Book Review: Melophobia by James Morris

A unique dystopian story that captures the beauty of music.

4/5 stars

cover melophobia

Plot

The time–now; the place–America, but in a world where the government controls all forms of art and creativity. Any music sowing seeds of anarchy is banned–destroyed if found–its creators and listeners harshly punished.

Merrin Pierce works as an undercover Patrol officer assigned to apprehend a man who threatens the safe fabric of society, only to confront everything she thought to be true–her values, upbringing, job and future.

My Review

*I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my review.*

I was intrigued by the premise of this book: a world without music—how would that work? The answer, in true dystopian fashion, is that it doesn’t.

I was simultaneously pleased by and frustrated with the world building. Essentially, a civil war broke out in the 1970s between anarchist music lovers and the established government, leading to the War on Moral Decay. The government won the War, establishing a strict, almost Puritanical world where music is illegal and any strong emotion is seen as the beginning of anarchy. Raised in this society, the protagonist, Merrin, fiercely hates and fears music.

It is the kind of premise you just have to accept. It was believable to me that Merrin would hate music if she had been raised on a diet of anti-music propaganda—but that didn’t stop me from countering all of her anti-music statements in the beginning of the book. As a member of modern society, all of the arguments against music were clearly authoritarian propaganda, and I had to remind myself that Merrin’s emotions were logical for someone in her position.

Other than that, I was fairly happy with the world-building. We don’t learn everything about how music was eradicated or the specifics of what else is illegal in their society, but I never felt like that lack of information created plot holes. One thing I really appreciated was how the world-building continued throughout the story; even in the later chapters, I was still learning more details of the world, which felt natural.

Merrin was an interesting protagonist. She starts off the book your typical hard-ass female character, focused on her job, fueled by a deep inner rage against music. Watching her character develop was fascinating as she transitioned into a woman, unsure of her place in the world, torn between competing loyalties, and questioning the society she had been raised to trust. The fact that her father was a high-ranking government official only added to the tension, creating a realistic moral battle within Merrin.

The rest of the characters in the book held there own. There’s Anders, her ex-bf and current partner, pining for Merrin and loyal to the Patrol. He was a fairly frustrating character, but that was the point, and I appreciated that we got to see different layers of his personality. Then there are the musicians that Merrin meets as she investigates. These characters were the most fun to read about, mainly because they actually embraced having emotions, unlike the rest of the society.

And then there’s the romance. Merrin’s assignment is to go undercover and find the Source, a musician who has been creating and distributing music. Though the set-up isn’t exactly original, their romance had a unique realism. I loved watching Merrin’s affection for the Source develop, even in the face of all her other values. I appreciated that Merrin didn’t drop all of her distrust of music as soon as she met the Source; even when their relationship was getting serious, she still had her reserves. Merrin’s inner conflicts felt real, and it wasn’t just romance that finally made her realize the problems in her society, but a slew of other incidents.

All in all, Melophobia is an interesting read, but it didn’t blow me away. Having not really listened to the music that the book was rooted in, I feel like I was missing some of the emotional significance. Also, the writing bothered me occasionally. It had a habit of switching POV without warning and a tendency to “tell” instead of “show” emotions.

The beginning dragged a bit; it took me a while to get into the story. Once the halfway point it, though, I was hooked. There were a few “oh my god” moments, and I loved how the plot affected every single character, not just Merrin. The climax of the book literally broke my heart and effortlessly set up a second book.

I’d recommend this book to music fans, especially rock-n-roll fans, who want an interesting NA dystopian with complex characters and a surprising ending.

Book Review: Slash by Evan Kingston

This book surprised me with its stylistic writing and unique premise, but left me conflicted over the success of its execution.

3.5/5 stars

cover slash

 I received a copy of Slash from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Author’s description of Slash:

Alex Bledsoe would rather die than reveal her secret crush. As a star of TV’s #1 family drama, she’s certain coming out of the closet would end her career. Worse still, her one true love is America’s hottest young actress, Lissa Blaine, who just happens to play her older, prettier, and smarter big sis each week on Koop’s Kitchen. So Alex hates Lissa too, wishes her dead every time she stumbles onto the tabloid covers with a Long-Island in hand and some new B-list beefcake on her arm.

Desperate for an outlet each night after filming wraps, Alex closes the shades on her trailer and reads slash stories on internet fan-fiction forums: trashy little tales written by viewers about an imagined romance between her character and Lissa’s. All unbelievable moans and trite whispers, the fantasies are so incestuously metafictional, Alex believes them best taken to her grave—until an anonymous author begins to post violent slash stories, and Alex’s lusty dreams start to open up graves of their own.

As Alex struggles to decide whether she is turned on or disturbed, Koop’s Kitchen’s real-life actors start dying in suspiciously similar scenes. Sure that the parallels are more than coincidence, she begins to search the stories for suspects and clues instead of steamy caresses. But as she works to catch the killer before he slashes again, Alex realizes that revealing the secrets she’d die to hide might be the only way to save the lives of everyone she loves.

Slash was originally released as seven “episodes” from 2013 to 2014, and has recently been released as a collected edition.

There was a lot to enjoy with this book. For me at least, the premise was outside of anything I’d really ever read before. I loved the way Kingston incorporated slash fan fiction. Fan fic is something that I’ve encountered the fringes of on the internet, but that I’ve never really gotten into, so it was interesting to see it play a significant role in a novel. The stories and the forum onto which they were posted felt realistic, as did the digs Kingston worked in about the writing quality of most fan fic, especially slash.

The reality TV angle of the book was fun to read. Koop’s Kitchen is a fascinating mixture of writers who want a platform to preach “family values” and network specialists determined to use scandal to score high ratings. I loved the subtle cynicism infused throughout the descriptions of filming the series and the Hollywood world in which the story takes place.

The mystery was compelling. The way the stories played out in real life worked well with the story, and I liked that all of the deaths were “suicides,” adding an extra level of confusion to the early episodes. Each “episode” essentially focuses on investigating a different suspect. I could usually tell that the main character, Alex, was jumping to the wrong conclusion as to who the killer was, but for the life of me, I had no idea who the murderer could be. The last episode, when everything starts to come together, still kept up the suspense and the surprises. In the end, I liked the resolution of the mystery and of the overall plot.

The characterization wasn’t overly complex, but it got the job done. I loved Perry, he was hilarious. By the end of the story, I had a clear sense of who each of the major characters were. I loved the way Kingston worked in each character’s backstory. The flashback style would have come off as clunky with a different story, but it actually really worked in Slash.

I’m on the fence about a few parts of the book.

Alex, the main character, is one of them. I can’t decide if I connected to her. Parts of her personality–her most basic fears, her feelings about acting and Koop’s Kitchen, her drive for the truth–were very compelling and relatable. I honestly wanted to like Alex. Though the ages of the characters put the book in the NA genre, Alex’s voice had a YA feel. I didn’t feel like this took away from the story at all, and it was nice to have the familiar narrative style in an unfamiliar genre.

When I picked up the first episode of Slash, my first thought about Alex was basically “wow this girl is screwed up.” I thought that Kingston was going for the broken protagonist, but in fact, he presented her personality in a way that I realized she wasn’t screwed up psychologically that much. She has issues, of course, and her addiction to slash is one of them, but Kingston presents them with no judgement in his tone or plot structure, so that you end up sympathizing with her as a struggling individual rather than looking at her as damaged goods. Especially with the subject matter Kingston decided to tackle, I appreciated the matter-of-fact-ness of his writing throughout the book, making sure that Slash avoided what could have had an overwhelmingly preachy tone.

However, there were other parts of her personality that I understood on a conceptual basis but that I never emotionally connected with, especially her love/obsession with Lissa.

You learn fairly early on that Lissa is…a bitch. I really didn’t like her, though the characterization that made me hate her was skillfully done. At times, Alex sort of admitted that Lissa’s personality sucked, but her obsession (and that is a fair word to use–even Alex admitted it) never wavered. Kingston did provide psychological reasons for this (which tied in to her fears/doubts about her sexuality), but I never emotionally believed them; I still felt like her obsession was shallow and unreasonable, and I couldn’t connect to it. If the psychology had been more clearly shown–instead of basically just told to the main character by other people–it might have been a very different story.

One part of the story that was different from what I expected was the darkness of the plot. From the synopsis provided, I got the impression that I was in store for a seriously dark and screwed up story (along the lines of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, which I read last year). In reality, the novel was a lot more mellow than I expected. Horrific things happened, sure, but most of them were told second-hand (much in the style of Macbeth, where someone runs off screen, dies, and some poor messenger has to relate the gruesome details). It wasn’t until the seventh and final episode that things got super horror-esque.

I was actually okay with this aspect of the plot. It was kind of nice to read a story that deals with dark topics and horror elements without throwing themselves headlong into scaring or scarring the reader.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the idea of reading horror but maybe isn’t ready for nightmare level plots. The story has a good amount of humor, characterization, and voice.  The writing is stylistically interesting and very readable–I breezed through the seven episodes in a few days of light reading. While there were specific areas of the execution that I feel missed the mark, the story in its entirety is definitely worth reading.