The minute I realized that Carrie Jane Knowles was the author (she wrote another excellent book that I reviewed, The Inevitable Past), I was instantly excited to read A Musical Affair. This book was picked up in partnership with Inkberry Books in Niwot and this review also appears in the town’s paper, The Left Hand Valley Courier.
(While we’re referencing other groups/publications, here’s a link to my vlog!)
Where do I even begin–the plot, the characters, my love of the book?? Let’s start there because I’m just awestruck by how much I enjoyed it!
It’s excellent, it’s engaging, exciting, definitely a page turner. Unless you just despise classical music or infidelities are particularly triggering to you, you’re almost assured to like this book.
Taking place approximately now, the book largely focuses on Celeste Anderson, ex-socialite and divorcee who’s been coerced to be the new director of the failing Chamber Society in Raleigh, North Carolina. We first meet Celeste as she’s exploring Tuscany, looking for a nice little quartet to play in the concert series this coming year. But when she hears the Tuscan Chamber Orchestra play, she falls in love with their music and decides to create a summer music festival completely around them.
Little does she know, some shady deals were made that lead her to this Italian trip and job; but she does know the odds are stacked against her. This is the first time she’s ever directed a chamber society, let alone organized a music festival, and she’ll need all the help she can get, even if that means relying on a little exploitation of people’s secrets. Before you think that Celeste is corrupt though, she’s not the instigator of the drama, it just so happens that in Knowles’ version of Raleigh, everyone’s tangled in a web of secrets–sometimes they are aware of the secrets, and other times, are merely affected by them.
This conflict–who has something to hide, the lengths they’re willing to go to protect themselves–is central to the book. It is called A Musical Affair, after all; people are having flings left and right, sometimes to the detriment of the music festival, and sometimes, surprisingly, to its benefit. That’s just some of what makes this book so interesting.
Upon first glance, it seems to be a simple story of an underdog who pulled off an event that everyone doubted would ever come to fruition. But underlying that, there are multiple plots exploring trust, truth, and expectations. One plotline that was a particular favorite was that of Celeste’s assistant, Emily. She’s a high school drop out (well, she got kicked out) who’s angry at her parents for divorcing. At a loss, her mother pushes her onto Celeste, hoping that she’ll keep Emily busy and out of her hair. But what Emily discovers is that she loves classical music and that there are actually people (Celeste and her mother Millie) who believe in and trust her. Through this experience, she finds a passion in music and even makes amends with both her parents.
The character growth of Emily alone is impressive and a great read, but so is the development of the other characters too. We see Celeste develop from this self-doubting divorcee who’s never had a job to a confident festival organizer. We see both Emily’s mother Binky and her friend Lou Ann go from confident, but somewhat shallow, women to independent women who take back their lives. Even Jessica, the office manager for Charles, a shady lawyer who set up Celeste as the director of the chamber society, evolves from a simple gold digger and “other woman” to someone who wants justice and has goals.
Knowles is an expert at making characters lovable (or hate-able) and that’s just one of her skills. She’s incredibly descriptive and her plot(s) are well thought out; on that note, her subplots–like Emily’s growth or the numerous affairs–are so well woven together that it’s a complex book that’s both easy to follow and fascinating to read. I constantly sat there, shaking the book wondering “When is so-and-so going to put two and two together?” Knowles isn’t necessarily a master of suspense, but a master of timing, letting characters discover bits of information at just the right time so that the overall story moves along smoothly while being engaging at the same time.
I loved the dialogue as well–sometimes it’s tricky to make conversations between characters flow naturally, but this is not an issue for Knowles at all. There are a lot of discussions in this book, from gloating about an “evil plan” to pondering over possible affairs to lamenting over the lack of cash flow for the festival, the characters’ interactions with each other were expertly written and it felt as though I was sitting there with them, spilling the tea.
Again, I definitely recommend, it was so thrilling, I loved it! That’s all I’ve got for now, be sure to look out for next week’s posts on Fallen Stars by Diesel Jester.