again, the backdrop of the story is reality TV and when is that not melodramatic right? I have no idea if the stuff about The Sound (which seems to be a cross between X Factor and The Voice but for bands only) is based on any insider knowledge but I found it fascinating in any case. At times it overtook the romance for me – which is saying something because I’m usually all about the romance.
Maddie is a music major at UCLA and is just finishing her junior year. The story starts when, the day before her last final, she goes, with BFFs and fellow roommates, Carla and Julie, to see Villain Complex play a live show. Her good friend Kyle plays keyboard for the band (Kyle and Maddie have classes together) and Maddie has a massive crush on his older brother, the lead singer/guitarist, Jared Cross. Maddie is mildly (well, not so mildly) obsessed with the band. She has learned all of their songs and loves their music. She’s never met Jared in person before and part of her shys away from doing so because she doesn’t think he’d ever go for her – she’s a fairly quiet, geeky classical pianist who is just about to start an internship with the LA Philharmonic.
Of course Maddie is good looking and to her credit, she does think of herself as “looking hot” at various times and the book isn’t all about “oh, I’m not pretty and he’d never go for me”. The other thing I loved was that Maddie had had previous relationships which included good sex. Bonus. In fact, her last boyfriend was good in the sack but otherwise a bit of a bore so she broke it off. I liked that she had strong friendships with Julie and Carla. Maddie starts off kind of hiding herself but over the course of the book, she learns to let the real Maddie out.
Jared is taken with Maddie from the start but Maddie just thinks he’s like that with all the girls – and the evidence of her eyes supports her theory. After he walks in on her rocking out to her version of one of their songs – while playing his Fender no less in their home studio (Kyle invited her to a party and wanted her to see their music set up), she is mortified and thinks Jared thinks she’s a weirdo.
Jared is a bit of a player and this has had a detrimental effect on the band. He hooked up with Becca, the bass player one night and she became jealous and unstable after they (mutually) agreed not to have a relationship. (In context, I assume her “agreement” wasn’t based on how she really felt.) Unfortunately, when Becca leaves the band, Villain Complex are two days out from an audition for The Sound – the top four bands get to a national tour, with the winner headlining and also winning a recording contract. This could be the band’s big break but without a bass player, they’re stuck.
Maddie doesn’t play bass but she does play a mean lead guitar and Jared is one of those Dave Grohl-like musicians who can apparently play anything. The band begs Maddie to play just for the audition. Jared will play bass and sing lead vocals, she will play lead guitar and sing back up – after all Jared has seen how well she can do it. Maddie knows all of their songs already and in any event, she has the gift of being able to play almost anything after hearing it a few times (my dad was like that – but he wasn’t ever in a rock band, but I digress). Maddie reluctantly agrees but after the band make it through the auditions they are faced with a contract for the show which states “no changes in the lineup for the duration”. I thought it was a pretty neat way of bringing the main characters together actually.
Maddie’s mother had a bad reaction to Maddie playing guitar (for reasons which weren’t terribly clear I must admit) so it’s something she’s hidden. She can play violin and clarinet and piano/keyboard and her studies have focused on those instruments. Her secret love is the guitar and, after a taste of what it’s like on stage in front of an audience at Villain Complex’s The Sound audition, she realises that this is what she really wants to do.
A band who won The Sound a couple seasons before got in trouble with drugs and trashing hotel rooms after two band members were involved in a messy divorce. The producers and the network aren’t keen on a band like Villain Complex winning the competition because of their experience with the previous band. So, it is suggested, strongly, to Jared and Maddie, that they ought not date or hook up for the duration of the show and that Jared should play up his flirtation with any female, other than Maddie, in the vicinity.
The show only runs for six weeks – ratings had been poor so it’s been shortened and moved to a summer season. While I thought the reasons Maddie and Jared had for keeping away from each other while on the show made sense, what I didn’t quite buy was their inability to restrain themselves. Guys. It’s SIX weeks. In fact, it was less than that because it took them a while to admit their mutual attraction.
I really liked that the other band members – Kyle and drummer, Hector, had lives apart from the main story – as did Julie and Carla. Hector illustrates graphic novels and Kyle has a hot and heavy relationship with Alexis, his high school sweetheart. Julie and Carla have interests and relationships apart from Maddie. It added good flavour to the story. It wasn’t enough to feel like sequel bait but also had more to them than just props to support Jared’s and Maddie’s romance.
I also appreciated the effort to add diversity into the characters, even though I think in the end it had mixed success. Julie’s (Asian American) and Carla’s (African American) ethnicity was kind of highlighted at the start when they were introduced but nothing much else was ever done with it. Hector is Latino and I liked what the narrative had to say about it:
“Jared, from the rumors I’ve heard and things I’ve read online, you seem to be something of a playboy, right?”
Jared coughed and stared at the floor. “I guess so.”
“Good. Play up that angle for the show. Stay single, flirt with women, make everyone at home think they could have a shot with you. That will prove you’re not with Maddie and might get you more votes. Ladies love a bad boy.”
Hector smirked. “Shouldn’t be too hard for him.”
Jared nodded, but his hands were clenched at his side. Dan’s advice made me want to punch something, but I didn’t know why it would bother Jared since it was the same thing he was already doing now.
“The rest of us don’t have to do that, right?” Kyle asked. “Because I have a girlfriend.”
“Nah, you’re fine,” Dan said. “In fact, you should mention that. You have the edgiest look in the band and having a steady girlfriend will make you seem more relatable. And Hector has the diversity angle covered, which is good for attracting a wider audience.”
Hector scowled, and I didn’t blame him. There was more to Hector than just being Latino.
The producers of The Sound and the media in general are far more interested in Jared and whether he and Maddie are in a relationship than with the other band members and there is tension about this which grows as the show progresses and the pressure of performing increases. I felt that more could have been done with this angle. That said, I did enjoy how Maddie is initially cautiously welcomed and gradually absorbed into the fabric of the band – how they each respect the others’ musical talents and what they bring to Villain Complex. And I loved the geek culture and random Star Wars references too.
As much as I liked the secondary characters and appreciated their backstories, I did feel that Maddie’s and Jared’s characterisation was a little on the thin side and some of their motivations weren’t clear to this reader. I would have appreciated a few more pages to flesh them out a little because as it was, some of the conflict had me scratching my head a little. (Or perhaps I am just old and have forgotten the urgency of youthful love?) I did like the way that the book presented Jared and Maddie as being musically in sync as a kind of code that they’re meant to be together. And I expect I will be looking up the playlist to find the songs I didn’t know and revisit the ones I did.
The book is, I believe, self published and the copy was very clean and well formatted and it had clearly been edited and proof read.
There was also humour in the story – I loved the Supermarket Treasure Hunt game and this:
“So have you started applying to grad schools yet?”
“Not yet. But now, with the show…I don’t know.” I removed my hand from his. My future used to be crystal clear and I’d known exactly what I wanted and how to get there, but joining the band had changed everything. Something had shifted in me over these past few weeks. I still wanted to write movie scores someday, but I wanted to focus on being the guitarist for Villain Complex, too. If we managed to win the show, there’d be tours and albums to record, and I didn’t know if there was room in that life for grad school, too. But I didn’t want to quit the band or leave behind this new part of myself. Or Jared.
“If you wanted to focus on school, we’d understand,” he said, as though he could read my thoughts. “I mean, we’d all cry and eat a lot of ice cream and listen to ‘Everybody Hurts’ by REM for days, but we’d eventually find some way to keep going.”
I read it in a little over a day and enjoyed it quite a bit. If a reader is looking for a New Adult novel with a relatively low angst factor, this one might just hit the spot. Grade: B-